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The Sunday Times Magazine 27 August 2017

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AUGUST 27 2017
Robo-workers, flying
cars, mutant mosquitoes,
feminist dating apps,
millionaire gamers, the
digital porn generation,
and how it feels to be a
21st-century Luddite
AUGUST 27 2017
Our special issue on tomorrow’s world today
The horror of rural broadband
What’s it like to grow up in a
world where free porn is a click
away? Gabriel Pogrund, 23,
reflects on how it shapes teens
How I became fluent in emoji
Flying cars are now a reality —
but will they ever take off, asks
Nick Rufford
The start-up queen talks to
Ellie Austin about her split
from Tinder and founding a
feminist dating app
The AI revolution is here
— what will we do when
robots take our jobs?
John Arlidge reports
From a hydrogen car to a Tesla
for the home, here’s the most
aspirational tech on the market
White, male techies have
built their prejudices into their
machines, says Trevor Phillips
Bill Browder and his techie son
Josh on exposing corruption
and murder in Russia — and
building a robo-lawyer
Mosquitoes are being
genetically engineered to stop
spreading disease. So why the
protests, asks Nick Rufford
… be a digital Luddite.
Rosie Millard despairs
of her analog sisters
Italy’s spectacular
underwater greenhouses
Netscape founder
Marc Andreessen
tells Danny Fortson
who he’s backing next
Feelgood recipes from festival
chefs Mark Hix, Antonio
Carluccio and Candice Brown
Bethany Mota,
the No 1 female
YouTuber in the
US, on battling
the cyber-bullies
The Dish
How did computer
gaming become one
of the fastest-growing
spectator sports?
Helen Lewis reports
Sabrina Ghayour’s leg of lamb,
sticky aubergine and peach cake
— perfect for a special occasion
Go behind the scenes of
the tech issue. Listen at
or download on iTunes
The Sunday Times Magazine • 3
We need faster broadband out in the sticks — or country
dwellers risk becoming second-class citizens
India Knight
ccess to the internet is
like access to the other
essential services in our
civilised society: water,
a sewage system, roads,
postal services, electricity. Where
services such as health or education
are affected by rural remoteness, we
make monumental efforts to overcome
the problem: councils pay to send kids
to school by taxi, if need be. The NHS
pays for people in rural areas to travel
for treatment, if they have to. And
this is great. Everyone needs access
to infrastructure and vital services,
regardless of how rich or poor, young
or old, urban or rural they are.
Now imagine that, from tomorrow,
we would not supply 5% of our
population (more than 3m people) with
water, sewage, electricity or postal
services, on the basis that it would be
too much hassle. The social contract
would fall apart. We’d be detaching
technological modernity from social
modernity in a disastrous way, and
then the state would step in and force
the relevant companies to provide
services to everyone. That’s where we
are now with internet provision, and
it’s a watershed moment. We can either
decide it is essential that everyone
must have access — or not. At the
moment, it’s “not”, by stealth, and the
consequences are terrible not just for
3m rural people, but for tens of
millions of people everywhere — and
even for the kind of society we live in.
Broadband infrastructure, in the
form of the rollout of fibre-optic cable
across the UK, is well under way. The
issue is speed. The government says it
wants everyone connected at speeds of
at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps),
and has said it is willing to legislate for
a universal service obligation (whereby
everyone is guaranteed access for the
same price). By the end of the year, BT
will have connected 95% of households
to this speed using fibre-optic cable. It
wants to connect all but the last 1%
using existing copper wiring in remote
locations, and in return it wants no
universal service obligation. My speeds
out here in the back of beyond rarely
exceeded 2Mbps until two weeks ago
when, as the consequence of an
obsessive two-year campaign of
harassment of BT by me, they creaked
up to 6Mbps. They’re never going to
be much faster, because nobody is
going to come and lay fibre-optic
cable down a remote country lane. So
that’s it, for us.
Meanwhile, Virgin is advertising
coming speeds of 200Mbps and BT is
talking about 1,000Mbps. I think that
all the service providers downplay the
speeds households currently need,
leaving them free to sell super-duper
“ultrafast” speeds to people who can
afford them. What that means is that
soon you will only be able to have all
the amazing, magic stuff — the virtual
reality, the “internet of things”, the
Listen to Anton Lesser reading CJ
Sansom’s Shardlake series on Audible
Buy a Fjallraven Kanken backpack for
your child. Not cheap, but their spines
will thank you (
Watch The Great British Bake Off,
Channel 4. With mixed feelings, obviously
life-changing gizmos that haven’t yet
been invented — if you’re in the right
area and can pay.
Think of the development of social
media over the past 10 years and apply
that to movies, gaming and domestic
services over the next 10, then add in
the unknowable. It is thrilling — and
clearly the government’s 10Mbps will
soon become ludicrously inadequate.
In a decade, rural and poorer people
will be stuck at that speed with no
scope for an upgrade, either because
they’re too remote or too poor.
The geniuses who created our
present infrastructure — the London
sewers, say — future-proofed them for
a century or more, because they knew
they were building something that
would define civilisation. The people
building broadband infrastructure are
future-proofing it by a year or two.
Technology is unbelievably
complicated, but the notion of
progress is not: it involves access to the
basics of modern existence regardless
of means. What do we want? Universal
service obligation and fibre optic to
everyone’s front door, please. When
do we want it? Before it’s too late ■
The Sunday Times Magazine • 5
I used to think emojis were dumb. On closer inspection,
I realise I’m a snob and they’re mini revolutionaries
Josh Glancy
in New York
he actor Sir Patrick
Stewart is widely
considered the greatest
living Macbeth. In a 2007
production, Stewart
teased out all the Scottish play’s
contradictions, portraying its
protagonist as a vacillating tyrant
and anguished fanatic. Now, the great
stage genius and Star Trek legend has
a new role: Poop.
In the recent Emoji Movie, one of
our great acting knights puts on his
best patrician accent to conjure up
what he describes as a “tentative and
cultivated” character. This appalling
film has racked up a lowly 8% on the
Rotten Tomatoes rating website and,
until recently, would have confirmed
all my prejudices towards emojis:
a prime example of our culture’s
degradation by modern technology.
As a writer, I long considered
myself above using such infantile
replacements for the majesty of the
written word. As a lifelong Luddite,
I assumed that emojis were making
us cruder and more stupid. I mocked
my friends for using them.
A recent piece of research by Dutch
and Israeli social scientists appeared
to support my assumptions, proving
that people who use emojis in the
workplace are considered less
competent by their colleagues as
a result. But I’ve recently come to
the realisation that I was wrong: emojis
are brilliant and I was being a snob.
Moving to America crystallised this
appreciation, because of the sheer
volume of messages I was exchanging
with people back home. I wanted to
express myself better and so reached
for emojis, which are creative, funny
and take conversations to places that
words cannot reach.
I like almost all of them: the wattled
chicken face and the pensive puffin,
the evil pumpkin and the wad of flying
cash. I like using them in an absurdist
way, introducing hatching chicks or
dancing ghosts into the middle of
sober conversations.
Like words, emojis can often take
on a life of their own, coming to mean
something quite different from their
original intention (thus the bizarrely
pornographic evolution of the
aubergine emoji). They also offer
a seemingly endless array of options
for irony. The chinking beers and
police vans when discussing a night
out, or the heel-clacking playboy
bunnies when musing on the near
certainty of going home alone .
What does our favourite emoji say
about us? The dancing ghost is
my favourite, which is probably
suggestive of my propensity to hide
behind silly jokes and play up my own
wildness. One friend tends to use the
crying kitten a lot, which I think
reflects her own conscious cuteness.
Recently, I’ve even started
introducing emojis into work
Listen to the Strangers podcast.
From the team behind The Moth comes
a series of weird, tragic and beautiful
human connections
Read Henry David Thoreau by Laura
Dassow Walls. A striking new biography
of the radical writer and nature lover
discussions, picking my battles
carefully: one has a decent chance
of converting someone from
Generation X, but it’s a tough sell for
a lot of baby boomers.
As a writer, I’ve realised that
anything that amplifies my range of
communication and allows for more
emotion and wit to enter the world
should be embraced with a
We’ve all experienced jokes that
fall flat over text message, in which it
can be difficult to convey humour,
tone and nuance. After all, only 7% of
communication is verbal; the rest is
expressed when we talk in person,
through tone and body language.
Emojis get us closer to a real
conversation, allowing us to tap into
a range of non-verbal cues to express
ourselves better and land jokes more
effectively. If Charles Dickens and Jane
Austen were alive today, I think they’d
both be extremely emojinal writers.
Despite its Shakespearean
associations, though, I do still draw
the line at . I don’t care if they
resurrect Laurence Olivier to play
him in the Emoji Movie sequel: we’ve
got to stay better than that n
The Sunday Times Magazine • 7
“ For a man, a lawsuit
is a badge of honour.
For a woman, it’s
‘Don’t hire her’”
Whitney Wolfe
Founder of Bumble, formerly at Tinder
hitney Wolfe is 10 minutes into
having her photograph taken and
there’s a problem. The (female)
photographer wants to try some
shots of her reclining on a sofa, but
Wolfe isn’t buying it. “It’s too sexy for me. I want this
to be taken seriously,” she says. “Would you put a male
CEO on a couch lying down when he’s doing an
interview about his business?” She has a point, but
her stance is also indicative of something broader.
Wolfe, 28, landed her first tech job five years ago
when she was hired by a Los Angeles incubator to
develop ideas for start-ups. One of the launches she
worked on was the dating app Tinder, and she
eventually became its vice-president of marketing. She
also began dating its co-founder, Justin Mateen. In
2014, as the app’s popularity rocketed (it currently has
an estimated 50m users), things turned sour for Wolfe,
both professionally and personally. The relationship
unravelled and she lost her job, taking Tinder to court
for sexual harassment and discrimination (she alleged
that she was stripped of the title of co-founder). The
lawsuit was settled out of court with neither party
admitting wrongdoing. Some saw Wolfe as a feminist
icon — the public face of a long battle for equality by
the women of Silicon Valley — but, inevitably, angry
corners of the internet branded her a gold-digger.
Others might have quietly retreated from an
industry that had caused them such public anguish;
Wolfe returned defiant. Within months of her departure
from Tinder, she had launched Bumble, a dating app
in which women make the first move. Dubbed “the
feminist Tinder”, Bumble has more than 18m users,
who spend an average of 90 minutes a day on the app.
Wolfe may be one of the most successful and visible
young women in the tech industry, but the judgment
she was subjected to during the Tinder saga looms
large. Does she fear she’ll always be defined by it?
8 • The Sunday Times Magazine
“I have to accept that it’s what happened,” she says
matter-of-factly as we decamp to a restaurant for brunch.
“But what I’d say to every young woman is, if there’s
something hurtful in your past, don’t let it hold you back
from what you want to do. A man wouldn’t. He’d bounce
back. Until recently, Travis Kalanick [who stepped down
as CEO of Uber in June following a series of scandals]
was on the cover of every magazine saying, ‘I’m not an
asshole.’ You think a woman would get to do that? A
lawsuit for a man is almost a badge of honour. It makes
him cool, crazy. When a woman is involved in a lawsuit,
it’s ‘Don’t hire her. She’s a devil. She’ll come for you.’ ”
That sexism is endemic in Silicon Valley has long
been acknowledged; the lack of diversity and macho,
“frat house” culture has been compared to that of 1980s
Wall Street (see Trevor Phillips, page 19). However, in
recent months tech’s sex problem has become headline
news. Earlier this month, an internal Google memo
was leaked in which a senior employee — since fired
— argued that the company had so few female coders
because women are “more interested in people” than
things, “more prone to anxiety” and thus biologically
ill-suited to working in tech.
Wolfe shakes her head in exasperation. “I’m a firm
believer that it [this mentality] goes back to childhood,
when we give boys toolboxes and action figures to play
with and we give girls Barbie. I don’t think women
make the decision not to code or build machines
because they’re scared of it. They do it because, from a
young age, they’re not exposed to those opportunities.”
Wolfe has the breezy confidence you’d expect of
someone who founded a globally successful company
before their 25th birthday. She’s been up since 5.15am
answering emails, which is, she says, pretty normal. Is it
true that she wakes up at two-hour intervals throughout
the night to log on? “I’m trying to stop that. I get no
downtime. I don’t get a weekend, I haven’t lived like
a twentysomething since I started Bumble in 2014.”
The Sunday Times Magazine • 9
Right: Wolfe meets
staffers at the Austin
HQ of her dating
app, Bumble (below)
There’s more admin than usual at the moment as
she’s getting married next month to Michael Herd,
a Texan oil heir whom she met on a skiing holiday.
How can someone so blissfully ensconced in
coupledom relate to the lives of the single women
downloading her app? “I don’t remember anything
about college other than feeling terrible for four years,”
she says. “Whenever there was a guy I liked, I felt I had
to wait around for him to make the first move, despite
the fact that I am a go-getter in every other area of my
life. So I put myself back in my college shoes and said,
‘How do I fix what failed for me and practically every
woman I know? How do I change things so a woman
can make the first move and not be judged?’ ”
So, with the help of Andrey Andreev, the Russian
CEO of Badoo (the world’s No 1 dating network), Bumble
was born. As other dating apps became associated with
casual sex and sleazy men sending unsolicited pictures
of their anatomy, Bumble offered an alternative that
prioritised meaningful connections, with women calling
the shots: both men and women can “swipe right” on
their phones to register interest in another person’s
profile, but, when a match occurs, only the woman can
start a conversation. If she doesn’t, the pairing expires
in 24 hours. New features allow users to meet platonic
friends (Bumble BFF) and network (Bumble Bizz).
It is a clever and relevant concept. Feminism is a
fierce source of pride for today’s young women and
any Millennial man worth his salt is well versed in the
importance of gender equality. Yet I’m sceptical as to
whether the app has transformed the dating dynamic
as much as it claims. I’ve heard of brilliant Bumble dates,
but there are ample stories from friends who say they
have been messed around by men they met on the app.
What’s more, my male friends — all prolific daters —
unanimously believe that the most effective way to send
a man into a frenzy of desire is to pay him no attention
whatsoever. How does this fit with the Bumble dictum
that women should forget about appearing mysterious
and make their intentions clear from the get-go?
