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Finn meets David Rowan
Editor of WIRED UK

Finn meets David Rowan | Kidspiration

David Rowan always knew he’d be an editor. “I have no other skills,” he says with a chuckle. He was eight years old when he took on his first publishing job, making his own newspaper at home, writing his stories on those cardboard forms that come inside laundered shirts.

Today David is the editor of WIRED UK, a magazine that explores and reports on the future, primarily science and technology, along with design, culture, business, and politics. Before his WIRED UK job, he was an editor at The Times, The Guardian, and The Jewish Chronicle. He’s written for many magazines and newspapers, and has made television films for Channel 4 News.

Most discussions of technology include robots and virtual reality. David is interested in the ways we use those devices now, and in the future. Although robots will be able to solve many problems, he doesn’t think they’re going to take over soon. One reason why not? They can’t climb stairs!

The future of innovation is in trying to solve big problems, like climate change, and finding ways to make and keep us healthy. He’s excited by CRISPR, a new tool that allows scientists to “edit” DNA, and to potentially remove harmful genetic material from a person’s genome. Printed magazines like WIRED UK may have a limited future, but we’ll still need skilled journalists to investigate breakthroughs like CRISPR, to ask the difficult questions, and to report on what they find out.

What’s his advice about the future for young people, when technology is changing so fast today? The jobs you’ll have as adults haven’t been invented yet, he points out. So it’s important to find something now you’re really excited about. Because even robots and artificial intelligence devices will still depend on human beings — to design, develop, and program them to act. And maybe teach one to master a staircase!

Finn interviews David Rowan, editor of WIRED UK, at the magazine’s London office.



Finn:
Hi. I’m Finn. Today we’re talking to David Rowan. He’s editor of WIRED in the UK, a magazine that reports on the technology that will change our lives. I’m here in the WIRED headquarters in London where I’m hoping to find out from David what the future has in store for us. Let’s go meet him.

—-

Finn:
Hi David, nice to meet you.

David:
Pleasure, Finn.

Finn:
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

David:
I’m editor of a magazine that tries to work out where the future is going. So WIRED deals with innovation, with people trying to solve some of the big problems: reinventing how we make buildings stand up, reinventing how businesses work, and reinventing how science solves some of our medical worries.

Finn:
Do you think robots will one day take over the world?

David:
I hope they won’t take over the world. I hope they will solve some of our problems without taking every last job away.

Finn:
Yeah.

David:
So progress is moving ever more quickly. The one thing that relieves me, that makes me less anxious about the robots taking over our world is quite a lot of them still can’t quite climb stairs.

Finn:
[laughter]

David:
So if you’re worried about the robots coming to get you just go up two or three steps and you’ll be fine.

Finn:
Yeah. What are your thoughts on virtual reality?

David:
Virtual reality is getting pretty exciting at the moment because the technology has caught up with people’s need to believe that they are in a world where there are no delays when they do something. This horrible thing called latency – which is the delay between you moving your hand and the hand in the virtual world moving.

Finn:
Yeah.

David:
That seems to be getting shorter and shorter. And what that means is we can convince ourselves that we are actually in that virtual world. And that means every week we’re seeing a new virtual reality project that is actually quite compelling.

Finn:
Yeah ’cause I was in Hamleys and they were doing virtual reality testing. And I put it on and it was like I was in a forest. And I ended up walking way past the testing area.

David:
I think if you were to walk out of Hamleys with the virtual reality gear still on you they couldn’t arrest you because you could say you’re still in a virtual world.

Finn:
[laughter] Who inspired you to become a magazine editor?

David:
I have no other skills.

Finn:
[laughter]

David:
Since I was 7 or 8 I’ve been making magazines. When I was about 8 I spent 30 consecutive days in the summer school holidays making a daily newspaper for my sister.

Finn:
[laughter]

David:
My parents had their shirts laundered and it came back from the laundry in little packs with white cardboard holding them stiff. And I took the white cardboard and I thought, “That would be a really good newspaper.” And so I wrote stories and did cartoons.

Finn:
[laughter]

David:
And I thought at the end of 30 days that was really exciting. And then I kind of pestered my teachers to do school magazines. And then when I was a teenager I did pirate radio. And for me there’s something wonderful about telling an honest story, finding something that’s amazing that’s happening, and then telling lots of other people. The down side is the newspaper industry and the magazine industry are not quite as big as they were because the internet has come and changed the whole business. The up side is you can keep reinventing it.

Finn:
Is there an invention that somebody else has made that you wish you would’ve made?

David:
I’m very excited at the moment about what we can do to make people healthier and make people live longer. And there was a really interesting invention made not too long ago called CRISPR that allows you to edit people’s DNA. And if you can edit people’s DNA when you get more and more information about what makes somebody unhealthy you can correct it. And we’re starting to have medical professionals be able to think this person has a rare medical condition.

If we can edit their DNA can we if not cure them, prevent their children from having the same medical condition? So I think innovation to me is all about trying to solve the big problems. It’s not about an app that delivers a pizza.

Finn:
Yeah. [laughter]

David:
It’s not about a slightly better washing machine. It’s about can we feed millions of people in a sustainable way? Can we solve climate change using our imagination? Can we help people live more fulfilling, healthy, longer lives?

Finn:
Is it true that you once found human DNA in a burger? ‘Cause I read – I saw one of your WIRED magazines and it says that they found human DNA inside a burger. [laughter]

David:
There was a story I remember where what was inside a burger was analyzed. And there were some things that are surprising.

Finn:
[laughter]

David:
My advice Finn is don’t eat burgers.

Finn:
I’d die. [laughter]

David:
Eat things that come from nature and then you know at least the sourcing.

Finn:
Yeah.

David:
It’s an issue actually. The food supply has been so industrialized. A lot of the really interesting startups I’m seeing at the moment are trying to reinvent the food industry with healthier food, with more transparent food, with food where we know it’s come from sustainable sources.

Finn:
What’s your advice to kids?

David:
In general?

Finn:
Yeah.

David:
Do what your parents say! No…

Finn:
[laughter]

David:
My advice: if you’re looking at what you might do as a grownup – See things get a bit more complicated than they did when I was a kid ’cause when I was a kid you kind of knew your choices for what job you would do. You Finn are going to do a job that hasn’t been invented yet because things are moving so quickly. So my advice to you is find something that you are so passionately excited about that you will immerse yourself in it and get better and better at it.

And it could be writing or making music. It could even be designing games. Playing games but then thinking how you would improve the game.

Finn:
Yeah.

David:
Because I think the world that’s coming where artificial intelligence and robots will be doing an awful lot is still going to depend on humans. But the humans that are going to make it, that are going to do well, are those who have taught themselves because they really love the subject area.

Finn:
Thanks David. It was nice to meet you.

David:
Great to talk to you Finn.

—-

Finn:
Wow, it was awesome meeting David and seeing how he edits his magazines. It’s fascinating to think about what could happen in the future. But that’s all the time we’ve got for today. See you next time!