Keeping pace with technology

digital rev

What’s the challenge?

The internet is rapidly evolving to play a central role in society, transforming social, cultural, economic and political landscapes. The benefits are clear, but are societies equipped to keep pace with the consequences of our increasing reliance on this technology?

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law is a technological trend which states that the number of transistors created in an optimal minimum cost, doubles every 18-20 months. This means that the processing power of computers doubles every 18-20 months or the price of the same processing power halves. This results in what is known as ‘exponential growth’.

It was conceived by Gordon Moore who was in charge of Intel in 1960s. It describes the exponential growth in computing power that enables the average mobile phone to process instructions millions of times faster than the earliest computers.

In the 1960s computers were extremely large, often the size of rooms and extremely expensive, which meant only large corporations and governments were able to afford them. Today we hold more computing power in the smartphones in our pockets than was conceivable a few decades previous and at a price that allow the mass market to own them.


  • 1969: ARPANET, the worlds first computer network was conceived by the American Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
  • 1971: The world’s first email was sent by Ray Tomlinson, an employee at technology company BBN, who took the decision to use the @ symbol to separate his username from the name of his computer.
  • 6th August 1991: The World Wide Web was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who was at the time working at the European particle physics laboratory in Cern, Switzerland. By 1995 there were 6 million users online. By 2005, users of the web were estimated to have reached
    1 billion.
  • In 1971 there were 2,300 transistors on a single microchip. 30 years later, in 2011, engineers were able to fit 2.9 billion transistors on each microchip.

Global Internet users (2012)

  • Asia – 1 billion
  • Europe – 500.7 million
  • North America – 273 million
  • L America/Carib. – 235.8 million
  • Africa – 139.8 million
  • Middle East – 77 million
  • Oceania/Australia – 23.9 million

Source: Internet World Stats, January 2012

Growth in Internet users 2000-2011

Africa – 2,988%
Middle East – 2,244%
L America/Carib. – 1,205%
Asia – 789%
Europe – 376%
Oceania/Australia – 214%
North America – 152%
Average world growth 528%

Source: Internet World Stats, January 2012

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi computer is just a small green circuit board about the size of a credit card – but it is hoped that it will get thousands of schoolchildren interested in programming. Costing around £25 it was created by a group of British scientists and developers earlier in 2012. It is estimated to have the processing power of an iPhone 4s.

Panel discussion

The Royal Geographcial Society (with IBG) held a panel discussion on 15 May 2012 to discuss the issue.

Dr Aleks Krotoski, Academic, journalist and host of the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast
Aleks is an academic, journalist and host of the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast, who writes about and studies technology and interactivity,
In 2009 she completed a PhD in Social Psychology at the University of Surrey which examined “how information spreads around the social networks of the World Wide Web.
In 2010, she wrote and presented The Virtual Revolution for BBC Two. This TV documentary series was described by the BBC as charting “two decades of profound change since the invention of the World Wide Web, weighing up the huge benefits and the unforeseen downsides. She also presented an accompanying four-part podcast series on the BBC World Service.

As of November 2010, she is Researcher in Residence at the British Library and is curator of the Growing Knowledge digital exhibition at the library. Her forthcoming book Untangling the Web (to be released in September 2012) tells the story of how the network is woven into our lives, and what it means to be alive in the age of the Internet.



Ben Hammersley, Editor-at-large of WIRED UK
Ben is a British internet technologist, journalist, author, broadcaster, and diplomat, currently based in London, England. As of 2011 he is the UK Prime Minister’s Ambassador to East London Tech City, Editor-at-Large of Conde Nast’s Wired UK magazine, and a member of the European Commission High Level Expert Group on Media Freedom.

He is also a freelance reporter for the BBC, and a consultant to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
He has previously worked as the first Internet reporter for The Times, where he was shortlisted for one of the British Press Awards, and as a reporter for The Guardian and the UK arm of MSN. During his early career, he specialised in technology journalism. Hammersley often reported from dangerous countries, including Iran and Afghanistan.

After travelling undercover to interview the Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in 1999, Hammersley simultaneously moved toward war correspondence and technological innovation – reporting from war zones and writing technical book for publishers such as O’Reilly Media. He is credited with inventing the word ‘podcasting’, leading on to ‘podcast’ and ‘podcasts’, in 2004. He has also previously been Director of Digital at Six Creative, Principal of Dangerous Precedent. and Director of Campus Party USA.
Hammersley is a Fellow of the RSA, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and the British-American Project and a member of the Savage Club and Frontline Club, and the Transatlantic Network 2020. and a trustee of the London chapter of the Awesome Foundation. In August 2011 he was made a fellow of the UNAOC. As a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences he is a judge of the Lovie Awards.



Nick Harkaway, Author and technology blogger
Nick is an acclaimed author and technology blogger. He blogs for FutureBook, The Bookseller’s website for digital books, on issues affecting authors in digital publishing. Nick, the son of John le Carré, was born in Cornwall in 1972. He studied philosophy, sociology and politics at Clare College, Cambridge, before working in the film industry.

