Dot Everyone - power, the internet and you

Baroness Martha Lane-Fox delivers the 39th annual Dimbleby Lecture from London’s Science Museum on March 30, 2015.

Published: 31 March 2015
Among the top 100 visited websites in the world, there’s only one from the UK. And what is it? The BBC. A public institution.
— Baroness Martha Lane-Fox

Thank you, Jonathan. And many thanks to the Dimbleby family for this incredible opportunity. I’ve drawn inspiration from the life of Richard. We may remember him as the sonorous voice of state occasions, but he was also a technological pioneer; in 1962 he introduced a programme which included the first broadcast live from the States by the Telstar satellite.

This lecture is partly for him - I like to imagine him looking down on our newly connected world and questioning what we’re up to.

I’m going to start with a moment from my early life in technology.

It's 1998. I am 25. I am sitting in a huge central London office, with long sash windows, and a grey haired man in a three piece suit is at the far end, behind a big mahogany desk.

“What happens if you get pregnant?”

I’d just finished the most important pitch of my life - presenting the vision for with co-founder Brent Hoberman. We were trying to raise money to create something truly new powered by the internet. This was the first and only question from the first and only investor who had agreed to meet us.

“What happens if you get pregnant?”

What was so surprising to me was not only the inappropriate nature of the question, but also the total lack of interest that this grey haired man, sitting behind his antique desk, was showing in the face of the internet revolution. Didn't he realise this wasn't just about booking holidays but about way more - shopping, information, politics, entertainment, health, education.

Couldn't he see beyond his prejudices about a 25 year-old woman to glimpse the inspiring, brave new world ahead?

This story sums up my working life. I have spent much of my career as a champion for how digital technology can improve our lives. I’ve often done this in environments that are traditional, conventional, established.

I might spend my mornings hearing about a jaw-dropping new development in wearable technology or 3D printing and my afternoons in the House of Lords - disappointing my fellow peers as I am unable to explain to them why the parliamentary wifi isn’t working.

And now I’m here, in this extraordinary building, this monument to what science can do, this testament to the dramatic improvements people have made to our lives through leaps of imagination.

And I feel so lucky to have the next 40 minutes to tell you about the world I inhabit and why I think the UK could be brilliant at the internet.

It is within our reach to leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet.

And I think that if we did that, it would not only be good for our economy, but it would be good for our culture, our people, our health and our happiness.

I’m not going to tell you it’s simple. It’s not. I get frustrated when discussions of the internet are reduced to “it’s going to solve all world problems” or “its screwing everything up”. It’s always more complicated than that.

But, if you want me to give you a single big thought, it’s this:
We need a new national institution that would 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 and public companies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of that equation needs a boost.

It needs more weight.

We’re going too slow, being too incremental. We need to be much 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.

It would be an independent organisation that is given its power by government but has a strong mandate from the public - we will be setting its agenda, we will be informing it and taking part in it.

It must help us address some of the biggest issues that we face but it must engage with people in a radical new way. In fact I 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 call it DOT EVERYONE.

There are three areas I would prioritise. There are others, of course, but for me these are the most pressing. It's these I want to concentrate on tonight because I think they best demonstrate the opportunities we should be grabbing with both hands.

Firstly, how do we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society?

Secondly, how do we get more women involved in technology?

Thirdly, how do we tackle the genuinely new and thorny ethical and moral issues the internet has created?

Let’s look at each of these in detail. Firstly - understanding the internet.

The importance of this task was emphasised by a recent House of Lords report which concluded “we face a crisis of digital skills”.

I wholeheartedly agree, but that’s the language of policy makers.

The late, great, activist Aaron Swartz put it more punchily. He said: "It's not ok not to understand the Internet anymore."

It’s that simple, whoever you are. Whether you run a large organisation. Or a country:

"It's not ok not to understand the Internet anymore."

It doesn’t matter if you’re 80 or eight, if you’re online once a year or once a minute. Understanding where the internet came from and what it can do will help you make more sense of the world.

It might help if I tell you some history and a bit about my own story.