“I understand why your friends say, ‘Go cold,
disappear’, because society has trained them to think that
women can’t be too forward. But I’ve spoken to many
men who say that Bumble is amazing because it’s the
digital equivalent of a guy walking a cute dog. It allows
women to approach them without fear of being judged.
It’s very profound that, in real life, women won’t behave
in a certain way, but we’ve got them doing it on the app.”
Wolfe grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her father is a
property developer, her mother stayed at home to look
after Whitney and her younger sister, Danielle. At school,
Wolfe “failed at everything”, but rather than knocking
her confidence, it seems to have instilled a fearless,
self-motivating determination. Aged 19, she founded
her own company selling tote bags to raise funds for
areas affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bumble currently has 52 employees — 42 of whom
I admit I’m not fully
empowered. Sometimes
a man says something
sexist to me and I laugh
because I get nervous”
are women — mostly based at its Texas HQ. It’s clear
that she feels a deep responsibility for her team, talking
about “my girls” with the mother-hen protectiveness
of a headmistress at a British boarding school.
“I care about their wellbeing,” she explains. “You
need a day off because you’re having a bad day? Take it.
As long as people get their work done, they can go at
their own pace.” There are flowers if you pull off a stellar
project, complimentary blow-dries and a new office
coming soon with an in-built “momma’s room”, where
you can go to “breastfeed, take a nap or scream”. There
is also a “no talking behind each other’s back” policy.
“If someone comes to me with a negative comment
about a colleague, I say, ‘OK, noted. I want you to go
and say this exact thing to them. We do not talk behind
each other’s backs. We’re kind to one another.’ ”
In a different life, Wolfe could have run a self-help
empire. She earnestly explains how she regularly
emails inspirational quotes to her staff (“Something like,
‘A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle’ ”) to
remind them that they’re teammates, not competitors.
Schmaltziness aside, you have to admire the way in
which Wolfe lives by the sisterly principles on which she
markets her app. She is frank about how desolate she
felt following her Tinder departure and you sense it has
become her mission to use technology to make people
— specifically young women — feel less alone. “I look
up to [the Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg as an
example of how to take the worst situation in your life
and find a way to make yourself better by helping
others.” (Following her husband’s sudden death in 2015,
Sandberg wrote a book about her grief that she presents
as a framework for overcoming adversity in life.)
Could Wolfe’s desire to make a difference one day
extend to politics? “Why do people always ask me
that?” she laughs. “I could never run for [office]. There
are people so much smarter than me.” Hold on, I say,
that doesn’t sound very Whitney Wolfe. Do you think
Donald Trump agonised over his intellectual robustness
before throwing his hat into the ring? She leans across
the table. “I’m going to be honest with you. Just because
I’m running a company to empower women, it doesn’t
mean I’m fully empowered. Sometimes a man says
something sexist to me and I laugh because I get nervous
in the moment ... It’s OK to admit that. I’m not being
truthful if I don’t tell you about my own insecurities.”
Let’s hope she conquers them fast. I’d vote for her ■
Download Bumble through the App Store for IOS or
Google Play for Android.
Which dating app are you best suited to? Visit Magazine
at and take our quiz to find out
The Sunday Times Magazine • 11
No job is too dull for smart technology. Will AI make us
happier and richer — or enslave us? John Arlidge reports
Vegas is where you go for old-fashioned
fun, but I’ve got an appointment with the
future. It’s 7am and the sun is beginning to
rise over faux Paris, New York, Venice and
the Egyptian pyramids when a silver
BMW pulls up on the Strip to pick me up.
I’m going to take Frank Sinatra Drive to
Interstate 15, but I won’t be driving. No one
will. The car will do it itself.
I get into the “driver’s” seat, press the
blue button on the steering column that
“engages personal co-pilot” and take my
hands off the wheel and my feet off the
pedals. The car, a prototype, stays perfectly
central in its lane and about 40 yards
behind the truck in front, at a steady
55mph. It is — remarkably — not at all
scary, so I set a course north for Seattle,
the second stop on my tour of the future.
I arrive at the Amazon Go store on the
corner of 7th Avenue and Blanchard Street
in the downtown area. It looks like any other
supermarket you might duck into to escape
the rain and pick up dinner. There are the
“We prep, you cook” meal kits, jumbo jars
of anything you might fancy and, this being
America, a “no weapons” sign at the door.
But there’s one thing missing. Checkouts.
I will soon be able to walk in and out again
with dinner but without paying — or fear of
arrest. Sensors and cameras will monitor
what I pick from the shelves and put in my
basket, and my Amazon account, activated
via my iPhone when I walk in, will be
charged before I’ve even reached the next
block. The store is due to open any day now.
Thanks to huge leaps in machine
learning, speech recognition, mapping and
visual-recognition technology, artificial
intelligence (AI) is, at last, walking off the
pages of sci-fi books and into our lives. It’s
not just robot cars and robot shops. Those
Facebook photos you’re tagged in? That’s
AI. So are our Netflix recommendations,
Spotify playlists, and Google and Skype
translators that enable us to talk to anyone
in the world in any language. Don’t take
my word for it. Ask Alexa, your Amazon
Echo voice-controlled butler. If you don’t
have one yet, you’ll soon be able to ask
Apple’s Siri to order one and have it delivered
the same day, anywhere you find yourself.
(Amazon is trialling drone deliveries.)
AI is spreading so fast, it will soon be
integrated into almost everything we touch,
kick-starting what many call the “fourth
industrial revolution” — the first being
steam engines, the second oil and
electricity and the third computers. The
only difference, analysts say, is this new
14 • The Sunday Times Magazine
revolution is likely to be 10 times faster,
300 times the scale and have 3,000 times
the impact of the others, because once
computers invade the physical world and
start making autonomous, intelligent
decisions, the opportunities are limitless.
The trendspotter and futurist Faith
Popcorn prefers simpler language: “We’ll be
merging, morphing and mating with the
bots.” (She’s not joking about the mating
bit. Google “sex robot”.)
Fembots aside, it’s thrilling stuff. But the
pace of change is making many wonder
whether this new force will, overall, be good
for us, our families, our homes and the
companies we rely on for our livelihood.
For all the magic that self-driving cars and
virtual butlers promise, could smart
machines outsmart us and start pushing us
around, before finally pulling the plug on us?
Yuval Harari, author of Homo Deus: A
Brief History of Tomorrow, thinks so. If we
create robots that can do everything better
than us, we could “lose our economic and
political value”, he warns. David Autor,
professor of economics at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
wonders if “robocalypse is upon us”. So
should we welcome the bots or fear them?
has some big advantages. For
one thing, it will help us live
longer. Traditional carbon life
forms make lots of mistakes.
More than 90% of the 1,810
people who die annually on Britain’s roads
(1.25m globally) do so at the hands of
malfunctioning humans. Remove the nut
behind the wheel and deaths will fall to near
zero, carmakers predict. Martin Lundstedt,
the boss of Volvo, whose USP has always
been safety, says his vision is that “no one is
killed or injured in a new Volvo by 2020”.
Automation will help to cure us if we are
one of the unlucky few who do still crash
our cars or simply fall ill. Bots study x-rays,
MRI scans, medical research papers and
other data and pick up signs of disease that
doctors sometimes miss. Back in Britain,
thanks to another piece of AI — the
autopilot of a Virgin Boeing 787 Dreamliner
— I meet Lord Darzi, the surgeon who
pioneered keyhole and robotic procedures.
In his office at St Mary’s Hospital in
Paddington, he tells me robots can also
perform better surgery than humans —
and he’s one of the best. “Robots are more
precise, have greater range of movement in
keyhole surgery and no hand tremor, which
makes delicate stitching easier,” he says.
Since we’re all going to be living longer,
it’s a good thing that bots will help many of
us get richer. By reducing labour costs —
robots work tirelessly and don’t demand
raises — automation will make existing
companies more profitable and help spur
the creation of new ones, techno-optimists
predict. Consultants at the accountancy
giant PwC say AI could boost the British
economy by 10% over the coming decade,
adding an extra £232bn to GDP by 2030
and creating hundreds of thousands of new
jobs. Automation will also make many
existing jobs more fulfilling. No one actually
wants to answer the phones in a call centre.
And that’s all before we get to the nirvana
of never having to drive, thanks to
autonomous cars created by BMW, Jaguar
Land Rover, Mercedes, Ford, VW, the Tesla
pioneer Elon Musk and his Silicon Valley
rivals Google and Apple.
These benefits, great though they are, are
only the beginning. As it grows, AI will
rewire where and how we live, improving
our lives and homes — or so its proponents
hope. To find out how, I head back across
the Atlantic to San Francisco, where most
AI research is being done, to meet one of
the pioneers.
Uber’s Andrew Salzberg is fiery. The taxi
app’s head of transportation policy and
research talks as fast as a machinegun and
he beams charts onto any wall he can find in
the company’s HQ on Market Street, the
city’s main drag. Through the barrage, the
message eventually becomes clear.
Automation can make cities, where most of
us now live, greener and more pleasant lands.
Uber has collected so much data from
the hundreds of millions of rides its users
have taken that it knows how and when
we travel. That means it can anticipate
when and where we will need to go and
make sure there are autonomous cars
available. Salzberg argues that, soon, rides
will be so abundant and — with no driver
to pay — so cheap, there will be no need to
own a car at all. He says the number of cars
on the road could fall more than 90%.
Most of those that will remain in fleets
such as Uber’s will be electric. If that
happens, it will not only reduce congestion
and clean the air we breathe, it will
transform how and where we live.
“Some 20%-30% of city centres are
devoted to parking,” Salzberg explains.
“If you don’t need parking, buildings can
change, streets can change, homes can
change. We can have more park spaces,
instead of parking spaces.”
It sounds like the latest self-serving
Silicon Valley woo-woo. After all, he has —
shock! — forgotten to mention that Uber
stands to benefit to the tune of hundreds
RISE OF THE MACHINES Left: look, no hands — an autonomous
BMW. Above: Sam the robo-brickie is six times faster than a human
of billions of dollars. But then I take an Uber
to Parkmerced, halfway between downtown
and San Francisco airport, and find out that
what Salzberg is talking about not only
works in theory, but is actually happening.
Parkmerced is the most high-density new
housing development in any western city
— 9,000 homes are being built for 30,000
residents, most of whom will dump their
cars. They have no choice. The developer,
Maximus Real Estate Partners, has scrapped
parking. To make sure buyers can still get
around, residents get Uber credits, with
car-share vehicles from Zipcars available for
longer rentals. “This is the cutting edge of
something huge,” says Glenn Durfee, who
has put his money where his wheels were.
He has just sold his Toyota and moved into a
townhouse apartment with his wife, Alicia.
Urban planners and developers in other
cities are following San Francisco’s lead.
Moda Living is investing £1bn creating
6,000 rental-only homes in London, Leeds,
Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham,
Glasgow and Liverpool, where tenants will
get up to £100-worth of Uber credits a
month if they agree not to have a parking
space. In London, automated cars could
free up as much as 20 square miles, 3% of
the 600 square miles that make up Greater
London, for new homes.
So far, so safer, better Automated World
3.0. But there’s a snag. With tech, there
always is. And it’s the problem innovation
has raised ever since the Luddites began
smashing up automated weaving looms in
northern mill towns 200 years ago. Jobs.
Despite all the economic growth and
employment opportunities proponents
say AI will generate, few doubt it will also
spell redundancy for many. A new report
by the National Bureau of Economic
Research in the United States quantifies
the problem in stark terms. Its authors, the
economists Daron Acemoglu (MIT) and
Pascual Restrepo (Boston University), argue
jobs are already being lost to AI and are
unlikely to come back. Between 1990 and
2007, the addition of each robot into US
manufacturing resulted in the loss, on
average, of 6.2 human jobs. You’ll soon see
this happening on your local building site.
Robots called Sam (semi-automated mason)
are already beginning to replace brickies in
America and will arrive here any day now.
They can lay up to 3,000 bricks a day
compared with the human average of 500
— all without fag breaks.
John Hawksworth, chief economist at
PwC, estimates that almost a third of
existing UK jobs may be automated away
over the next 15 years. That’s a lot — and it’s
not merely “routine” jobs. Professional
services, once considered immune from
the ravages of AI by smug white-collar
workers, are also threatened. Automated
services such as SimpleTax, KashFlow and
Rocket Lawyer, which prepare our annual
accounts and tax returns and do simple
legal tasks, are putting human lawyers
and accountants out of work. Even
bosses are catching a whiff of their own
professional mortality. “Chief executive
officers feel reasonably confident we are
not going to be replaced by artificial
intelligence,” Inga Beale, CEO of the
Lloyd’s of London insurance market, said
recently. “But I’m sure there will be a time.”
The job losses could herald a new era of
Ordinary workers will be left behind.
Not every taxi driver in Blackburn can
become a robo-nurse in Woking
unprecedented inequality. Humanity could
split into a small class of “superhumans”
who control the AI that will run the lives
of the huge underclass of “useless” people,
says Yuval Harari. If that happens, social
revolt won’t be far behind, the president
of the New America foundation, AnneMarie Slaughter, recently argued.
“Remember, the first industrial revolution
gave us Marxism,” she said.
Silicon Valley usually turns a blind eye to
the havoc its revolutionary products wreak
on traditional industries and communities.
Monetise first, moderate later, is their
mantra (if anyone bothers to complain). But
amid allegations that they facilitate secret
communication by terrorists and all the
scandals surrounding hacking, trolling, hate
speech, fake news, advertising scams and
murders streamed live on Facebook, tech
firms are on the defensive. The last thing
they want is to be blamed for job losses and
inequality far greater than anything
wrought by globalisation. So they are
already trying to persuade us that AI will be
what they would call “net positive”.
First, they echo PwC’s work, arguing that
AI will create way more new jobs than it will
destroy. They cite the example of telecoms.
Sure — each advance, from fixed lines and
telex through fax to mobile phones and
email, displaced some types of workers.
The typing pool is a distant memory. But
the increase in new jobs has more than
made up for those lost. Today, millions of
people work as app developers, virtualworld designers, self-drive car researchers,
designers and makers, ride-sharing drivers,
social media marketers — jobs that not only
did not exist, but would have been difficult
even to imagine 10 years ago, before AI took
off. “We will have more and better jobs,”
predicts Marco Annunziata, chief economist
at the giant US firm General Electric.
