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4–7 Ray Street, London, the offices of The Guardian New Media Lab

A random post on LinkedIn that tagged me has reminded me that twenty-five years ago today, on February 27 1996, I launched one of the more significant websites of my career — the online presence of the car sales magazine Top Marques.

The post was from Lee Williams who worked with me on the site, and brought a whole raft of memories flooding back of good times in The Guardian’s Ray Street office in Clerkenwell, across the road from the main building on Farringdon Road.

I don’t know much about cars, and I don’t really care much about cars, but…


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I’ve been reading a lot recently about how we have adapted to the various types of lockdown or other restrictions that we have faced around the world as we respond to SARS-COV-2 and the Covid-19 pandemic in our various ways.

Of course the adaptations have been greatly influenced by personal circumstances, regional and national responses and the wider geopolitical situation. My life here in Stonesdale in North Yorkshire among a farming community is very different to that of someone in Delhi or Sao Paolo or Melbourne, or even London. It’s something we’ve tried hard to respect each week on Digital…


The cover of the book Augmented Reality, resting on a HP Laptop
The cover of the book Augmented Reality, resting on a HP Laptop

If you thought surveillance capitalism was troubling, then Mark Pesce’s new book on augmented reality will give you a lot more to worry about.

In his usual easy, accessible style he shows just how data-hungry effective augmented reality will be and explores the implications of handing both data and technologies over to corporations and governments. He also points out that the freedom to to add a digital overlay to a scene is largely unconstrained, so that we have no effective way to stop anyone ‘writing’ on public or private spaces

What emerges is a vision of a world in which…


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The fjord in Ålesund

Three years ago I woke up in a hotel in the beautiful Norwegian city of Ålesund, gathered my stuff and set off to meet my old friend Andy Budd and a disparate group of thinkers to drive across Norway to Valldal and the Juvet Landscape Hotel, well known as one of the locations for Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina

It was to be our home for the next three days to as we tried to figure out some of the ethical issues raised by AI in an amazing setting, with the best food I’ve ever eaten. …


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Trinity Street, Cambridge, during lockdown

It’s usually dangerous to draw analogies between computing and any other field except possibly mathematics, because the way we do things in computing is so bounded by technical constraints, business models, and naive modelling assumptions that trying to apply our approach in other domains is either laughably simplistic or clearly unhelpful.

However as I reflect on the state of the world as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic continues to disrupt so much about the lives of so many, it seems that one idea from our profession offers a useful way of thinking about what we are going through.

That idea is ‘technical…


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Wm Gibson at Cheltenham, October 1999

Although he came up with the term ‘cyberspace’ in the early 1980’s, William Gibson entered a version of it for the first time on October 9, 1999, in a darkened room in Cheltenham Town Hall during the town’s literary festival. I know, because I was his guide and he told me so.

We had just come off the main stage after a discussion about his recently published novel ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, and I’d invited him to the festival’s online zone to hang out with me in LinguaMOO, a text-only teaching system where I had a virtual office.

After he’d signed…


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St Catharine’s College, Cambridge

I had just turned 19 when arrived in Cambridge in October 1979, with a full grant and a maintenance payment which meant it didn’t cost me or my parents anything.

I’d been brought up by my mum in a council house on one of the tougher council estates in Corby, Northants, and we weren’t in a position to pay fees or well-disposed to taking out loans and if it hadn’t been for the implementation of the Robbins Report I doubt I’d have gone to any university.

Find out about the Robbins Report

Corby was a thriving new town with a…


By Gabriel Straub and Bill Thompson

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus , painting
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus , painting

The enthusiasm with which data scientists have embraced data-driven business models, along with a lack of concern for the needs of users and society, means that we are flying very close to the sun in terms of the potential negative consequences of the technologies we are developing. It’s time to look more carefully at the real impact of the choices we make, before we end up crashing into the sea: our emerging profession is not yet so firmly established that we cannot consider rethinking its boundaries, obligations, regulation — and perhaps even its name.


by Gabriel Straub and Bill Thompson

A bronze figurine of Daedalus. Who landed safely.
A bronze figurine of Daedalus. Who landed safely.
Daedalus — who landed safely. Photo by Petre Stojkovski — http://media.a1.com.mk/media/golemi/otkritie-dedal.jpg, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8602817

Having argued that data scientists must think carefully about their work and its impact, here we outline some steps that can be taken. We believe we can ameliorate the risks posed by the application of data science by being open about our higher level goals, taking accountability for the outcomes of our work, and being transparent about the choices and tradeoffs we make.

We will look at this in the context of the BBC, as our current employer and an example of an organisation that is obliged to open about its internal deliberations in…


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On September 21 2009 I sat with Roly Keating, at the time the Director of Archive Content for the BBC, outside this Starbucks in what was the BBC’s Media Centre, and talked to him about taking on a six month role to work in his team as the Head of Partnership Development. It was a quick job, sorting out a partnership strategy for the recently formed BBC Archive Development team run by Tony Ageh and setting up a couple of key agreements.

I’d been asked to go for the job by Tony as he and I had worked together back…

Bill Thompson

I'm a hack and pundit

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