What we’ve come to call 'the internet' was originally designed by the US military in the 1960s under the name ARPANET. It was a public sector project, funded by the government.

And it was the result of international cooperation. One of the key ideas behind it - packet switching - came from a British engineer called Donald Davies.

That’s the first thing to remember. The internet is a public project. A global, public project.

The particular brilliance was that you only need one connection anywhere in the world to access the whole network.

Through the 1970s the internet was the domain of academics and computer scientists. Commercial use of the network was forbidden. It wasn't until the late 1980s that the first private internet service providers sprang up.

At around the same time, in 1989, ONLY 26 years ago - a British physics graduate called Tim Berners-Lee was employed as a software engineer at CERN. He started working on what was to become the World Wide Web - a layer that uses the internet but is not the same thing. He wrote a paper simply titled Information Management: A Proposal.

It was initially greeted with faint praise. His boss, Mike Sendall, wrote "vague but exciting" on the cover.

Tim wasn’t downcast and went on to write the first ever web browser, WorldWideWeb. Websites were born. Crucially Tim decided not to patent his invention - he made it free to anyone to use.

The world owes him a debt for that supreme act of generosity and long-sightedness. That’s why he got to sit in the middle of the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony and light it up with the words 'This Is For Everyone'. He genuinely made something for everyone.

It’s also worth noting that BOTH of Tim’s parents were computer programmers. In fact his mother had to battle male coders to get access to her own computer.

Tim’s invention led to a time of great optimism and creativity.

I remember it. Many of us thought we were seeing the disappearance of top-down media, the dissolution of the old structures of corporate power.

We were probably a little naive.

The internet and web kept growing and the next big leap came in the form of smartphones, the iPhone and ‘apps’.

And now it’s very easy to be on the internet without really knowing it. You might be using an app on your smartphone - let’s say the Met office weather app, one of my favourites.

The app is using internet infrastructure to deliver you information whether it’s going to rain or sometimes the shine but you don’t really feel like you’re ‘on the internet’, not in the same way you do when you’re browsing from one website to another.

My own adventure with the internet started in 1994 when I got a job fresh out of university in a start-up consulting company which was specialising in media and telecoms. All our projects were grappling with the changes the Internet was bringing about. Quite an unexpected career choice for an Ancient History graduate don't you think?

It wasn't until 1998 that I took the leap into my own business. The UK was still in the first flush of New Labour, the Good Friday peace agreement was about to be signed, Titanic dominated cinema screens all round the country and Bill Clinton was still insisting he did not have “relations” with Monica Lewinsky. Believe by Cher was the best-selling single of the year. I’m not going to sing it.

It was in these heady days that Brent Hoberman, my friend, one time boss and brilliant technology mastermind, asked me to come and start with him. Back then, we were on a mission to convince people that the Internet was not going to blow up. As a secondary task, we were selling the idea that could be successful. This started with our own families.

After weeks of working on our business plan, we were finally ready to share it with our nearest and dearest. Brent’s family declared that the only people who would invest in the idea were the ones who had not read the plan. My own told me there were six split infinitives in the document and handed it straight back.

We were not deterred by them or that first meeting I told you about and eventually we did manage to secure our initial seed funding of £600,000.

It is extraordinary to think that the landscape we were working in a landscape with no Google, no Facebook, no Instagram and certainly no Snapchat. The biggest issues we faced were the complexities of creating a live database of products to sell and then overcoming the hideous amounts of time that the pages of the website took to load.

We got lucky and our idea was popular. Customers battled through our slightly challenging, newly invented technology to grab £99 flights to New York, unaware of the enormous charm offensive we had embarked on with the travel industry to convince them to work with us.

The cleverness of Brent’s idea was that it could not exist in the physical world. It represented the best of what the web was doing - helping an old-world industry sell more stuff and helping our customers have more fun, cheaply, and with less hassle. We were providing a real-time clearing house for the many hotel rooms, airline seats and theatre tickets that go unsold every day. People could go to new places at incredibly low prices with just one or two clicks.