Most will involve working with robots
to create what analysts call “augmented
intelligence” jobs. Collaboration, technooptimists predict, will kick-start “a
renaissance, a golden age” in which we will
“solve problems that were in the realm of
science fiction”, the Amazon boss, Jeff
Bezos, likes to say — and he knows a thing
or two about predicting the future.
In the short term, however, few
The Sunday Times Magazine • 15
dispute that many ordinary workers are
likely to be left behind. Not every former
taxi driver in Blackburn can become or
wants to become a robot nurse supervisor
in Woking. For those who lose out, Silicon
Valley proposes something radical:
universal basic income.
The idea is that governments would
hugely increase the welfare state using tax
revenue, much of it derived from the highly
profitable tech firms that politicians would
have to force to cough up their fair share, not
dodge it, as they now try to. Everyone would
receive the minimum they need to live,
regardless of whether they have a job. So, if
you lost your job or simply did not want one,
you could do something else. “Imagine
6bn-10bn people doing nothing but arts
and sciences, culture and exploring and
learning. What a world that would be,”
enthuses the famed Silicon Valley investor
Marc Andreessen (see interview, page 32).
Free cash and a future where work is
optional and no one goes without does
sound great. It has gained support here.
Labour has set up a working group to
examine it. But, like most free offers, is
there a catch? I decide to ask Steve Hilton.
He used to advise David Cameron before
moving to California to set up his own tech
firm, Crowdpac, and write a book, More
Human, in which he argues we should use
technology to create “a world where people,
not Silicon Valley, come first”.
The idea of universal basic income makes
Hilton so angry, he practically spits out his
metropolitan tea, which is what San
Francisco hipsters call builders’ tea, when
we meet in a downtown cafe. “Doing
meaningful work and being rewarded for it
is a basic human need. Depriving people of
that is morally evil,” he says. “It’s revoltingly
patronising for the ‘great geniuses’ of
Silicon Valley to say, ‘We can continue our
fascinating work and earn vast incomes, so
we can live in our gated communities
guarded by robots and drones. But, sadly,
you won’t. Don’t worry, though: we’ll pay
you not to work.’”
He has a point. From an early age, we
learn that jobs are central to family life and
society as a whole. Waking up early and
going to work is what our mum and dad do
or did, what we do and what we tell our
children they will do, too. We do it because
it means we can take care of ourselves and
our families and join the ranks of the
“strivers” who politicians and newspapers
tell us are morally superior to the “shirkers”
living on Benefits Street. Jobs also enable us
to learn new skills, make friends and, for
many of us, find our life partner. Home
brew and poetry only go so far.
Surely, though, whatever happens to jobs,
all of us will benefit from having more time,
more space and living in the greener cities
promised by men such as Uber’s Andrew
Salzberg? Don’t bet on it, says Christian
Wolmar, a leading transport analyst. He
SHOP OF THE NEW Above and right: the cashless Amazon Go “robostore” in Seattle
acknowledges fleets of self-driving cars
could enable us to be more productive
and live more sustainably. But he points
out they could just as easily do the opposite.
“Why not live 90 minutes away from the
office and work on the way there and
back?” he says. Sprawl — and pollution —
would increase.
It might be a good idea to do away with
parking and build more homes in our cities,
as at Parkmerced, but lots of robot cars
could increase congestion and pollution.
It’s already happening. New Yorkers are
taking so many Uber and Lyft rides that the
number of people using the subway is
falling for the first time since the financial
crisis and traffic gridlock is increasing.
mart machines have plenty of
other downsides, too. Computers
that act in a flash on fresh data, to
trade stocks and shares faster than
humans, have caused unexpected
market crashes when they flood exchanges
with buy or sell orders. Automated cars — a
Toyota, a Ford and a Jeep in the US — have
been hacked and the hackers have taken
control of the brakes and the steering. The
cyber-security experts IOActive predict
that robots working for big companies will
be turned against their employers —
spying on them or disrupting production
lines. A hacked robo-doc in an operating
theatre would be even more dangerous.
There is an even bigger problem: how
relaxed are we about artificial intelligence,
really? Arriving at Heathrow and using a
facial-recognition machine, not a human
immigration officer, to match our face to
our passport photograph is one thing. But
would you feel comfortable putting your
children in a driverless car to take them to
school? An electronic butler such as
Amazon’s Echo sounds jolly, until you
wonder whether the little “Big Brother” in
the corner is, in fact, snooping on
everything you do. This is not an academic
question. Police in Arkansas investigating a
domestic killing recently seized an Echo
unit to see if it recorded the attack.
And that’s before you get to the really
scary stuff about machines ganging up on
us, Terminator-style. It’s closer than you
think. AI weapons have arrived. Drones
can shoot bullets and launch grenades.
What would happen if one were hacked?
Elon Musk has said that the rise of
machines smarter than us poses humanity’s
“biggest existential threat ... With artificial
intelligence, we are summoning the demon.
AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of
human civilisation.”
These are not the concerns of shoppers
in Seattle. They can’t wait for the day when
the prototype autonomous BMW becomes
real and drives them to the Amazon Go
store on Blanchard Street. Standing on the
rain-flecked pavement, I watch through the
glass as staff armed with “beta participant”
badges test the robostore where people will
soon be queuing up not to have to queue
up. With no “unexpected item in the
bagging area” and no threatening security
guards because shoplifting is impossible, it
looks and feels like the future.
And it’s going to get even more
futuristic/creepy. Amazon is working on
facial-recognition technology, so the store
can greet each customer personally as they
walk in and tell them about that day’s
special offers on the food it knows they like.
“Hello, John. It’s 50% off doughnuts today.”
Ghost shops? Ghost cars? Ghost
everything? Welcome to the second
machine age. If you don’t like the sound of
it, there is something you can do to protect
your future, if you have the time. Retrain as
a psychiatrist. No one will ever let a robot
into their head.
Will they? n
To see the jobs robots are already taking over,
visit Magazine at
The Sunday Times Magazine • 17
The tech revolution
has a fatal flaw: the
prejudices of nerdy
white males are
infecting the system,
says Trevor Phillips
or 10 years Josephine was a rarity:
a female hotshot in the heart of
Silicon Valley. Having made her
name, she was in demand and looked
forward to climbing the corporate
ladder at least as fast as her male co-workers.
Frustratingly, year after year, she never
seemed to be in the right place at the right
time. It wasn’t until she opened emails
addressed to “Finn”, that it started to dawn on
her why she was missing out on the juicy
assignments and big money.
Finn received all the everyday material that
Josephine saw; but he also got a daily diet of
gags and locker-room filth, some about
women in the company, which wasn’t easy for
Josephine to read. What really stunned her
were the regular tips from other guys about
who was in and who was out with the CEO,
where the firm’s next big investment would
come, and what markets were being targeted
for expansion. This was the kind of knowledge
you really needed if you wanted to reach the
top. It turned out to be the key to Finn’s
advancement — which was great news for
Josephine, because she and Finn were, in
fact, the same person.
Josephine had initially adopted the male
alias partly as a joke. It was a nickname given
to her by her boss. But she quickly realised
that if some of her colleagues in other offices
thought “Finn” were a man, it opened new
horizons. She told researchers at the New
York-based Center for Talent Innovation, a
US business think tank, that every woman in
tech should “get yourself a Finn”. Even after
her career took off, she maintained that
“I thought Finn would outgrow his usefulness.
It’s sad, but that day hasn’t happened.”
Josephine/Finn’s experience won’t come
as a surprise to millions of women working in
tech worldwide. Science, engineering and
technology (SET) have long been a male
domain. But in the past year, senior figures
have warned that the sector’s male-dominated
culture has incubated a super-virus that
threatens to take down the digital universe
itself. According to the senior Microsoft
researcher and MIT visiting professor Kate
Crawford, who led an Obama White House
symposium on the implications of AI, “sexism,
racism and other forms of discrimination are
being built into the machine-learning
algorithms”. What Crawford christened the
“white-guy problem” in the tech sector is
corrupting the very product it sells.
Supposedly dispassionate artificial
intelligences aren’t neutral at all: they are
adopting their masters’ prejudices, and
exposing their businesses to huge risks.
The Sunday Times Magazine • 19
Each day, millions of decisions about who
gets what job, who is eligible for a home or car
loan, and even who goes to prison are
dependent on the workings of AI. Biases built
into those virtual decisions carry real-world
consequences for tens of millions of citizens.
High-profile embarrassments so far include
job sites that inadvertently offer women
lower-paying and lower-status roles; facialrecognition programs that can’t cope with
dark skins; apps that categorise images of
black people as gorillas; and camera software
that registers Asian people as “blinking”.
I myself found that, for a period, the digital
trace generated by my laptop identified me
as probably black; as a result I received
dozens of emails tailored to my ethnicity —
including several offers from bail bondsmen
to bail me out next time I happened to find
myself in jail. Algorithms designed to help
courts decide on the likelihood of defendants
committing further crimes have been shown
to flag black defendants as being twice as
likely to be high-risk as whites.
If this were just a moral question, I think it
would barely raise a ripple across the digital
stream. But several US banks have paid
multimillion-dollar fines for breaches in the
mortgage market; and here in the UK, my own
data analytics company, Webber Phillips,
provoked hysteria in the car insurance
business last year by showing that drivers in
multiracial areas paid premiums up to 50%
higher than average, even after correcting for
the effects of low incomes and the likelihood of
car crime. It’s improbable that the composition
of the teams doing the programming plays no
part in these results. And that’s far from a new
problem in the tech industry.
When I started as an undergraduate at
Imperial College of Science and Technology
more than four decades ago, my mentor didn’t
beat around the bush: “If you’re interested in
girls, forget about IC — it’s 13 men for every
woman here, so you won’t stand much of a
chance.” He didn’t seem to think that this was
anything other than the natural order of things.
Today, the college’s gender ratio has leapt to
more than one in three. Its head is the renowned
chemical engineer Alice Gast, and it remains
one of the world’s top 10 universities. Globally,
more than half the graduates of reputable
universities in SET subjects are female.
Yet in the very place where you’d expect
attitudes to have changed first — the funky,
laid-back culture of California’s Silicon Valley
and its global offshoots — women might as
well be an alien species. Google has come
under investigation by the US government for
“compensation disparities”, ie, its gender pay
gap. Over at Uber, the ride-hailing app’s
co-founder Travis Kalanick took an indefinite
leave of absence as CEO in June following a
series of scandals, including the revelation
52% 86%
of women in US tech
companies say they
have experienced
sexual harassment
of women in tech
say they have no
“sponsor” —
someone senior
who knows their
value and would
speak up for them
32% 88%
of US women in tech
jobs are likely to
quit within a year.
Hostile macho
cultures and
isolation are among
the main factors
of all British patent
come from
all-male teams
of inventors
that after a woman had been raped by an
Uber driver in India, the company had actively
investigated her history.
Meanwhile, the boss of the Silicon Valley
investor 500 Startups, Dave McClure, found
a novel way of implementing its mission to
“empower talented founders”: he repeatedly
hit on female tech workers. Stepping back
from his leadership role, he described himself
as a “clueless, selfish, unapologetic and
defensive ass … I probably deserve to be
called a creep”.
For many, dazzled by the liberal halo
around big players such as Bill Gates and
Mark Zuckerberg, all this may have come as
a shock. But to Silicon Valley insiders the
writing has been on the wall for more than
a decade. In 2007, the Center for Talent
Innovation interviewed male and female SET
workers worldwide. They found that some
52% of the women in tech had quit their jobs,
considerably more than the men. A “hostile
work environment” was given as one of the
main reasons; chillingly, in tech companies
63% of women said they had experienced
sexual harassment. Seven years later, the
results had changed — but not by much. Even
in the US, 52% of women had experienced
sexual harassment. In India, included for the
first time in the research, the figure was 69%.
The behaviour of men in the industry
ranges from “on-the-spectrum”
awkwardness and arrogance around women,
through the predatory, to the downright gross.
One woman told the researchers that she had
found herself talking to a group of her fellow
programmers, all male, when they were joined
by a colleague, who shook hands with
everyone except her. “I could feel his anxiety
in assessing how to greet me,” she said, “but
he also didn’t think I was important. So in the
end he just chose not to deal with me.”
One participant gave an example of “the
frat-boy atmosphere”. At a breakfast
presentation for employees from more than
30 countries, one American manager — a
“smug white guy” — showed a video featuring
“a woman in a bikini swimming with a cat.
Yes, he said the word ‘pussy’ ”.
Dhara, an Indian engineer, pulled the
internet logs of her male colleagues and
discovered that they were “full of filthy talk
about every single female on the floor, making
comments like, ‘She’s spending a lot of time in
the bathroom, guess she’s got her period.’ ”
Dhara discovered to her horror that she was
among the women whose appearance —
including breast size — was being assessed.
It didn’t take her long to move to the US in the
hope of a better working environment.
But the everyday experience of American
women isn’t that much better. They believe
their ideas are less likely to be adopted, and
that they are less likely to get interesting
assignments; in the US, 30% still say they feel
isolated — a female engineer or programmer
is likely to be the lone woman on the team.
Women also say that they are less likely to
take risks, because they believe that if they
fail they won’t get a “second chance”, unlike
men. A striking 86% of women in tech say
that they have no “sponsor” — someone
senior who knows their value and would speak
up for them.
No government seems ready to lay down the
law to the gigantic enterprises that keep many
modern economies on the road. Just four tech
companies — Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and
Facebook — constitute 10% of the value of the
entire Standard and Poor’s 500 index; and
earlier this year the overall tech sector, more
than a fifth of the index’s worth, had added 17%
to its value year on year. Crucially, 88% of the
patents that drive the industry’s success are
generated by all-male teams; only 2% originate
from all-female teams. It would take a saint or
an act of God to want to tamper with a goose
that is laying such a pile of golden eggs.
There are dangerous rumblings on the
horizon, however, the most ominous being
a growing shortage of talent. Change won’t
come easily. Most women in the industry have
become quietly resigned to the fact that, in
geek culture, the frat boys continue to rule;
the worst thing you can be is one of the girls.
One group of female engineers told the
Center for Talent Innovation that if any of
them walked into a room full of other women,
they would turn round and walk out again. It’s
not that they don’t like other women; it’s
simply that, in their world, “by definition
nothing important is going on in that room.