His fictional debut novel, The Gone-Away World, was released in 2008 to wide acclaim and was followed this year with his second novel Angelmaker. Despite being enthusiastic about digitisation, he was a vocal objector to the Google Book Settlement. Nick has spoken at FutureBook’s sell out digital conference, on the future of publishing in a digital age, and gave a keynote speech for Gartner on the challenges that technology will pose for society over the next century.

Nick’s new non-fiction book, The Blind Giant: Being Human in a digital world (released 10 May 2012), examines technology’s influence on politics, society, and commerce . He argues that whatever your reaction to technological culture, the speed with which our world is changing is both mesmerising and challenging. Nick lives in London with his wife Clare and his daughter Clemency.




Professor Alan Woodward
Alan began as a physicist. However, he developed an interest in computing early on through signal processing for gamma ray burst detectors, and so switched to engineering after his BSc. His postgraduate research at the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR), University of Southampton, was in adaptive filtering, and novel methods of recovering corrupted signals. Alan also worked on novel methods of noise cancellation, both passive and active.

After leaving the ISVR Alan worked for the UK government for many years, for whom he still provides advice through his industrial activities. He has particular expertise in, and continues to conduct research into, cyber security, covert communications, forensic computing and image/signal processing. Alan has been involved in some of the most significant advances in computer technology which have seen him elected as a Fellow and chartered member of the British Computer Society, Institute of Physics and the Royal Statistical Society.
In addition to his academic and government work, Alan has run businesses focussed on various aspects of Information Technology (IT). In 2000 Alan was pivotal in the flotation of Charteris plc on the London Stock Exchange. He remained a director until 2008 at which point he began to focus back on his academic interests. Alan continues to be a director a businesses involved in IT.

Although Alan has been at the leading edge of technology development for many years, he is primarily a particularly good communicator. He is known for his ability to communicate complex ideas in a simple, yet passionate manner. He not only publishes in the academic and trade journals but has articles in the national press and comments on TV and radio. Despite the length of his experience, his hands-on ability with emerging technologies contributes significantly to the respect he is repeatedly shown when he leads teams where technology is involved.



Tom Chatfield
The author and tech commentator on technology’s effect on society. Tom Chatfield is a British writer and commentator. He is the author of four books exploring digital culture – most recently How to Thrive in the Digital Age (May 2012, Pan Macmillan) as part of a new series in association with the School of Life. His work has appeared in over a dozen territories and languages. His 2010 book on the culture of video games, Fun Inc, was published by Virgin Books in the UK and Pegasus in the US. In July 2011, Activism or Slacktivism? – looking at new media, protest and the future of politics – was published by Vintage Digital. And 50 Digital Ideas You Really Need to Know was first published by Quercus in September 2011.

Tom is especially interested in the interactions between media, culture and public life, and in improving people’s experiences of technology in education, politics and art. As a writer and consultant, I’ve worked with companies including Google, Teach For All, Mind Candy, BBC Worldwide, We Are What We Do, Channel 4 Education, Six to Start, VCCP, Red Glasses and Intervox. He has worked as a writer and consultant with companies including Google and Mind Candy, and spoken at forums including TED Global and the World IT Congress. Tom also writes a fortnightly column for the BBC.



Dr Sue Black
Sue Black is a Senior Research Associate in the Software Systems Engineering group in the Department of Computer Science at University College London and a Senior Consultant with Cornerstone Global Associates. Sue was delighted to win the PepsiCo Women’s Inspiration Network award recently. She was invited to write an inspirational blogpost “If I can do it, so can you” as part of the award.

Sue was named Tech Hero by ITPRO magazine: “We look to Sir Tim, Sue Black and other tech leaders for inspiration”. She was also awarded the BCS John Ivinson award 2009, and nominated for the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2009 and 2010: IT Twitter User of the Year.
Since 1998 Sue has been campaigning for equality, and more support, for women in tech. She founded the online networks LondonBCSWomen in 1999 and BCS Women in 2001, which now has over 1200 members.
Sue campaigned from 2008 to 2011 to save Bletchley Park which is now saved. Read her Saving Bletchley Park campaign blog for more details of what she did and all the major achievements along the way.

In 2011 Sue set up The goto Foundation a non profit organisation which aims to make computer science more meaningful to the public, generate public excitement in the creation of software, and help to build a tech savvy workforce. Read Sue’s blog about starting The goto Foundation.

“A lot of the time computer science is hidden,but it’s all around us, it flies our planes, it runs our washing machines, there is software in our cars, it is just everywhere.” Sue Black

“Alan Turing was one of the codebreakers that worked at Bletchley Park. His contribution at the time was incredible, with his work on the Enigma machine and code cracking. He is known as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.2012 is the 100 year anniversary of his birth and there are thousands of events to mark the occasion.” Sue Black

“The work done at Bletchley Park is said to have shortened WWII by two years, and 11m people were dying each year at the time. So potentially saving 22m lives. It was also the birthplace of the computer.”
“I found out that more than 10,000 people used to work their and more than 5,000 of those were women. Being a great fan of women and computing , I was brought in and excited and wanted to raise the profile of the women that worked there.” Sue Black


Further reading

Geography and technology, Geography Directions, 2010

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