We saw up close how technology was turning the travel industry upside down. How it flipped the balance of power from the big corporate to us, the customer, and how small suppliers could compete with huge conglomerates.

I remember writing our tagline late one night; “We want to help people be more romantic and spontaneous - to live their dreams”. It’s easy to be cynical, but it felt as though the world was changing.

The web created last and we were its biggest evangelists.

And, you know what? Many of those early wild predictions have come true.

The recent space mission undertaken by NASA has managed to travel further than ever before, because the internet allows them to 3D-print pieces of the spaceship that were broken.

Doctors in London have remotely operated on and saved the life of a tiny baby in Ecuador using sophisticated, and networked robotic arms.

Millions of people who love playing digital games have taken part in a project to analyse genetic data and help researchers beat cancer sooner.

Less significantly for the world, on the way here, to calm my nerves, I watched my favourite dance sequence from the 1950s MGM musical Bandwagon on my smartphone. For the last few days I have measured the amount of my sleep (not good) and of my walking steps (very good) using an app.

This is the fastest technological revolution in history. In the UK, radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users, television took 13, the web took just four. It’s perhaps no surprise that we sometimes struggle to work out what it all means.

Almost everything you touch uses the internet in one way or another - banking systems, governments, shops and even some cars.

76 percent of Britons use the internet every day. Our nation of shopkeepers is now home to the most enthusiastic online shoppers on the planet. In 2014, e-commerce accounted for about 15 percent of total UK retail sales.

A report from Tech City in February this year found that there are now 1.4 million people in the UK employed in digital businesses and venture capital. The sector is 20 times what it was just five years ago.

That makes it bigger than health or education or construction.

I’ll admit to being daunted by the million or so people watching this but young YouTubers like Zoella get more viewers than that every day. It's easy to be dismissive of Zoella's chatty make up tutorials, but her videos raising awareness of mental health have been watched over four million times.

Or look what’s happened with social media. Remember the wonderful and courageous Stephen Sutton who died of cancer last year and while doing so raised almost five million?

Or brave Caroline Criado-Perez who ignored the venom and used a twitter campaign to get Jane Austen on a banknote in a sea of proud and prejudiced men. Jane Austen couldn’t make it tonight, but from 2017 you’ll be seeing much more of her.

More recently, you’ll have heard about Katie Cutler, who used the internet to raise £300,000 for her neighbour Alan Barnes after he was horrifically mugged.

And it’s not over. It’s continuing to change things, it’s not stopping - it’s speeding up.

If we’re going to make the most of it we need to take the chance to shape the digital world as it shapes us.

That’s what DOT EVERYONE will help us do.

At all levels of society, we need to get educated and informed about the internet, so we can all be involved and we can all reap the benefits.

We need to start with our leaders - they should be symbols of this ambition. And right now they’re letting us down because they don’t understand the internet.

Let’s start with government because, contrary to what you might believe, I’ve seen that real change is possible there.

The Government Digital Service, created in the Cabinet Office in 2010, is a recognised world-leader in creating digital public services.

In just the last three years the team there and the people they work with in departments have helped save over a billion pounds. They’ve done it by building digital services that make life easier for everyone.

They have redesigned important but ordinary things like the way you apply for a Lasting Power of Attorney or how you claim Carer’s Allowance.

They are saving money and making interactions with government dramatically better.

Building on work started by the last government there are also good initiatives around open data, coding in schools and digital start-ups - we should applaud all this progress.

We just need to go much, much faster and we need to make sure all of us are included.

We need more politicians and senior civil servants who realise that ‘getting’ digital means more than operating a twitter account or taking an iPad to meetings.

What digital is about, what the internet allows, is a radical redesign of services. Cheaper, better, faster. This frees up money, resources and attention to put into the really important work, the work on the frontline.

We are about to go to the polls in an election where we are being asked to choose between seemingly competing visions. Crudely put, one of less spend and one of even less spend. But this is not as simple a decision as we are being told.