In this company, men hold the power.” n
The behaviour of men in the industry ranges from awkwardness
around women, through the predatory to the downright gross
The Sunday Times Magazine • 21
British scientists are
wiping out disease-carrying
mosquitoes with a genetic
“kill switch” that makes the
offspring self-destruct. It
will save lives, so why are
protesters trying to stop it,
asks Nick Rufford
SWARM WELCOME Mosquitoes at the Oxfordshire-based biotech company Oxitec, which
has developed a “kill switch” inside the DNA of the deadly Aedes aegypti species
n a trading estate outside
Oxford some weird science
is going on. Behind security
doors and “Keep out” signs,
red-coated technicians are
breeding one of the world’s
most prolific killers. The laboratory walls
are lined with mesh tanks, each containing
what looks like a small, angry rain cloud.
Get close enough to the gauze, though, and
you can see each cloud is a pulsing swarm
of mosquitoes.
These aren’t the common or garden
variety that causes a nuisance at summer
barbecues. These are the kind that spreads
yellow fever, dengue fever and the zika virus
— diseases that together kill tens of
thousands of people worldwide. Now
scientists at a British company have found a
way to fight back by planting a “kill switch”
in the DNA of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
By releasing armies of re-engineered
non-biting males into the wild, the firm
plans to wipe out billions of diseasecarrying mosquitoes and save lives.
If it sounds like the script of a dystopian
science-fiction drama, that’s because it is.
The idea originated in a 1970s BBC drama
serial called Doomwatch, about a
government team set up to combat perils
facing mankind.
In an episode called Deadly Dangerous
Tomorrow, dreamt up by the scriptwriter
Martin Worth, one of the characters says
a new discovery will end reliance on toxic
chemical pesticides such as DDT.
“Scientists … have found a way to alter the
genes of mosquitoes so they grow an extra
leg instead of a mouth,” he reveals.
It has taken nearly half a century for
reality to catch up with fiction, but next
month the Oxfordshire biotech firm Oxitec
will start to build up to full production, with
the capacity to ship a billion eggs each week
to tropical areas.
When they hatch in disease-infested
“hot zones”, the GM male mosquitoes
overwhelm their wild counterparts through
sheer numbers, mating with most of the
females. Before their offspring can reach
adulthood, the kill switch in their genetic
code activates and they die. It’s not quite
the mutation that Doomwatch envisaged,
but just as effective.
In scientific and commercial terms it
sounds like a British success story, but not
everybody is happy about it. Depending on
whether you think that the greater peril is
disease-carrying mosquitoes or DNA
tampering, you may marvel at the
ingenuity of it or be appalled by the thought
of what might happen if a genetic
experiment goes wrong.
There’s a lot at stake. Dengue fever
— spread by Aedes aegypti — infects an
estimated 400m people each year, killing at
least 20,000, many of them children.
Spraying insecticide can keep mosquitoes
at bay, but it is indiscriminate and doesn’t
always work. Aedes aegypti has proved
adept at building resistance.
The GM mosquitoes, by contrast, are
species-specific: they leave other species
unharmed. Because their offspring can’t
survive, the GM mosquitoes are a selflimiting form of pest control, unlike
introducing a rival species or a predator.
When no more are released, they quickly
die out.
Opponents of genetic modification say
there are unknown dangers. What would
happen, they ask, if the kill switch somehow
jumped to other species, or caused mutant
viruses even more deadly than the ones the
mosquitoes carry?
The scientists who invented it say it
simply can’t happen. But the Oxitec
mosquito is at risk of becoming as
controversial as GM crops — a new
environmental cause célèbre.
The story of the genetically modified
mosquito begins with a biologist called
Luke Alphey. He remembers the
Doomwatch series, but only vaguely, so if
it made an impression, it must have been
He says the lightbulb moment — when
he realised that genetics may hold the key
to mosquito control — came in 1994, when
he was a lecturer at Manchester University.
He was studying the genetics of Drosophila
melanogaster — the fruit fly — and talking
to a colleague about the failure of
insecticides to get to grip with mosquitoborne diseases. Other methods of biological
control had been tried, notably the release
of millions of mosquitoes sterilised by
radiation (to stop them breeding), but the
irradiation often left the insect invaders too
weak to compete with their wild cousins.
“I suddenly realised that the tools I’d
been using for my very basic, fundamental
research in Drosophila could hold the key,”
Alphey recalls.
No one had then quite worked out how
to tamper with the mosquito’s genetic code,
but when that breakthrough came in the
mid-1990s, Alphey was quick to seize on
the technique. By now he had moved to
Oxford University, still working with fruit
flies as his main day job and appropriately
conducting his experiments on
bloodsuckers by night — or at least
whenever he could find free time.
The mosquito problem was getting
worse. “We were arguably winning against
malaria, but not against dengue and these
viral diseases, where the numbers are
actually going up,” says Alphey. “The World
Health Organisation says that dengue
infections have doubled every decade for
the last five decades.”
The culprit was the Aedes aegypti
mosquito, an interloper once confined to
north Africa that had spread around the
globe because of trade and tourism. Unlike
other mosquito species, it is perfectly
adapted to urban conditions. Its eggs hatch
quickly and can even survive being dried
out when a rainwater puddle evaporates in
the sun.
A single mosquito can lay 500 eggs in
a spoonful of water. “It breeds in small
pools of clean water, so it’s very humanadapted,” says Alphey. “It lays eggs in
discarded Coke cans, buckets, blocked
rainwater gutters and puddles. That
means it’s very hard to eliminate by
conventional means.”
Alphey’s work culminated in a
genetically modified version of Aedes
aegypti, underwhelmingly named OX513A.
The beauty of OX513A was that it turned
the species against itself. Released in their
millions, the mutant male mosquitoes take
the wild variety down a dead-end path
towards extinction.
The GM mosquito was patented by
Oxford University and then spun off into
a private company called Oxitec and
relocated from the university to a low-key
laboratory on Milton Park industrial estate
in Abingdon. Bill Gates and the Wellcome
Trust backed the fledgling company
The Sunday Times Magazine • 23
APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE Gabriel Ferrato, the mayor of the Brazilian city of Piracicaba in the
state of Sao Paulo, releases GM mosquitoes; bottom, the dispersal mechanism in action
through a funding organisation called
Grand Challenges in Global Health.
As word of the Oxitec mosquito spread in
the scientific community, the laboratory
was contacted by national governments,
municipalities, non-governmental
organisations and even hotels, asking
whether it could help with outbreaks of
dengue, zika and yellow fever. Eggs were
shipped to test zones in the tropics,
including the Cayman Islands and Panama.
The success rate was remarkable: at least
a 90% reduction in the numbers of wild,
disease-carrying mosquitoes in the areas
where OX513A was released. Local
newspapers renamed the unwieldy OX513A
the “friendly mosquito”.
For a while the company was regarded as
a white knight. Its employees were
applauded when they arrived — with the
blessing of government regulators — in
pick-ups, with crates of mosquitoes,
released by the surprisingly low-tech
method of attaching a tube and sucking
them out with a Dyson household fan.
Doubters who feared that releasing more
mosquitoes could increase the spread of
disease were invited to put their hand into
a mesh enclosure to prove that the GM
mosquitoes would not bite.
Campaigners from the First World
quickly caught on to what was happening,
however, and accused Oxitec of trying to
introduce GM organisms by the back door.
They accused it of cloaking itself in
altruism while being in league with the
GM food industry, noting that its funders
included Syngenta, a multinational
producer of pesticides and GM seeds.
There were claims — unsubstantiated
— that the company’s experiments had
created a more deadly strain of zika. In
Brazil, Oxitec had released millions of
re-engineered mosquitoes during trials.
Some time later there was a serious
outbreak of zika in the same area, causing
neurological birth defects.
The Ecologist published an article
headlined “Pandora’s box: how GM
mosquitoes could have caused Brazil’s
microcephaly disaster”. The theory was that
a DNA sequence used in the GM
mosquitoes called “piggyBac” could have
jumped into the zika virus, causing it to
mutate into a more virulent strain.
If it sounds like the
plot of a sci-fi drama,
that’s because it is.
The idea came from
the 1970s BBC serial
The publication later ran what amounted
to a retraction, admitting that an
examination of the zika virus “found no
trace of . . . piggyBac”, adding: “This
effectively rules out the mutation of the
virus by the proposed mechanism [by
interaction with the GM mosquito].”
Brazil has since declared an official end
to its zika outbreak, after an eradication
programme that included using Oxitec’s
When US authorities asked for Oxitec’s
help, they faced even fiercer opposition.
The Food and Drug Administration gave
the go-ahead for an experiment in Florida,
where there had been an upsurge of dengue
fever (and later of the zika virus). Key Haven
— an island community — seemed the
perfect place for a trial. It was tropical and
surrounded by water, so the effectiveness of
the release could be measured (in inland
areas it is harder to see whether local
mosquitoes have been eradicated, because
more arrive from the surrounding area).
The trial was blocked by a referendum
last November when the 1,000
inhabitants of Key Haven refused. The “no”
campaign was led by a group called the
Florida Keys Environmental Coalition,
formed in 2010 after the Deepwater
Horizon spill, when oil from a BP-operated
rig poured into the Gulf of Mexico.
Visitors to the coalition’s website are
invited to sign a petition saying: “Right
now, a British company . . . wants to use the
Florida Keys as a testing ground for . . .
mutant bugs. Nearly all experiments with
genetically modified crops have eventually
resulted in unintended consequences:
superweeds more resistant to herbicides,
mutated and resistant insects. Why would
we not expect GM insects, especially those
that bite humans, to have similar
unintended negative consequences?”
Alphey says that such views are
understandable but wrong. In 10 years of
field trials there is no evidence of the kind
of side effect that protesters fear. Hadyn
Parry, in charge of Oxitec’s corporate
development, says that far from being an
environmental menace, the GM
mosquitoes are friendlier to ecosystems
than any other method of chemical or
biological control pest control.
“If you spray insecticide, you’re knocking
out any insect, whether it’s a butterfly, a
bee, whether it’s beneficial or innocent. So
our approach is a bit like a sniper’s rifle
compared to a blunderbuss. We’re doing
something that we believe in and which will
save lives.” He points out that the go-ahead
for trials had been given in all six other
countries where permission had been
sought, and had the approval of the World
Health Organisation.
So far, the company has failed to convince
objectors. It has hired lobbyists to fight its
corner in Washington. Even in places where
mosquito-borne diseases were rife, Oxitec
faces questions where previously its
motives were unchallenged. In one country
it was asked to prove conclusively that only
female mosquitoes spread disease, not the
males — a long-accepted biological fact.
It may not have helped Oxitec’s image
that it has been swallowed by an
The Sunday Times Magazine • 25
TANKS A MILLION Tubs full of Oxitec’s modified mosquitoes awaiting release
international biotech giant. In 2015 it was
bought by Intrexon, a US conglomerate
whose other subsidiaries include
companies that genetically modify salmon
to make them grow faster and one that
makes apples that do not turn brown.
Oxitec — which has never made a profit
— says if it has lost its academic innocence,
at least it has the financial backing to carry
on its work.
When it is finished in 2018, a new £7m
laboratory near Oxford will have the
capacity to export billions of selfdestructing mosquitoes round the world.
For the first time, the company says, there is
the very real possibility of winning the
battle against mosquito-borne diseases.
It is already working on a self-destructing
version of another disease-carrying
mosquito, Aedes albopictus — the Asian
tiger mosquito. There is no reason the
same technique could not be used for the
Anopheles mosquito, which causes an
estimated 1m malaria-related deaths
annually worldwide.
The potential benefits in terms of lives
saved are huge, but so is the potential for
backlash. Campaigners, including
international organisations such as Friends
of the Earth, are linking via social media
into a powerful alliance. A
petition (“Say no to GM mosquitoes release
in the Florida Keys”) has raised more than
170,000 signatures online.
Compare that with the audience for a
Royal Society-sponsored video made by
Alphey — now Professor Alphey, 53 — who
is based at the Pirbright Institute in Surrey,
where he is continuing his genetics
research. He posted the video explaining
his OX513A mosquito — a genuine
life-saving scientific breakthrough — on
YouTube in 2012. As we went to press it had
been watched by 323 people (one of them
the writer of this article).
One senior scientist says: “People ignore
science because they don’t understand it.
When only 323 people watch the YouTube
video about a discovery that could save
many lives, you have to wonder whether
we’ve got our priorities right.”
Meanwhile, Worth, the scriptwriter who
Buzz off out of
our back yard!
In Florida Keys the
battle lines are drawn
over GM mozzie trials
he land of
retirement condos
and Walt Disney
World has become
the unlikely scene
for a confrontation between man
and mosquito — and science
versus sceptics. On one side
is the Florida Keys Mosquito
Control District, which has
brought in Oxitec to help stamp
out dengue fever and the zika
virus. On the other is a band of
seasoned campaigners that
greeted Oxitec, the UK firm
whose GM mosquitoes could
wipe out the deadly Aedes
aegypti, with the same
enthusiasm with which they
greeted BP’s oil slick after
the Deepwater Horizon spill.
A group called the Florida
Keys Environmental
Coalition is leading
the campaign. Its
chairman is Ed
Russo, who has
written an ebook
called Donald J Trump:
An Environmental Hero.
The significance of BP
and Oxitec both being
foretold the future with uncanny accuracy,
comments that Doomwatch had always
been “ahead of its time”. Now aged 90 and
living in London, he points out that the
BBC series, which at its peak drew 12m
viewers, had warned of toxic lead pollution
as early as 1972, yet it had taken a further 28
years before lead in petrol was banned.
Speaking via his son, Worth said: “Using
specially bred mosquitoes to eradicate
disease seemed like a good idea at the time,
but I really had no idea whether it would be
possible. Forty-five years seems a long time
to wait for it to actually happen, but perhaps
better late than never.” n
British is not lost on him, though
he says that is not a factor in his
concerns. “In England they must
have a different dictionary than in
America, because they probably
don’t understand what the word
‘transparent’ means. This is
taxpayers’ money, and Oxitec ran
it like a black-ops procedure. We
weren’t going to put up with either
[BP or Oxitec] — they were both
very bad.”
Oxitec points out that
across Monroe County, of
which Key Haven is part,
31 of 33 districts voted for
trials of the mosquito.
There’s an irony:
Oxitec is owned by
Intrexon, which
has offices in
Randal Kirk,
head of Intrexon,
which owns Oxitec
West Palm Beach, Florida,
where its chief executive, Randal
Kirk, also lives — a mere
powerboat ride from the
epicentre of the hostility.
