Tag Archives: Dimbleby lecture

Dot Everyone

Baroness Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of Lastminute.com and chair of the digital skills charity, Go ON UK, delivered the 2015 Richard Dimbleby Lecture from the Information Age gallery at the Science Museum. This is an excerpt from her speech. 

We need a new national institution to lead an ambitious charge – to make us the most digital nation on the planet.

I don’t say this because I’m a fan of institutions. I say this because the values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of the equation needs a boost. It needs more weight.

Martha Lane Fox rehearsing for the 2015 Dimbleby Lecture at the Science Museum.

Martha Lane Fox rehearsing for the 2015 Dimbleby Lecture at the Science Museum.

We have an opportunity to make Britain brilliant at digital. We’ve been going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services. We need to be bolder.

A new institution could be the catalyst we need to shape the world we want to live in and Britain’s role in that world. Today, we’re letting big commercial technology platforms shape much of our digital lives, dominating the debate about everything from online privacy to how we build smart cities.

In fact, I probably wouldn’t call it an institution at all. This is no normal public body.

It’s time to balance the world of dot com so I would create DOT EVERYONE.

I would prioritise three areas, that I think best demonstrate the opportunities we should be grabbing with both hands: education, women and ethics.

Firstly, DOT EVERYONE has to help educate all of us, from all walks of life, about the internet. The internet is the organising principle of our age, touching all our lives, every day. As the late activist Aaron Swartz put it, “It’s not OK not to understand the Internet anymore”.

We need to make sure that those in power understand how the internet can help us redefine public services, improve the lives of the most vulnerable, bolster our economy. Leaders and legislators cannot lay claim to grasping the power and potential of the internet just because they’re on Twitter.

Crucially, we must ensure that no one is left behind; that the 10 million adults who can’t enjoy the benefits of being online because they lack basic digital skills, no longer miss out.

Secondly, DOT EVERYONE must put women at the heart of the technology sector. Currently there are fewer women in the digital sector than there are in Parliament.

Something that is for everyone should be built by everyone. Do you think that social media platforms would have done more to stop abuse if they had more women in senior positions? I do. And how about the Apple Health Kit that went to market without anything to do with periods? Building an awesome cohort of female coders, designers, creators would help make us the most digitally successful country on the planet and give us a real edge.

Finally, we should aim for a much more ambitious global role in unpicking the complex moral and ethical issues that the internet presents. For example, what are the implications of an internet embedded in your home appliances? Do children need online rights? What is an acceptable use of drones?

Our rule of law is respected the world over; we should be world-leading in answering these questions.

DOT EVERYONE is new – it won’t and shouldn’t feel familiar. No grey suits, no dusty buildings. It will be an independent organisation. It will have a strong mandate from government, but also from the public – we will be setting its agenda, we will be informing it and taking part in it. It might produce written reports but it would also prototype services. It should show what is possible when you put the internet at the heart of design.

We should be making sure that the original promises of the internet – openness, transparency, freedom and universality – are a protected national asset, as integral to our soft power as Adele, JK Rowling, Shakespeare, or even Downton Abbey.

Britain invented the BBC, the NHS – let’s not have a poverty of ambition – we can and should be inventing the definitive public institution for our digital age.

You can find out more about DOT EVERYONE here.

Designed for use by infants, Smith-Clarke designed the ‘Baby’ breathing machine at the request of a paediatrician in 1956. Image credit: Science Museum

Polio: On the edge of eradication

Billionaire computer entrepreneur and philanthropist, Bill Gates, is to discuss the impact of polio on humanity at this evening’s annual BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture. His speech, which will be broadcast from the historic Royal Institution, will be supported with the visual aid of an iron lung from the Science Museum’s collection (1.03 mins in).

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The global effort to eradicate polio, which has reduced the number of recorded polio cases by 99 percent within the last two decades – from 350,000 cases a year in the late 1980s to 205 last year – has been funded, in part, by billions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private foundation on the planet.

The effects of polio can be seen in the range and development of technology designed to relieve suffering. At its worst, polio survivors are unable to breath without assistance, and this lead to the development of the iron lung, or cabinet respirator, in the 1920s by Philip Drinker of Harvard University.

Designed for use by infants, Smith-Clarke designed the ‘Baby’ breathing machine at the request of a paediatrician in 1956. Image credit: Science Museum

Designed for use by infants, Smith-Clarke designed the ‘Baby’ breathing machine at the request of a paediatrician in 1956. Image credit: Science Museum

Although life-saving, early models were alarming and uncomfortable for patients, and it wasn’t until 1956 that Captain G T Smith-Clarke, a British engineer, devised a vastly superior device. Patients encased in the cabinet had pressurised air pumped into the chamber causing the lungs to inflate and deflate, enabling the patient to breathe.

The Smith-Clarke ‘Baby’ iron lung in our collection was acquired in 1990 from The Royal Free Hospital in London, where it had been standard equipment in the 1960s, but by 1990 they had become rare indeed.

With polio now prevalent in just three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – and with a continued global effort, total eradication is, for the first time, within our grasp.