We’re still wasting colossal fortunes on bad processes and bad technologies. In a digital world, it is perfectly possible to have good public services, keep investing in frontline staff and spend less money. Saving money from the cold world of paper and administration and investing in the warm hands of doctors, nurses and teachers.

There is a huge opportunity here to do public services differently. What we need is politicians and leaders who can escape the old assumptions.

Why are they not talking to us about this?

Because they don’t understand it well enough. Their lack of knowledge breeds fear, especially of three dreaded words in a headline: Government. IT. Failure.

And who can blame them? We can all name the IT disasters; from welfare, to health and local government.

But it is time we move on from these old fashioned ways of talking about government technology.

The digital world I see is low cost, and rapidly develops products. Projects are less risky because they are always developed in close connection with the end user.

A world where the internet is a tool for transforming the relationship between the state and the citizen, not something driven by the need for economic efficiency alone.

There will, of course, be setbacks, there will still be bad headlines - you don’t change decades of entrenched technology behaviour overnight. But we must demand more of our ministers.

But it’s easy to indulge in our favourite national sport and blame politicians - but corporate leaders? You’re letting us down too.

This country is rightly proud of its creativity, its inventiveness, its entrepreneurialism.

But among the top 100 visited websites in the world, there’s only one from the UK.

Last time I looked it was at number 74.

Just after Pornhub, at 73.

And what is it? The BBC. A public institution.

It’s not that we lack digital talent, far from it. Eight of the 20 most popular YouTubers in the world are British. It’s just that the platforms they’re using are American.

The zero cost margin businesses that the internet enabled have become monopolies at breakneck speed and these businesses are mostly from the west coast of California.

We suffer from a shortage of digital imagination in the boardrooms. There are only 4 digital executives on FTSE 100 boards.

But I’m willing to wager at least 80 percent of board discussion and decisions have a digital element.

This lack of imagination definitely contributes to our relatively small research and development spend which in the UK is 1.8 percent of GDP versus 4.5 percent in the US. This in turn hampers start-up growth as there is less money for innovation.

We start as many digital businesses as anywhere in the world but they need to be able to scale and corporate partnerships help do just that.

And now to you, journalists and editors - you didn't think you were going to escape did you?

Please can you raise your game?

Politicians and business leaders are getting away with all this because you're not asking the tricky questions.

No more about the price of milk - what about the price of broadband? I’ve hardly mentioned infrastructure but it’s vital - average speeds in the UK are too slow - the internet report of 2014 ranked us 13th globally behind the Czech Republic, the US, Japan and the Netherlands.

David - please can you ask about why, despite endless promises we still don't have superfast broadband to every one of us - a project that would dramatically improve all of our lives. It has been touted and talked about but not remotely delivered.

And Jonathan, how about wondering why we aren't addressing our mammoth social care challenges with more imaginative uses of technology?

Generally, I’m not sure how to feel about entrenched monopolies, but if both the Dimblebys start asking the right questions I think we can overlook this particular one…

This crisis of skills is not limited to the corridors of Whitehall or the boardrooms of the City. It’s also the case in some of our most disadvantaged communities.

There are currently 10 million adults in the UK who cannot get the basic benefits of being online - communicating, searching, transacting and staying safe. And guess what? They are heavily skewed to the lowest socioeconomic groups.

50 percent are over the age of 65, but 50 percent are of working age, in a country where 90 percent of new jobs require basic digital skills and many vacancies are advertised only online.

Only 30 percent of businesses in the vital small and medium enterprise sector are buying or selling online. Let’s just think about this for a moment. Imagine you are running a small beauty salon or hairdresser. How difficult would it be to do make sure you are known in your local area without understanding how to appear in search results or on social media? And think how much money could you save by ordering supplies and products online?

No wonder these businesses are missing out on growth. Our estimates show that helping every small business understand digital would contribute £18 billion to the economy.

As founder and chair of Go ON UK, I have met hundreds of people who have shared stories with me about the transformative power of getting connected.