Kirk says the science behind
Oxitec is irrefutable: “We have
over 10 years of field trial data, in
multiple countries, that attest to
the fact this [Oxitec mosquito] is
a highly successful intervention,
whose environmental impact to
other species — so far as we can
tell — is zero.”
Asked if some objectors are
motivated by the fact that Oxitec
is British, he says: “I don’t know.”
Significantly, perhaps, there
was less resistance when Verily, a
life sciences offshoot of Google’s
parent company, Alphabet,
announced a small-scale release
of GM mosquitoes in California,
even though the company did
not have the benefit of Oxitec’s
extensive field trial data.
The Sunday Times Magazine • 27
28 • The Sunday Times Magazine
Off the coast of Italy, scientists are trying to solve the
food crises of the future — by growing crops in
underwater pods. Photographs by Alessandro Rota
The Sunday Times Magazine • 29
Previous pages: a model
of the “tree of life” houses
cables for the hubs
This page, from top: a diver
converses via ultrasound
equipment in his mask
Basil, mint and liquorice plants
take root in one of the hubs
A network of 28 heavy-duty
chains anchors the six pods
to the ocean floor
30 • The Sunday Times Magazine
hey look like alien cities
from a sci-fi movie, but
these underwater pods
are being touted as a
potential answer to the
farming crises of the
future here on Earth.
Submerged 100 yards offshore from
Noli, a coastal town in Italy’s Liguria
region, are five air-filled biospheres.
Inside them, a range of produce is
being grown, including the aromatic
herb basil — a key ingredient in one of
Liguria’s signature dishes, pesto
genovese. Red cabbage, lettuce, beans,
and strawberries have also been grown
in the subaquatic greenhouses.
The otherworldly set-up, known as
Nemo’s Garden, was launched in 2012
by Ocean Reef Group, a diving
equipment company. Its hope is to
design a sustainable method of
producing food that could be used off
the coast of countries beset by
drought, saying its experiments have
shown plants grow faster underwater.
The pods, which vary in size, are
anchored to the seabed and float at
depths of 20 to 35ft, giving the plants
a place to grow away from extreme
weather conditions on land. Sunlight
penetrates each dome, making them
warmer inside than the sea around
them. Being submerged also means
they retain their heat at night, creating
a near-constant temperature for
growth — in a pest-free environment.
The crops are kept hydrated by drips
of water condensing on the inner walls
of the biospheres, and are tended to
daily by a team of specialist divers.
A series of cameras and sensors enables
monitoring from dry land, 24/7.
Nemo’s Garden has not been without
its hurdles — annual running costs are
tens of thousands of euros, partly raised
by crowdfunding. Early designs were
thwarted by leaks and decay, while
heavy storms have destroyed crops and
damaged the biospheres. The team’s
next challenge is to make the model
commercially viable. The developers
are attempting to simplify the design to
reduce the need for divers to tend to
the plants, and develop a fertiliser made
from dried algae and to grow a greater
variety of plants.
The site has had some success
outside the food industry. Several
pharmaceutical companies have
rented the pods for trials and have
found that plants grown underwater
contain twice as many essential oils as
those grown on land n
Emma Broomfield
Right, clockwise
from top left: project
co-ordinator Gianni
Fontanesi makes a
video call. Each of
the pods has wi-fi
The view from the
project’s beachside
headquarters in Noli
The hydroponic
system used to feed
the plants
Nemo’s Garden has
been designed to
blend in to the
marine environment
A worker from the
project swims below
tourists canoeing
on the surface
The Sunday Times Magazine • 31
What he pocketed from selling nearly
75% of his Facebook shares in 2015
Amount AOL bought
Netscape for in 1999
He brought the internet to the masses
with Netscape, then invested in all the
best start-ups, from Instagram to Airbnb.
Marc Andreessen tells Danny Fortson
where the smart money is heading next
omewhere between shaking hands and
sitting down across a small, circular table,
Marc Andreessen pulls out a wet wipe. At
6ft 5in, he is, literally and figuratively, one
of the towering figures of technology. He
also has a thing about germs. Like a surgeon going
into theatre, the 46-year-old venture capitalist and
internet pioneer pats his hands clean as the mortals
in the room exchange niceties.
Known for a fearsome intellect housed in a
stupendous, buffed cranium, he has agreed to talk
about the state of technology from the perch he has
occupied for more than two decades at the heart of
Silicon Valley.
In 1994, as a twentysomething coder, he created
Netscape, the web browser that ignited the dotcom
boom — and a precursor to the likes of Firefox,
Chrome and Safari. Now he has remade himself
into a kingmaker, geek whisperer and fire-breathing
tech evangelist.
His venture-capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz,
was an early backer of Airbnb, Skype, Instagram
Age he appeared on the
cover of Time magazine
as tech royalty
Amount his venture capital firm, Andreessen
Horowitz, invested in Instagram in 2010
s pat
What his firm made when
Mark Zuckerberg bought
Instagram for $1bn in 2012
Amount investors led by Andreessen
Horowitz have ploughed into the
anti-ageing company BioAge
and Twitter, among around 150 other wideeyed upstarts promising to change the world.
When Yahoo offered $1bn to a 22-year-old Mark
Zuckerberg for his little social media start-up
back in 2006, it was Andreessen, an early investor,
who urged him to say no when most of his
benefactors told him to say yes. Facebook is now
worth $500bn and counts a quarter of the planet
as customers. Andreessen sits on Facebook’s
board and remains a trusted consigliere of
Zuckerberg, who at 33 is the world’s fifthrichest man.
The internet is unrecognisable from when
Andreessen first started out and just 20m people
had intermittent access to what was then more
popularly known as the worldwide web. Today more
than 3bn people are online, four out of five British
adults carry a supercomputer in their pocket,
industries are being obliterated and the rules of
social engagement altered for ever. (Why talk when
you can text or, better yet, send an emoji?)
The pace is breathtaking, messy and
overwhelming — but, according to Andreessen,
we ain’t seen nothing yet. Technology may have
reordered life as we know it, but thus far the
upheaval has been largely “intramural sport”,
Andreessen argues. By which he means that the
tech giants have spent the past several decades
largely disrupting each other or proximate
industries they understand well, such as media or
electronics. That is about to change.
34 • The Sunday Times Magazine
“The big thing right now is a lot of seasoned
entrepreneurs saying, ‘OK, we need to have
a bigger impact on education, healthcare,
construction, government and law’”
Today there are roughly 800 venture capital firms in
the US alone, and they are almost universally small,
tight-knit partnerships of mostly white men who dole
out cash to a handful of upstarts each year. The industry
fancies itself as mission control for The Future.
Andreessen and Horowitz, eager to make their mark,
took a different approach that was modelled on CAA,
Michael Ovitz’s famed Hollywood talent agency. Their
nine investment partners — all men — are surrounded
by 120 specialists to support their anointed
entrepreneurs in marketing, business development,
sales, human resources and government affairs. It’s a
company-making machine.
Set back from Sand Hill Road, an unremarkable
stretch of low-slung office parks that is home to most of
Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms, the lobby
walls of Andreessen Horowitz are lined with books.
Aromas waft in from the free catered lunch. A silver
platter with neatly arranged glasses of mineral water
sits on the desk next to the iPad where guests sign in.
More often than not, the waiting area is occupied by
twitchy young men, nervously clutching laptops as
they wait to be called in to make their pitch. Each year,
some 1,500 start-ups walk through the doors of a16z, as
the firm is known (since you ask, it’s a numeronym —
the first and last letter of the firm with the character
count), hoping to win funding for their paradigmshifting, world-altering idea.
Only 25 or so — less than 2% — walk out with
money. It’s Dragon’s Den without the cameras; the
Andreessen is
anointed as the king
of the future by
Time magazine in
February 1996
“[Previously, we’ve been] saying let’s go try to screw
up Oracle. Let’s go try to take on Google. Let’s go try
to take on Amazon,” he says. “The big thing that’s
happening in the valley right now is that there’s a lot of
seasoned entrepreneurs [saying], ‘OK, we need to now
go have a bigger impact on education or healthcare or
construction or government and law.’”
In other words, the nerds are coming for us all. Why?
Opportunity. “The price of everything where
technology is having an impact is on its way to zero,”
Andreessen explains, pointing to television sets and
media content as two examples. He goes on. “The price
of everything where tech isn’t having an impact is
going to infinity — healthcare, education, law ... There’s
a huge pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
A few notable companies have already ventured out
into the “real world”, such as Airbnb, Uber and Tesla.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, Andreessen says.
His techtopian view of the future unfurls eloquently
and convincingly, in a barrage of data points and
counterarguments preemptively raised and rebutted.
He has little patience for the naysayers who claim
technology will be the end of us. Worried that robots
are going to take our jobs? “A fake problem,” he sniffs.
“Unemployment is at a 20-year low. This is the Luddite
fallacy and basically it recurs about every 50 years.”
And what about the studies that show how
smartphones have created a generation of maladjusted
kids who spend their lives peering into their mobiles
and walking into lamp-posts? Surely he is concerned
about screen time for his 2½-year-old son? “Not even
a little bit,” he declares with the pursed, impish grin and
sharp intake of breath that often accompany an opinion
about which he is particularly pleased. He then rattles
off the history of “moral panics” that have broken out
with each new leap forward, from Socrates raging
against the written word to jazz being decried as
“music of the devil”. “Culture is actually better because
we have the written word and we have novels and we
have jazz music. Even heavy metal is kind of OK. This is
just more of the same.”
The real problem, says Andreessen, “is not that we
have too much technological change. The problem,
by far, is that we don’t have enough.”
Andreessen grew up in New Lisbon, Wisconsin,
a go-nowhere town of 2,500 people stranded on the
plains, defenceless against brutal Midwest winters.
His dad worked at a seed company, his mother in
customer service. His unshakeable fealty to the
church of technology is not hard to understand.
He left New Lisbon in 1989 to attend the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then one of four
national supercomputer centres in America — the
early foundations of the web. “You could see what
[the internet] was going to be if you were on campus,”
he says.
As a student, he developed software to help scientists
use this new network of remote computers. The work
he did there would form the basis of Netscape. Not
long after Netscape floated in 1995, Andreessen
appeared on the cover of Time magazine, sitting on
a throne, barefoot and with a full head of hair. Tech
royalty at the ripe age of 24.
A few years after AOL bought Netscape for $10bn in
1999, Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, whom he met at
Netscape, began angel investing. They ploughed $10m
into 50 companies, including Facebook, Twitter and
LinkedIn (bought last year by Microsoft for $26bn),
before deciding to set up their own firm.
Andreessen (left)
with his wife, Laura,
and Facebook’s
Mark Zuckerberg
in Idaho, 2012
amount of funding varies anywhere from a few hundred
thousand dollars to tens of millions.
That tiny success ratio is typical of what Andreessen
gleefully refers to as Silicon Valley’s “superheated
Darwinian environment”. No idea is too off-the-wall,
from flying cars and R2D2-style sidewalk delivery
robots to DIY kits that turn any car into a self-driving
vehicle and “meal replacement” liquid. (The firm has
invested in all but one of the above — flying cars.)
Most of the time it does not work. Of every 10
investments, more than half will be total failures, or
“zeros” in the industry parlance. A few will do
reasonably well. The hope is that one will rocket to
unicorn status, the term used to describe companies
worth at least $1bn. It can prove to be a virtuous circle.
Consider Facebook, which Andreessen helped so
critically in its early days. Andreessen has pocketed
more than $160m in proceeds from selling around
three-quarters of his personal stake in the social-media
giant. Facebook has also proved to be one of the most
reliable buyers for his firm’s portfolio of up-and-comers.
In 2012 Zuckerberg paid $1bn for Instagram, turning a
$250,000 bet Andreessen Horowitz made on the
photo-sharing app two years earlier into a $78m payday.
In 2014 he bought Oculus VR, a virtual-reality start-up
backed by a16z, for $2bn.
What has got him most enthused these days?
Medicine. Specifically, how artificial intelligence (AI)
and computer science have begun to “colonise” the
industry. The upshot, he thinks, will be dramatic
changes to how we take care of ourselves — and,
potentially, how long we live.
Only a few days before we meet, the firm announced
that it had led an $11m investment in BioAge, an
anti-ageing company that could help “make 120 the
new 80.” How? By approaching age itself as an
affliction, as opposed to its symptoms, such as heart
disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Employing AI, the company is trying to zero in on
the biological markers of ageing, the same way cancer
researchers hunt for tumour-causing agents — and
then come up with drugs to treat them. Are we going to
to live for ever? “We’re working on it,” Andreessen says,
only half-joking.
Beneath the bravado lies clear-eyed belief. It has to do
with where we have to go on the arc of technology since
computers were first introduced in the 1940s. AI has, for
decades, not been intelligent — like a footballer needing
years on the practice pitch before breaking into the
Premier League, algorithms that make up any AI system
require unthinkable amounts of data to crunch through
in order to improve to a point where they are useful.
The cost of computing power and data storage has
plummeted so precipitously that it is suddenly possible
for this “training” to take place. The smartphone is a
useful corollary for how the landscape has changed.
“The $600 iPhone in your pocket,” Andreessen says,
“is a Unix supercomputer that cost $30m 25 years
ago. It’s exactly the same.”
The upshot is that, in certain contexts, AI actually
has begun to work, whether it is Gmail suggesting
responses based on the text of your email or a selfdriving car that knows when to brake.
When it comes to healthcare, one can see where this
leads. “If [AI] can now tell what’s a cat in a photo, then
maybe it can tell what’s a tumour in an MRI better than
a person, right? Or maybe you can detect cancer in a
blood biopsy.” He adds: “There’s something really
special happening at the intersection of medicine and
computer science.”
For years, he would tweet to inform the masses of the
wondrous possibilities that awaited us — “Posit a world
in which all material needs are provided free, by robots
and material synthesizers.” But it also got him into
regular beefs, such as the time he suggested to Elon
Musk that he rename Tesla “the AI murder machine”
(Andreessen had taken exception to Musk calling AI
an “existential threat” — ironic given that Tesla’s
self-driving cars are powered by AI). “He deleted the
entire conversation,” Andreessen chortles. Last year,
Andreessen went one further, erasing his thousands of
tweets and announcing he was “taking a Twitter break”.
