- Sir Tim Berners-Lee FRS , inventor of the World Wide Web and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
- Stephen Fry, writer, broadcaster and technophile
- Professor Dame Wendy Hall FRS , leading computer scientist at University of Southampton
- Dr Jim Haseloff, synthetic biologist from University of Cambridge
- Bill Thompson, technology critic and commentator on digital culture.
"What was the most important advance in the last 350 years, and what will be the most important advance in the next 350 years?"
SF: We're all foolish. What surprises me is how people respond to technology, rather more than the technology itself. Probably the most important advance was the electronic motor and the next advance will probably be biological, but who knows?
JH: Information processing in the last 350 years, and in the next, we're moving towards manipulating biological systems.
TBL: "The scientific method" TBL then refused to predict, but would like to see more ways of supporting democracy and science.
BT: Digital computers for the past, biological for the next 350 years.
They talked about tipping points, and SF recalled the stuck in a lift moment, which was the tipping point for Twitter. BT said that the personal computer was a computer, as you could use computers and tools for yourself. TBL said that for him a tipping point was email, which lead to everything else, and spam indicated the tipping point itself, since people saw the point of sending out emails to millions of people.
There was a general talk on disadvantages for children who do not have access to the internet, which was then widened out to a lack of access to the rest of the world.
As usual, SF was particularly interesting, so I've snipped out a few points he made. He doesn't know what the world will be like when we're all on the net, but that it will be 'human shaped'. We can't work out what's going to happen and even the inventors such as TBL have no idea either. He also derided the 'old is natural' concept. It's a complete misunderstanding, since everything we do is new. For example, we now don't beat children, and this is the first time in history this has happened and the concept is completely new - old is not particularly natural. JH came in at this point and said that even our crops are not natural, since the breeding process changes them, and said that we have an attachment to natural crops, but what does that actually mean?
Questions were then asked from the audience. 'Should there be complete freedom on the web?' TBL said that it's not a technology question, it's a case of a question for society. Ignore technology, and look at society. WH made the point that while the web itself is free, it creates huge monopolies. 'How does culture get changed by the web?' TBL said that you'll always find small communities on the web, and they are a balance on the scale of tiny through to large, and it's perhaps more how cultures change the web. SF pointed out that people worry about this with every technology; books, penny dreadfuls, cinema, tv, video games etc. 'Will technology dumb us down?' WH said that we can't predict what people will do with technology, it's moving too quickly. SF said that people will do what people will do. Was amused to see iPhone 4 and said it was going to be great for prostitutes.
I had my question all ready, and was going to ask about how libraries need to change and adapt, and what they'll look like in the future. I even had the microphone in my hand - but much to my frustration, we ran out of time. However, there was a twitterwall and my question and my opinion on the value of libraries was repeatedly scrolled up the screen, so I managed to get the point across to the audience, even if it didn't go further.