I’ve often returned in my mind to Mary in Newcastle, who is a disabled full-time carer for her heavily disabled husband. She was sinking fast into a hideous depression until a local volunteer taught her how to use the internet. She told me it saved her life. Yes, saved her life.

She felt her world expanded and that she could experience things she’d never otherwise have been able to do - she was “going on a holiday” when playing around on Google Earth and getting priceless support from new friends she met in online groups.

For Mary, getting access was the difference between coping and not carrying on. For all of us, her going online meant that she was relying less on health services, and doctors.

Whether you’re a newbie like Mary, or you’re a bit more of a Martha, you might need some help navigating the risks online too - malware, fraud, phishing, scams. Let alone how to keep tabs on your personal data.

I’m not going to embarrass this audience by asking those of you with a password of 12345 to raise your hands, but I can tell you that statistically it’ll be about 25 percent of you.

And judging by the conversations amongst my friends it’s even more tricky when talking to your kids - from sexting on Snapchat to supervising screen time in the sitting room - the answers are not always clear. Trolling, bullying, shaming - it's not going away.

It is essential that we are equipped for the darker technology developments as well as the bright.

However you look at it, education is the first thing our new institution, DOT EVERYONE will do. Education. Teach us all about the internet. Get us all up to speed. And make sure no one is left behind.

The second thing I think it should do is get more women involved in technology.

The big internet companies we use every day and the cultures they spawn do not reflect the diversity of their users. They under-represent every group of the population that’s not male, white and able-bodied.

I’m enormously concerned that none of the biggest internet businesses we all rely on were run by or founded by a woman.

Yes, there are some impressive senior women in tech, women like Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Marissa Mayer running Yahoo! but you can count them on one hand and they’re mostly based in the U.S.

If you take a look at the tech sector as a whole, 14 percent are women. That’s a massively lower percentage than the 24 percent I find in the House of Lords. So much for the old fashioned world of Parliament compared to the shiny modernity of the internet.

Look at the investors in the technology sector - fewer than 10 percent are women. Even worse: when you begin to look at the specific, highly paid technical roles - the software engineers, architects and system operators - the percentage of women collapses to low single digits.

This is especially disappointing because women have been so important in the development and creation of internet and computing technologies.

There were women involved in all the pivotal moments of the history of computing. British women to boot. Ada Lovelace is widely credited as the first computer scientist, there were the female codebreakers at Bletchley Park or look at the women who worked on the UK’s first electronic computer - the Colossus, built by the Post Office Research Station.

In fact, in the 50s and 60s, when the computing industry started growing, it was full of women. Their admin-heavy jobs were often the ones being automated, so they were the first to be
trained on the new machines and were the people who did the first kinds of programming.

Let’s not forget a personal idol of mine - Dame Stephanie Shirley. She started an all female software engineering company in the 60s. She deliberately recruited women that other companies considered unemployable: mothers, housewives.

It wasn't easy - Shirley had to start by signing sales letters with her nickname 'Stevie' rather than her full name. But she got projects and they weren’t exactly lightweight - only programming the Polaris submarine and Concorde black box.

I don’t know exactly how it happened but the absence of women is having a profound impact on the services we use everyday.

I reckon it is not misleading to suggest that about 98 percent of the code that the internet and web technologies rely on was and continues to be programmed by men.

The digital sector should be leading the way in our striving, as a society, to move beyond prejudice based on gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, class or disability. It should not be languishing in a comfortably monocultural world.

Something that is "for everyone", needs to reflect that. And that means being built by everyone.

Do you think Apple would have released its much anticipated ‘Health’ kit without the ability to track periods if there’d been a woman high-up in the organisation? I don’t.

And is this why the big tech companies haven’t addressed the issues that are predominantly faced by women on social media? Trolling, harassment, death threats?

If there were more women at senior levels in these companies, perhaps problems would have been solved sooner.

It was heartening to see Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, put his hands up earlier this year and say that he recognised as much and then go on to hire three very senior women engineers.

I somehow find it unsurprising that globally it is Jack Ma, the charismatic founder of the wildly successful Chinese e commerce site Alibaba, who gets this - 47 percent of his company’s employees are women and they hold 33 percent of the senior roles.