His optimism still burns white-hot, however. So
much so, it can be almost blinding.
“Did you ever think that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to
the Galaxy would ever actually be a real thing?” he asks,
referring to the Douglas Adams classic, in which the
last surviving man careens through the universe with
the aid of an electronic guide that is “the standard
repository for all knowledge and wisdom”.
“We have that today and it’s called Google,” he says
through an incredulous smile. “But the internet still has
a long way to go. The rate of improvement of basically
everything that we can possibly think about is going to
accelerate from here.”
Spoken like someone who has seen the impossible
happen before n
For the full interview with Marc Andreessen,
listen to the Danny in the Valley podcast at
The Sunday Times Magazine • 35
Clear browsing
Today’s twentysomethings
were the first people to grow
up in a world where porn
was free, easily accessible
— and often extreme.
Gabriel Pogrund, 23, describes
how it shaped his generation
them virgins — reciting with devastating
Kermit the Frog’s reaction garnered
accuracy a cornucopia of sexual fantasies,
millions of views.
preferences and perversions.
Porn, it was clear, was now interwoven
It’s not just the site’s nomenclature that
with contemporary youth culture.
was seared into our souls. A friend who was
Extreme or otherwise, we watched it
there on the day affirms: “We recognised
alone, with our friends, in our bedrooms,
the names of the porn stars, too. Different
at school. We watched it for sexual pleasure,
sexual positions. We knew the adverts that
we watched it for laughs. And as we
popped up on the side. We’d all been
marinated in this material, a discussion
guzzling down porn for years.”
raged in the distant adult world over
The quiz testified to the fact that, unlike
whether porn was bad for us. Was it taking
our parents, my generation had grown up in
away our innocence? Was it ruining
a porn-saturated, porn-literate,
romance and sex for
a whole generation?
hen one popular website reached porn instantly and infinitely and
Those discussions felt
its 10th birthday earlier this year, freely available world. Being
teenagers in the early Noughties
irrelevant to us. They definitely
thousands upon thousands of
(or should that be Naughties?),
couldn’t disrupt the overall
people took to Twitter to say what the site
we had grown up in a culture
trend: as we got older, porn
had taught them over the past decade. The
of visitors
— the good, the bad and the
responses were tinged with creepy nostalgia. that spawned “Rule 34” — one
of the so-called rules of the
ugly — became faster, freer and
One user joked: “To always lock the doors.”
are Millennials
internet — which states: “If it
much more accessible. Porn
“How to shut down the PC very fast,” said
— people aged
exists, there’s porn of it.” That is
migrated: from the desktop to
another. One, a little more candidly,
18 to 34
to say, any conceivable thing you
the laptop and, finally, to the
confessed, “It’s OK to be different,” while
smartphone, so that unlike the
another said the site had taught them “every can dream up has already been
depicted in pornographic form somewhere
old porn industry of video cassettes and
little thing I know about sex”.
online. The rule still applies — “fidget
magazines, we could access it wherever we
The site in question was Pornhub: a
wanted, without a trace. As one person
company that sits at the heart of the $100bn spinners”, “killer clowns” and “Boris
Johnson” all ranked among the top searches
joked on Twitter on Pornhub’s recent
global porn industry and has more visitors
globally on Pornhub over the past two years. anniversary, “It’s taught me how important
than the websites of the BBC, CNN and
As curious teenagers with Google at our
Incognito mode is”, referring to the option combined. Its birthday felt
fingertips, we could search for anything we
to temporarily disable your browsing history.
like a timely moment to reflect on the wave
could think of. And not much — not even
“It taught me how important deleting my
of smut that has swept over my generation.
the most obscene content — shocked us.
internet history was,” posted another.
When I was born in 1994, a handful of
Most memorably, aged 14, word of a
“I think the first time I watched porn was
production studios in LA made most of the
grotesque porn film called 2 Girls 1 Cup
aged 12,” recalls Jamie, now 22. “I remember
world’s pornographic films. A mostly male
spread among my schoolmates, which
people would come in [to school] with hard
clientele bought them on VHS tapes from
featured two Brazilian porn actresses and a
drives full of it. We’d download it onto our
seedy sex shops, rented them from
cup of human excrement. For weeks we
iPods and then share it around. It was so
independent video stores or watched them
huddled around PCs at school watching it,
easy — complete impunity. No one was
on pay-per-view channels
retching and sniggering with
going to get caught.”
at home or in hotel rooms.
schoolboy glee. I will spare you
Jamie remains grateful for the role played
Then the internet happened
the details, but the film became
by porn in his younger life. He is bisexual
— and porn became pervasive,
such a phenomenon that it
and grew up in an area with no openly gay
then portable.
featured — without the need
peers or family friends. “Porn meant that
Today, according to Pornhub,
for context or introduction —
I could log on and in seconds see that the
it is young adults who account
of Millennials
in a 2009 episode of the hit
stuff I liked was also being viewed by
for the majority of porn
who visit
Channel 4 comedy series The
hundreds of people,” he says. “It was an
consumers. Millennials —
Inbetweeners. The character Jay incredible relief.”
people aged 18 to 34 — make
plays the video on his new
He says it also meant being exposed to
up 60% of the website’s users.
laptop and his friend Will
“shocking” stuff, though. “I’m grateful for
That’s approximately 45m
comments: “That can’t be real,
discovering that not everyone was straight,
people — of whom 23% are
that’s gotta be chocolate!”
but the content was often grim. So much
women — accounting for an estimated
A trend simultaneously emerged in
porn depicts scenes of men subjecting
55bn videos viewed last year.
which thousands of people filmed
women — and indeed other men — to
I first came to understand the ubiquity of
themselves retching hysterically in
aggressive domination. We weren’t
Pornhub — and in turn, porn’s impact on
response to the clip. George Clooney
equipped to critique it, and at that age
my generation — in a mock pub quiz at my
sportingly agreed to watch it during an
we didn’t care to.”
friend’s house, aged 16. One of the more
interview with Esquire (he reportedly fled
Jamie was still a virgin when he went
risqué rounds was to name every category
the room, gagging). An unofficial video of
on to study English at Oxford University.
on the website. When the quizmaster
“When I arrived, it took a while with girls
announced the round, we exploded in
and guys to learn what was and wasn’t
embarrassed laughter. Yet, slowly but
acceptable,” he says. “I don’t mean that
surely, each team proceeded to name about
I arrived on campus a sexual predator, or
30 categories. “Teen”, “lesbian”, “ebony”,
did anything terrible. I mean that,
“interracial”, “gay”, “vintage”, “European”,
although porn showed homosexuality was
“amateur”, and so on.
OK, it didn’t show me how to express that
The more I’ve thought about it since, the
in a particularly healthy or generous way.
more I’ve considered what a remarkable
It was a blessing and a curse.”
reflection on my age group it was. Here
As our generation came of age online,
were 20 or more pimply teenagers — all of
If it exists, there’s porn
of it. “Fidget spinners”
and “Boris Johnson”
have ranked among top
porn searches recently
The Sunday Times Magazine • 37
consume porn online. They watch it more
Kat Banyard, a feminist and anti-porn
mainstream porn simultaneously seemed
often than any other age group, use
campaigner, believes so. As she writes in
to become more graphic and obsessed with
different devices (smartphones, rather than
her 2016 book, Pimp State: Sex, Money and
power. For a study in The Journal of Sex
computers), access it at different hours
the Future of Equality: “Porn profiteers
Research in 2014, researchers examined
hundreds of the most popular videos online have to find a way to elbow their porn to the (11pm to 12am is peak) and search for all
front of the crowd ... and are simultaneously sorts of different subjects.
and found that in 40% of films, women
The majority of Millennial voters may
waging a battle with boredom.”
endured “physically violent acts” —
have preferred to remain in Europe, but UK
To cut through the noise of a saturated
including slapping, spanking and choking
twentysomethings look closer to home
market and appeal to desensitised users,
— while “coercive sex” occurred in
when it comes to porn: “British”is their
Banyard argues, producers must create
one-tenth of scenes.
most viewed video category. Scenarios
more and more extreme content.
The authors found an industry in which
When I put that to Corey Price, Pornhub’s concerning “teens”, “mums”,“threesomes”
men were dehumanised as angry sex
and “babysitters”, meanwhile, are among
vice-president, he argues that the industry
machines, while women were portrayed
their foremost fantasies. Globally, healthis merely responding to the
as “instruments for men’s
obsessed Millennials — known for their
demands of the market: “It’s
pleasure” who “did not respond
clean-eating fads — are much more likely to
the same with any creative
negatively to violence”. The
watch “gym” and “yoga” porn than older
industry. If you want to stand
domination wasn’t purely
generations, whose searches for “smoking”
out and really attract people’s
physical, it was also
porn were 51% more common.
attention, you have to create
psychological. “Schoolgirl is
of British 11- to
Price of Pornhub is non-judgmental about
original and creative content
taught a lesson.” “Babysitter is
the transgressive or occasionally bizarre
that people want.”
blackmailed into sex.” “Daddy
say they have
search terms that are used on his site.
I ask him if he thinks porn
teaches daughter’s friend how
seen explicit
“People are looking for different scenarios
simply reflects the underlying
to have sex.” Professional,
material online
and fantasies, they want to experience
sexual preferences of users, or
financial and generational
things that don’t exist in real life,” he says.
whether exposure to porn
imbalances were encoded into
The porn industry has interesting
desensitises them and creates an appetite
the DNA of the industry.
ideological bedfellows on this front. Isabel,
for ever more extreme material. He says
25, a journalist and women’s activist, says:
that’s for sex psychologists or philosophers
artin Daubney, who edited
“I would never deny any fellow woman or
to think about.
the lads’ magazine Loaded before
man the right to watch what they want.
“This is what people are doing, we’ll
becoming a sexual-health activist
That sounds like policing sexuality.”
leave others to speculate as to why. We’re
in schools, has encountered teenagers who
She confides: “I’m in control of so many
just data and data science and algorithms.
are shockingly ill-equipped to separate
other areas of my life, I don’t mind being
Our goal is to deliver the best video to
fantasy from reality. “I have met 18-year-old
roughed up a bit, nor do I mind watching
boys whose first sexual experience involves the person. Our closest business model
quite aggressive porn. As long as it’s
is YouTube,” Price says.
asking girls to tie them to chairs and whip
consensual and above board, I don’t mind
It should be said, his colleagues are
them,” he tells me. He has heard girls say
trying what my partner likes either.
well placed to adjudicate on what
their boyfriends emulate the performances
“But it’s also very easy to tell when a guy
people want; over the past 10 years,
of porn stars, and engage in acts the girls
has watched too much porn. Or, maybe,
Pornhub has recruited one of the most
find invasive, unpleasant or traumatising.
when a guy hasn’t learnt how to
respected data-science teams in
“I’ve spoken to boys who say they’ve never
differentiate between real life
the world. “One was a nuclear
kissed anyone, but definitely want to try
and porn. The problem is when
scientist, one came from
anal sex.”
people bring that into the
Microsoft, another was working
“Before the internet,” Daubney, 47,
bedroom — and see porn as a
in medical research,” Price says.
recalls, “it took a lifetime to work out what
template for what’s socially or
“For you, it’s porn, but for them
you were into ... now the process of sexual
of boys think
sexually acceptable. As a
it’s just data.”
exploration has been condensed into the
porn is a realistic
feminist, that’s the conversation
Their job is to analyse the
prepubescent years.”
depiction of sex,
I’m interested in having — not
The result is that, for many young people, biggest data set on human
compared with
ending porn itself.”
sexuality ever known. Two
real sex — when it eventually arrives — is
39% of girls
No one I spoke to for this
years ago, they produced a
far less exciting than it should be. This is
article believed that the answer
comprehensive report on their
borne out by statistics on the incidence of
was to ban or censor porn. Pornhub’s data
most lucrative demographic: Millennials.
conditions such as erectile dysfunction
makes clear that Millennials aren’t going to
So, what distinguishes the first generation
— once considered an old man’s disease.
log off in moral indignation anytime soon.
to have grown up with online porn?
In Europe, the rate of the dysfunction
Porn is a fundamental aspect of how they
The report begins by explaining that
among men aged 18 to 40 has surpassed
express and experience sexuality.
“open and rapid access to information
the rate it was among those aged 40 to 80
One internet entrepreneur and porn
afforded to this group by the web in their
a decade ago, up to as much as 28%.
pragmatist thinks the answer is simply to
Angela Gregory, a psychosexual therapist formative years” has set Millennials apart
provide better, more innovative content.
at Nottingham University Hospital, recently from previous generations in the way they
Cindy Gallop started MakeLoveNotPorn,
warned that the number of young male
a website that features couples in real
patients she has treated for erectile
relationships having sex.
dysfunction over the past five years has
“Porn is as infinitely varied and rich as
soared. “These younger men do not have
literature or anything else,” she tells me.
organic disease. They’ve already been tested
“It’s fantasy, and people should remember
by their GP and everything is fine,” she said.
that. If you’re a publisher and you don’t
Has porn become more extreme — more
like books on offer, what do you do?
obsessed with power, more graphic — in
Publish better books.” n
order to appeal to a young generation
Some of the names have been changed
desensitised to traditional pornography?
“I have met 18-year-old
boys whose first sexual
experience involves
asking girls to tie them
up and whip them”
The Sunday Times Magazine • 39
of fancy
The ultimate trophy for the upwardly mobile, flying cars are a reality at last.
But will they be more than playthings for the rich, asks Nick Rufford
re we close to a new era of
commuting to work in
personal air and land vehicles
(that’s flying cars to you and
me)? It is an appealing idea:
the freedom of the skies, no
traffic jams and maybe no
vehicle tax. There has been a
flurry of news suggesting it is about to come true.
A Dutch firm, PAL-V, has developed a road-going
gyrocopter with foldaway rotors — the kind of
machine James Bond would use to evade his
pursuers. On land the ’copter will hit 62mph from
standstill in less than nine seconds. When you run
out of road, it simply transforms into an autogyro,
seating two in tandem. With an eye on the American
market, the manufacturer has set up a flying school
in Utah for a new generation of upwardly mobile
40 • The Sunday Times Magazine
drivers who can afford the basic machine’s £324,000
price tag.
Meanwhile, Larry Page, co-founder of Google, has
announced the launch of a single-seat machine called
the Kitty Hawk Flyer. Battery-powered and designed to
take off and land on water, it skims along in the manner
of a giant toy drone. Its cost has not been revealed, but
Page promises it will be affordable when it is launched
later this year.
Then there is the Transition, a light plane with wings
that tuck away so you can drive it home from the airport
at motorway speeds and park it in your garage.
Terrafugia, the company that makes it, was recently
bought by Geely, a Chinese car manufacturer that
already owns Volvo. If nothing else, it suggests there is
serious money behind flying cars.
In fact, search the internet and you will find dozens
of hopefuls. They range from crowdfunded start-ups
Clockwise from top
left: EHang 184;
Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang; Terrafugia
AeroMobil, a
Slovakian flying
car; PAL-V Liberty;
Aerocar; Supercar;
The Jetsons;
Moller M400
Skycar; Back to the
Future’s DeLorean
PAL-V Liberty
If the Dutch-made
PAL-V Liberty looks
like a modern
interpretation of the
gyroplane flying “car”
flown by Sean
Connery’s James
Bond in You Only Live
Twice — that’s
because it is. The first
model is hoped to go
on sale in 2018.
Price £520,800
On sale Late 2018
How fast can it fly?
How far can it fly?
310 miles
Top speed on the
road? 100mph
How far can it
drive? 817 miles
Fed up with jet skis
spoiling the peaceful
sound of waves
lapping at the
shoreline? Wait until
the Kitty Hawk Flyer
starts buzzing
around. The
technical details and
price are a closely
guarded secret.
On sale Late 2017
What’s under
the bonnet?
Eight electrically
powered rotors
Will it fit in the
garage? Snugly
How high can it fly?
A few feet off the
Kitty Hawk Flyer
based in sheds to ideas hatched in the laboratories of
tech giants or aerospace companies. The proliferation
of wonderful contraptions is reminiscent of the early
years of powered flight. Some of the new machines use
wings to provide lift, some rotor blades; some are
equipped with mini-jet engines, others with giant fans.
All come with the same promises: to revolutionise
personal travel, cut congestion and liberate swathes of
unused airspace. The problem is, the idea has been
around for decades but, if you’ll pardon the expression,
never taken off. As far back as 1940 Henry Ford wrote:
“Mark my word. A combination airplane and motorcar
is coming. You may smile. But it will come.”
Nine years later he was proved right when Moulton
“Molt” Taylor, an American inventor, launched the
Aerocar. It had a road speed of 60mph, flew at 110mph
and was a wonder of engineering. One flew Raul Castro
— Fidel’s brother and now the Cuban president —
around Cuba. The same machine was used from 1961 to
1963 as a traffic-watch aircraft for the KISN radio
station in Portland, Oregon. For a while it seemed as
though the age of the flying car had arrived, and the
concept was popularised on television and in film,
notably by Buck Rogers, Supercar and The Jetsons.
But it remained an invention in search of a market.
Only six Aerocars were built. In reality, the automobile
remained the fastest way to get around on the ground,
and pure aircraft ruled the skies. The flying car was an
awkward and expensive hybrid that became the butt of
jokes and shorthand for unrealistic predictions about
the future, as in: “Yeah? So where’s my flying car?”
Recently, though, there have been advances in three
key areas. The first is strong, new materials such as
carbon fibre and alloys — the key to making lightweight
aircraft that are “roadable”, to use an American
expression. Second, powerful batteries — a spin-off of
electric car development — plus the sort of compact jet
engines that deliver more thrust from less fuel. Third,
intelligent electronics for flight control and navigation
that make self-flying cars or aero taxis a real possibility.
The cars that skimmed over the Los Angeles of 2019
“It became shorthand
for unrealistic
predictions, as in: ‘So
where’s my flying car?’ ”
in Blade Runner were referred to as “spinners” — flying
cars that used thrusters for vertical take-off and landing
(VTOL). The real-life equivalent made its maiden
voyage at an airfield near Munich this year. It’s called
the Lilium Jet, though it has no jet engines. Instead it
flies using 36 electrically powered propellers. The test
flight lasted just a few minutes, with no one in either of
the two seats and a pilot controlling it from the ground,
but, if it makes it into production as the world’s
smallest VTOL craft, it could revolutionise air transport
(though it won’t be equipped for driving).
A German competitor called Volocopter has received
€25m (£23m) from the vehicle manufacturer Daimler
to help develop another two-seater VTOL craft. It looks
more like a conventional helicopter — in contrast to
the Lilium, which resembles a flying computer mouse
— but, like its rival, it is battery-powered.
With this rate of progress, surely it won’t be long
before we’re flying to the supermarket. Unfortunately,
while the technology may have caught up with science
fiction, air traffic regulations have not. Any machine
that can lift itself off the ground and stay aloft must fly
under Civil Aviation Authority rules in the UK and
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) laws in America.
That alone is enough to ensure flying cars do not
become commonplace soon.
Anyone wanting to fly from home to work, for
example, would for a start need a pilot’s licence, which
usually takes about 70 hours of flying and months of
part-time ground school. If their journey took them
through controlled airspace used by commercial or
military traffic, they would need air traffic control
permission. Flying cars such as the Dutch gyrocopter
would be classed as a single-engine helicopter, which
means it would have to stick to air corridors — along the
Thames in London, for example. So nipping to the shops
or lifting off from a traffic jam would be a non-starter.
The Transition is a single-engine plane, which means it
has to steer clear of cities in case the engine fails.
You don’t need a pilot’s licence to operate Page’s
Kitty Hawk in America because it weighs so little, but
its lightness is due to it having floats instead of wheels,
so it can’t provide ground transport. In the UK there’s
no similar ultra-light category, so only qualified pilots
will be able to fly it. There is little chance of these rules
being relaxed. Plenty of drivers struggle to control
vehicles in two dimensions, let alone speeding around
in three. Indeed, as airspace becomes more congested,
the bar is likely to be raised. Air traffic systems in the
UK are already almost at full capacity, without
The Sunday Times Magazine • 41
hundreds of flying cars doing short, unscheduled hops.
One limiting factor is the number of air traffic
controllers. Another is the number of flights that a
radar-based TCAS (traffic collision avoidance system)
can handle at any one time.
Then there’s the cost. For the price of a PAL-V you
could buy a Robinson R22 helicopter (which has a
longer range) plus a car to take you to and from the
helipad. Likewise the Transition. Its projected price in
2011 was almost $280,000 (£218,000 at today’s rates).
With production not due until 2021, that’s almost
certain to increase.
Finally, there’s the problem of privacy. One
technology expert recently said: “I love the idea of
being able to go out into my back yard and hop into my
flying car [but] I hate the idea of my next-door
neighbour having one.” Imagine the scale of complaints
provoked by machines clattering overhead, with all the
implications for noise and prying eyes.
A more realistic vision of the future appears on film
in The Fifth Element, set in a futuristic New York City,
with a wisecracking Bruce Willis driving a flying taxi
through congested air traffic. Being a passenger in an air
taxi flown by a qualified pilot will become a reality
much sooner than the use of personal air vehicles.
Uber has signed deals with five companies that are
developing electric VTOL aircraft, including the
Pentagon-backed Aurora Flight Sciences and Bell
Helicopter. The idea is that, as with Uber’s car service,
you could summon your air taxi with a phone app.
A new range of pilotless aircraft — effectively drones —
that would fly passengers from A to B could bring the
costs down further (though UK air traffic rules require
a human pilot to be on board to take over the controls).
In Dubai the authorities have announced trials of an air
taxi service using a Chinese-made remote-control
drone ’copter, the EHang 184. According to the
EHang’s manufacturer, it can fly passengers across the
city on journeys of up to 23 minutes, or 31 miles.
One solution to overcrowded skies could be aerial
“motorways” that users would follow using GPS.
Engineers at Liverpool University, along with
counterparts at Swiss and German institutions, have
started mapping a network that would let the PAL-V
and its ilk fly safely along designated routes. These
would be kept away from cities and airports and would
fly at 100ft-1,500ft, below the altitude of passenger jets.
Mike Jump, of Liverpool University, said it would be
a while before such routes were up and running.
“Concept flying cars are often shown flying with clear
“Where we’re going,
we don’t need roads”
Life is imitating art for
the boffins at DeLorean
As a two-seat car, the
Transition’s safety
features include
airbags, pretensioning seatbelts,
a crumple zone and
a safety roll cage.
As a plane, it has
a parachute capable
of landing the vehicle
in an emergency.
Terrafugia Transition
Price £310,000
On sale 2019
How fast can it fly?
How far can it fly?
400 miles
Top speed on the
road? 70mph
How far can it
drive? 805 miles
EHang 184
blue skies [in places such as Dubai or California], but it
is not clear to me what would happen in bad weather. ”
His German research colleague Heinrich Bülthoff,
of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics,
estimates that flying cars are five to 10 years away
— still tantalisingly out of reach.
In the immediate future it’s more likely that the first
flying cars will be like the Kitty Hawk — for recreational
use. That’s how the automobile started out.
Before you rush to invest in what seems to be a new
and lucrative technology, however, take a moment to
search on eBay. The website is an online scrapyard for
great ideas that never quite made it. One is the Moller
M400 Skycar, which received widespread publicity the
last time flying cars were said to be just around the
corner, in the 1990s. It never flew without a tether or
won FAA approval.
If nothing else, it is a handy reminder that just
because something is possible, it does not mean it is
going to happen. For anyone interested, the Skycar is
still looking for a buyer — suggested price tag $5m n
When Doc Brown uttered this memorable
line in Back to the Future, he was in a
DeLorean flying car powered by a Mr Fusion
garbage disposal unit. Spool forward in time
and fiction could soon be fact. A prototype
DeLorean DR-7 all-electric flying car is
scheduled to fly next year, according to Paul
DeLorean, nephew of John DeLorean, the
man behind the sports car of the 1980s.
DeLorean Aerospace, his company, has
built two scale models: a small drone-sized
one to test the concept and a larger, onethird scale version. Both are said to perform
exactly as Doc Brown would have wanted.
The prototype will be capable of vertical
take-off, so won’t need to reach 88mph on
the ground, as the original version of its film
The Chinese tech
firm EHang is in a
race with the likes of
Uber, Airbus, E-Volo
and Lilium to build
autonomous taxis.
An encrypted app
would summon the
184. Dubai likes the
idea so much, it wants
EHang to develop a
flying taxi service.
On sale Late 2018
What’s under
the bonnet?
Eight electrically
powered rotors
How fast can it fly?
How far can it fly?
23 miles
How high? 11,500ft
namesake did, or require as much as 1.21GW
of electricity. Battery-powered propellers,
resembling fans, at the front and rear will
swivel to provide downdraft for take-off and
landing and propulsion during flight, as well
as rudderless steering.
With room for two passengers, it will have
an estimated range of 120 miles at 150mph,
and a top speed of 240mph. The wings will
tuck away so the car can fit in a large
garage. The craft can be flown manually or
by remote control.
The prototype, being built in California,
will be 19ft 6in long, with an 18ft 6in
wingspan, foldable to 7ft 6in. Sadly it will not
have gull-wing doors like the one in the 1985
film, or an OUTATIME numberplate.
The Sunday Times Magazine • 43
They train like elite athletes for big-money prizes. This weekend, the world’s best
thousands in Birmingham. Helen Lewis reports on one of Britain’s fastest-growing
elcome to Counter-Strike, a video
game with a difference. Instead of
perching on a sofa in front of the
television, players of this firstperson shooter are sealed inside
a row of soundproof glass boxes at the National
Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, facing spectators
like contestants on University Challenge. And they
aren’t playing for fun. This is a serious, winner-takesall challenge for a prize pool of about £75,000.
Live video gaming in front of enthusiastic crowds
is one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in
Britain. By 2020, it is predicted that esports, as these
tournaments are known, will generate £1bn in global
revenue and attract audiences — in arenas and
online — of 600m, double the current figure. Last
year’s League of Legends world final — where fans
gather live and in front of screens to watch players
compete in a fantasy battle video game for a shared
prize of more than £5m — was watched by 14.7m
people simultaneously.
Even the fusty BBC has got on-trend and started
streaming video tournaments — notably Rocket
League — a video soccer game that viewers can now
see being played live on BBC3.
If nothing else, it gives the lie to the popular
image of video gaming as a pursuit for loners and
losers. Exhibition centres around the world are
doing a brisk trade, bringing thousands of gamers
— mostly teenagers — together to try new titles,
dress as their favourite characters and hang out
with fellow fans. In the UK, there is EGX in
Birmingham — home of the Counter-Strike event
44 • The Sunday Times Magazine
esport players flex their thumbs in front of
spectator sports. Photographs by David Vintiner
— Rezzed in London, the European Gaming
League, and this weekend’s Insomnia festival, a
thrice-yearly event described as “the Glastonbury
of gaming events” by its lead organiser, Craig
Fletcher. “You’ve got people camping on site four
days straight,” he says.
Attracting the best video-game players in the
world is key to the success of these conventions.
Take 21-year-old Joshua-Lee Sheppard. He’s on a
professional team, which guarantees him £1,500
a month from sponsorship, plus prize money from
tournaments. He treats it as a full-time job and
bought his first car with his first decent prize pot.
He is now the fifth-highest-paid gamer in Britain,
with total earnings so far estimated at more than
£100,000. When we meet, his team has just come
second in an international Call of Duty competition,
sharing $250,000 (£194,000) between four of them.
(The winners shared $800,000.)
That is peanuts, though, compared with what
you can make if you turn yourself into a brand. A
few years ago, says the commentator Alan Brice,
most pros were reluctant to give interviews or do
anything apart from play in tournaments. Now they
know that the really big money comes from
building a profile, allowing fans to watch them on
video-streaming services such as Twitch, and
selling merchandise.
“The big guys have 1m-3m followers on Twitter
— serious power to rock things,” Brice says. “They
become millionaires in their own right.” The
Counter-Strike team Ninjas in Pyjamas were so
popular in Sweden that McDonald’s named a burger
Joshua-Lee Sheppard,
a professional Call of
Duty player, above. Many
esport fans at the EGX
in Birmingham, right,
dress as video-game
characters, left
after them in 2013. (The McNiP featured bacon,
roasted onions, cheese and hot sauce.)