I could go on but I really don't like moaning - this is an opportunity for us. What better way could there be to give the UK a huge leap in technology, than to inject those voices that are currently underrepresented?

The best predictor of an effective team is the presence of women. The kind of collaborative, team-based work that creates great software and great digital services has been proven to be vastly improved by the presence of women. So let’s show what can be done - starting in our schools, all the way to the boardrooms.

Here’s a straightforward, achievable goal - let’s make the UK the best place to be a female technologist in the world.

The UK will need 1m people to fill the jobs in the technology sector by 2020. So let’s create an awesome new cohort of female coders, creators, designers - women to take on every and any digital role.

Why not launch a national challenge to find the best ideas to tackle this problem?

Why not offer every unemployed woman free education and training?

Surely there must be a couple of new Ada Lovelaces lurking in this land

There are exciting projects happening in the UK such as techmums, Stemettes and codebar but there need to be more of them, with bigger impact, so we foster the maximum breadth and depth of digital talent.

Remember the next wave of women can come from all sorts of unlikely places - look at me - an ancient historian!

DOT EVERYONE our new organisation, must figure out how to put women at the heart of the technology sector. That alone could make us the most digitally successful country on the planet and give us a real edge.

Finally, there is one other area that we need to think about. It’s perhaps the most abstract and complex, but getting it right is going to be vital if we’re going to make the most of the internet.

DOT EVERYONE must help us navigate the multiple ethical and moral issues that the internet is presenting and will continue to present.

It's not right for us or fair on them that it's the big commercial technology platforms that are currently the dominant voices in this debate. Google and Facebook are writing the answers because our institutions and legislators can't cope, they don't have enough expertise.

We should be ambitious about this. We could be world leading in our thinking.

In this 800th year anniversary of Magna Carta, the document widely upheld as one of the first examples of the rule of law, why don't we establish frameworks to help navigate the online world?

Frameworks that would become as respected and global as that rule of law.

Tim Berners-Lee started thinking about this with his recent Web We Want campaign.

Here’s a specific example – though we wouldn’t make policy decisions about health care matters without consulting doctors. According to the same logic, we shouldn’t make privacy and data policy without consulting technologists and encryption experts.

The Snowden revelations and subsequent tribunal this year found that up to 2013 GCHQ had been undermining encryption and bulk collecting our data. Whatever you think about the effectiveness of executive oversight, most people agree that the legislation governing our data is woefully inadequate.

Right now, many of the people responsible for renewing that legislation don’t have all the technical knowledge required to do the best job possible. Surely that has to change.

There is no shortage of other issues to be explored.

Do children need different rights online?

What are the implications of wearable technology? Of an Internet embedded in devices in your home?

How do we make sure that ‘smart cities’ are projects for the public good not just private profit?

How should we prepare for the so called 'second machine age' and the increased use of robots?

How do we protect against increasing cybercrime?

I believe we should be making sure that the original promises of the internet - openness, transparency, freedom and universality - are a national asset, as integral to our soft power as The Queen, singing superstar Adele, JK Rowling, Shakespeare, or dare I say it on this channel, Downton Abbey.

That, for me, would be DOT EVERYONE's third big task - help us embed our national values in the digital world.

It will make sure the UK fills the moral and ethical gap that exists at the heart of discussions about the Internet.

It will focus on addressing education, on the absence of women.

And it will do this at a national level.

It must be bold. Ambitious. Globally respected.

As Goethe said in one of my favourite quotes "boldness has genius, power and magic in it".

Easy to say but how do we fund it and give it credibility?

It would need a dose of public money, although it doesn't need to be new money. There could be a reorganisation of existing funds that currently go to many diverse organisations. Or how about we ask those large tech companies to pay a chunk of the huge profits they make here, but on which they pay so little tax?

Most importantly it needs to engage with us all in a way that hasn't been done before. It will crowdsource the priorities people want to see it work on - maybe even get part of its funding on Kickstarter.

It would have some hard levers - a clear mandate from government that would give it the ability to take certain actions.

Those might be ensuring no company can win a government contract without all their workforce having digital skills, or providing a compulsory digital immersion course for all parliamentarians and civil servants.

It would also have some soft levers - it might write reports but it'll also produce prototypes because the best way to help people understand the benefits of digital is to show not tell.

For example, in The Netherlands, The Buurtzorg community nursing organisation invested in 7,000 frontline nurses with only 30 back office people. They flipped round their structure - rather than fewer nurses and more admin they have more nurses and less admin.

Patients rate the service highly. The nurses have 60 percent less absenteeism and a 33 percent lower turnover than in comparable organisations.

Academics suggest that doing something similar in the UK would save about £6 billion a year. 6 billion in community nursing. SIX BILLION. Even a sceptic has to take that number seriously - even a tenth of that number.

DOT EVERYONE SHOULD CREATE a UK version and test it.

It’ll be a team with many different skills, as diverse as I’ve talked about, bursting with women and demonstrating to the world what the future of technology looks like.

It will be a place where both the private and public sector would want to send employees for a year because of the invaluable experience.

It should aim to do 50 significant projects in the next ten years and then we should be brutal about assessing it. It doesn’t need to last forever, it probably needs to make itself redundant.

Dot Everyone is new - it shouldn't feel familiar. There’ll be no dusty buildings, no grey men, no bureaucracy, no questions about maternity leave.

I can't be more prescriptive because I think it's essential we work it out together and because despite how it might appear I'm not applying for a job!

The idea of an institution isn’t entirely new. The Warwick Commission has thought about this, as has the legendary Tony Ageh at the BBC and Tom Steinberg, the founder of mySociety. There is great merit in all they say even if I might argue for different priorities.

It would also be wrong and arrogant not to recognise that there are many small organisations who are working pieces of this puzzle and doing some great projects and it would be essential to involve them in the creation of anything new.

However, I believe we will all benefit from a more cohesive vision centred around a single entity.

We created some of the greatest institutions of the 20th century - the BBC, the Open University and the NHS. We must be able to do the same for the 21st century.

It's not beyond our collective ability to nail this.

Just think about, I know I get excited. I don’t want to get carried away, but it could be our generation’s moon-landing, our Great Exhibition, our Festival of Britain.

So finally let me reiterate why I think DOT EVERYONE is necessary. And why now.

It’d be easy to just catalogue all the missed opportunities, all the dangers, all the things that don't work. But as a clever person once said, Martin Luther King did not say ‘I have a nightmare’.

So I too have a dream. It’s a dream where one of our Prime Ministers has an unprecedented level of ambition for the country - to make it the most connected and creative in the world.

This PM would see that by embracing the internet more fully and making sure all of us are included, we would benefit as individuals and as a nation.

They would recognise that the internet is here to stay and it’s the organising principle of our age. They would want to create this innovative, people powered new organisation and they would make sure it had real powers so it could have real impact.

Britain grabbed the industrial revolution by the throat - we became the powerhouse of the world - and we can do that again.

We have a rare opportunity to have a new and significant role in the world. To lead in the civic public digital world - to help give it weight.

And the great news is that this time we don't need 'dark satanic mills' or workhouses or choking cities to fuel our success. We need vision and drive.

No more 'what happens if you get pregnant’.

Britain should be a place where any 25 year-old woman pitching for investment in a new digital business, social enterprise or public service will know that the investor, CEO or Minister ‘gets the internet’.

Why can't we be the most digitally powered up people on the planet?

There are massive gains for us as a society if we are.

I can ignite the flame this evening, provoke the debate but we all need to help make this a reality. I hope you are convinced, excited and most of all, you want to take part.

I have set up an online petition at demanding the next Prime Minister starts to build Dot Everyone. Please sign it. There is much to do so let’s get going.

Think of the BBC, the NHS. Let’s have no poverty of ambition - we can and should be inventing the definitive public institution for our digital age.

I end with my heroine Mary Wollstonecraft: “the beginning is always today”.