YouTube is an economy all by itself, and
professionals are trying to muscle in on the lucrative
existing market for video-game-related content
there. (At the NEC, there’s a long queue to meet a
superstar YouTuber called Syndicate: I wander over
to the front of the queue and experience the strange
sensation of standing 6ft away from someone
everyone else present clearly regards as intensely
famous but I couldn’t tell from Adam. This must be
how John Humphrys feels about the Kardashians.)
The price for the fame and the money is hard work.
At this level, gaming requires intense concentration
and hours of practice each day. Sheppard plays
seven days a week, and in the run-up to a
competition he logs on at 5pm and continues
until 1am or 2am. (It’s perhaps not surprising
that many of the biggest sponsors of esports are
The Sunday Times Magazine • 45
energy drinks.) In America, teams sometimes live
together to bond better, and throughout the sport
there is an increasing focus on professionalism.
Esports is leaving its George Best phase, where sheer
talent can offset an unhealthy lifestyle, and entering
a new era in which the best players watch their diets
and work out. “Players go to actual boot camps, and
these are for games that don’t have any physicality,”
Brice explains.
For those who haven’t played a multiplayer title
online, it’s hard to communicate just how fast and
relentless the matches can be: a typical professional
game requires upwards of 400 actions per minute,
and the world record, 818, is held by the Korean
player Park Sung-joon.
To mere mortals, the speed, hand-eye
co-ordination and hair-trigger reflexes of the pros
can seem almost unbelievable. Unfortunately, that
brings us to the other reason that professional
esports players have such good reactions. They are
young. A typical player starts at 13 or 14, challenging
anyone they can find to a match online. If they’re
good, they might find an amateur team (or “clan”)
and start learning about tactics and the other nerdy
knowledge they need, such as each
weapon’s reload speed and accuracy, or
the intricacies of particular maps. As
they get better, they might look for opponents via
the online forums on Reddit, or the esports
communities on Facebook or Twitter, and eventually
progress to playing for small sums of money.
At 21, Sheppard already feels like a veteran. “I’m
one of the oldest who still plays,” he tells me. He was
just 15 when he persuaded his mother to let him go
alone to the European Gaming League in Blackpool,
where he finished 32nd out of hundreds of
competitors. He dropped out of college in his third
year to play professionally.
Already his thoughts are turning to what comes
next: he imagines playing for another two or three
years at most. Partly, that’s because his favoured title,
Call of Duty, is very dependent on reaction times;
there’s also the fact that he rarely sees his friends
because of the antisocial hours.
These mayfly careers give the whole esports scene
a certain poignancy. At 15, players are novices; by 20,
they are grizzled old hands, wearily passing on their
knowledge to the younger generation. “The very
good players are so rare because you are at your
mechanical peak between 16-20 years, and you aren’t
always mature then,” says Romain “Cäelan” Albesa,
a French League of Legends player. By their midtwenties, most professionals burn out or grow tired
of a hobby that has consumed their youth.
By common agreement, the best player in the
world — the Pele of esports — is a 21-year-old South
Korean called Lee Sang-hyeok, better known as
Faker. (His other nickname is “God”.) His lifetime
winnings totalled more than $1m by May this year,
and in March he renewed his contract with the
team’s sponsor for a rumoured $2.5m. He’s the
purists’ favourite: famous for being good, not just
good at promoting himself.
Meanwhile, although gaming as a whole now has
a fairly even gender split — thanks to the success of
mobile games such as Candy Crush and Pokémon
Go — there are very few female esports
professionals. The highest-earning woman — a
23-year-old Canadian called Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn,
who specialises in strategy games — is transgender.
By the ninth round in Birmingham, I understand
a little better what captivates thousands of people
about these matches. There is a balletic quality to the
poise and agility of the on-screen characters, as well
as something chess-like about the strategic game.
There is also the breathless drama of sudden
violence, and the sweeping narratives, personal and
professional, that can make all sport so compelling.
No wonder the latest figures from the United States
show that between 2004 and 2015 the time men
spent in work fell significantly, and that the
majority of the 2.3 hours a week of extra leisure
time — 60% — was spent playing video games.
On the way out, I experimentally flex my
thirtysomething thumbs, and regret that during
the prime years of my pin-drop reflexes, all we
had was Tomb Raider and Super Mario World.
It’s too late for me now. But somewhere out
there, a teenager is picking up a controller and
starting a journey towards becoming a star — if
only for a short while n
Helen Lewis is deputy editor of
New Statesman. Additional
reporting by Shingi Mararike
Enthusiasts at the EGX
get to watch star
players in action,
compare their own skills
and try out technology
— many fuelled by
energy drinks, bottom
The Sunday Times Magazine • 47
From hydrogen cars to robo-mowers, innovators are integrating
sci-fi tech with beautiful design. Matt Bingham and Nick Rufford
round up the most desirable new devices
Helicopter hire firms must be worried: drones are stealing their film-making
business. The Typhoon H from the Chinese firm Yuneec is a six-rotor model
equipped with a swivelling camera that takes stills and 4K video. You can fly it
with its remote control, which shows live video on a 7in display, or use “Follow
me” to capture your bike ride or snowboarding feats from above.
48 • The Sunday Times Magazine
Designed and built by former
Formula One engineers in
Wales, this hydrogen-powered
car is the perfect solution to
the coming ban on petrol and
diesel. It uses fuel cells, which
drive an electric motor and
cough out nothing but water
as exhaust. Built from carbon
fibre and other light materials,
it has a range of up to 300
miles between refills. You can’t
buy it yet — in fact it will be
lease-only — but Riversimple
is signing up testers.
OLYMPUS TG-5, £400
More rugged than
a smartphone, this
waterproof compact
camera captures 4K
video and 12Mp photos.
Despite appearances, it’s not a Shuffle — one of the venerable iPod designs recently killed
off by Apple. The Mighty is in fact solely for use with a £10-a-month Spotify Premium
account. Link your Mighty to that account over wi-fi and it can download and
store up to 1,000 of your favourite songs from the streaming service, plus your
playlists, for offline playback over wired or Bluetooth headphones.
Action figures that
interact with a game
for Apple and Android
This hardy robo-mower
trundles around your
lawn randomly to avoid
creating tracks.
The gaming giant’s best
portable machine yet,
with two-player action.
Elon Musk — the brain behind PayPal and Tesla electric cars — promised new battery
technology for all, and here it is. The Powerwall is a storage device designed to overcome
the drawback to solar energy: you can’t guarantee when it will be available. So when the
sun is shining on your panels, the Powerwall will soak up the excess juice generated and
save up to 14kWh of it for any future famine.
A light, navigation aid,
journey recorder and
alarm all in one.
Josh’s mother and I met at a party
in Camden. We married in April
1996 and Josh was born at the
Portland Hospital in London that
December. I remember it vividly.
It was one of the happiest
moments of my life.
The marriage did not last long.
Josh’s mother hated Moscow,
where we had moved so I could
start my business. It was not an
easy place. We divorced when
Josh was three and I made a
commitment to commute back to
London every 10 days to see him.
I kept to that for 10 years and it
made for a very deep connection.
It was immediately obvious that
Josh was different to other kids. He
had a special power of observation
and understanding. We were on an
overnight train once when Josh
was three. I convinced him to go to
sleep and went out to the hallway
to make a call. When I came back,
every light was on in the
compartment. It was an old train,
so it took me half an hour to find
all the switches. That was when
I realised that there was something
unique about Josh.
I grew up in America, where
my father was a famous
mathematician. His father, Earl
Browder, was an extraordinary
man. He was the general secretary
of the Communist Party in the
US, ran for president twice against
Roosevelt, and was imprisoned in
1941 for passport violations after
travelling to the Soviet Union.
I went to Stanford Business
School, in California, and as I was
finishing I had an epiphany: if my
grandfather was the biggest
communist in America, then now
that the Berlin Wall had come
down, I was going to be the biggest
capitalist in eastern Europe.
In 1996 [after a stint working
for Saloman Brothers bank in
London], we moved to Moscow so
I could start my own investment
fund, Hermitage, with the backing
of the multibillionaire banker
Edmond Safra. Years later, along
with my lawyer Sergei Magnitsky,
we discovered a vast corruption
scheme by the Russian government
and the theft of $230m of taxes
that my company had paid them.
I was expelled from Russia and
Sergei was killed on November 16,
2009. It changed me for ever. He
was taken hostage because they
couldn’t get to me and tortured to
death. He was killed in my place.
Josh was still young when it
happened, and when you’re a child
and you see your father going
through that calamity, full of guilt
and self-doubt, you have a desire
to help. I was struggling with how
to get out the story about Sergei,
so Josh, who was 12 and already a
computer genius of sorts, stepped
in and set up the campaign website,
[which publishes details about
Magnitsky’s detention, torture
and death]. It was his first foray
into using his computer skills for
something greater than himself.
I think Josh felt gratified that he
could help in such a profound way.
When he started getting parking
tickets in sixth form, I was not
surprised that he researched how
the law works and set up an online
service to contest fines.
I’ve now given up my life as a
financier to focus on human rights
activism. We got the Magnitsky
Act passed in the UK recently
[stopping Russian officials who
abuse anti-corruption and human
rights activists from using British
banking systems] and I’m hoping
to get it passed in Canada, too.
I’ve remarried and Josh has a
number of siblings, but for safety
reasons I keep details of my life
private. I’ve been threatened with
death on a number of occasions
by people inside the Russian
government, so we take measures
to make sure that the people who
are trying to see me dead don’t
achieve their objectives.
I had a great childhood. We lived
in Hendon, a nice London suburb.
We had a garden and I had lots of
friends. My mum was amazing and
for as long as I can remember my
dad was there at the weekends.
I was terrible at school; I really
messed around. Then, at 12,
I realised I should get it together.
Two things made me change:
getting suspended and visiting
Stanford, where my dad had gone
and where I study now. Getting
suspended was just the biggest
shock because I wasn’t doing
anything really bad, just constant
pranks. Then I went with my
father to see Stanford. I remember
the palm trees. It was so beautiful,
The human rights activist and Putin critic Bill Browder, 53, and
his son Josh, 20, an internet entrepreneur, on exposing Russian
corruption and murder, and building a robot to fight parking fines.
Interviews by Danny Fortson. Photograph by Matt Nager
50 • The Sunday Times Magazine
Bill Browder and his
son Josh. Left: Josh’s
first birthday party
in London
I really wanted to study there, but
Dad said there was no chance
unless I did well in school. So I
started studying. It was shocking
to my teachers. It still is, I think!
The first time I worried about
my father was when I was 10 and
his offices in Russia were raided,
which I found out from watching
the news. That was really scary.
But then I would see him at the
weekend and we’d walk in Regent’s
Park, feed the ducks, and he would
say: “It’s going to be all right.”
“We take measures
to make sure that
the people who are
trying to see me
dead don’t achieve
their objectives”
I remember the day Sergei died.
My dad was in London, staying for
two weeks. He was so busy that
I initially made the Sergei website
so I could hang out with him. I was
good at tech. At 12, I made my
first app — a game with a ball that
swung across the screen.
I have dyspraxia, a mild disability
that affects spatial awareness and
makes it hard to manage time.
When I started driving to school,
I always parked in the wrong space
or just outside the bay. When I got
my first ticket, I took it seriously.
A few days later, I got another. I
appealed about the signage and it
worked. My friends were getting
hit at the same spot, so I sent a
generic appeal letter around and
then decided to automate it. I built
my robot lawyer,, in
the summer before I went to
Stanford. It operates in the UK and
the US and so far has challenged
Bill on Josh
He only ever allows
15 minutes to get to
a flight, so if we ever
travel together it’s the
most stressful thing.
He misses one out of
every five flights and
somehow thinks that’s
OK. I never miss flights
Josh on Bill
He doesn’t follow
me on Twitter. That
definitely bothers
me slightly
$9m (£7m) in parking tickets,
and it can produce more than
1,000 generic documents in areas
such as PPI, council tax and
landlord letters.
I remember when I found out
I’d been accepted at Stanford. I was
at my father’s house, and they were
due to release the results at 11pm,
UK time. Time passed and I heard
nothing. I was so upset. Then
I realised it was stuck in my spam.
This summer I moved with five
students into the house that Mark
Zuckerberg lived in when he first
moved to California. It’s a magical
feeling, being in the same room
where he built Facebook.
I worry about my father’s safety.
He travels under all these assumed
names and it’s all very surreal.
Fighting Russian murderers is far
braver than fighting bureaucrats.
He’s the bravest man I know and
also an amazing father n
The Sunday Times Magazine • 51
How it feels to...
of UK adults aged 75
and over have stopped
using the internet, up
from 5% in 2016
52 • The Sunday Times Magazine
... be a
No internet. No email. No sharing funny pug
pictures. Rosie Millard asks her sisters how
they survive as abstainers from the tech
revolution. Photograph by David Vintiner
e are a society of tech
addicts; 89% of UK adults
used the internet in the past three
months — that’s 46m of us. Since
2015, smartphones overtook
laptops as our primary device for
getting online: now 81% of adults
have one in our pockets, looking at
it for as much as two hours a day.
How can you resist? Yet,
astonishingly, there are still some
4.8m UK adults that do. They are
like Canute, hopelessly pushing
back the online tide. They have
seen the digital future, and they
don’t like it.
Two of these people are my
sisters Evelyn Ashe, 57, and Mary
Wills, 47. Both NHS nurses, these
well-educated, hard-working
women are proud to say they don’t
have smartphones and hardly use
a laptop. Their stubborn refusal to
engage digitally in life makes them
seem as anachronistic as the
Luddites who once attacked
Cartwright’s weaving machines.
It puts them in a social cul-de-sac
that has remained in the 1980s
while everyone else lives in the
present day.
I can’t connect with them in
a WhatsApp family chat. I can’t
share funny films of the children
or send them pictures of pugs.
They each have an email account,
but never look at their emails.
They each have a “brick” phone,
but they are hardly ever turned on.
Neo-Luddites, then.
“I like not being contactable,”
says Evelyn. A mother of five, she
works at St Mark’s Hospital,
Maidenhead. “If something
happens to one of the children,
say they break a leg at school, the
school will contact my husband.”
She looks sharply at me and
points to my recording device.
“What is that you are holding?”
“It’s a digital Dictaphone,” I
explain. “I have had it for six years.”
“I have never seen one of those.”
I discover there’s quite a lot my
sister doesn’t know about. Twitter,
FaceTime, Snapchat ... In her view,
smartphones are expensive
gimmicks and best avoided.
“We all used to go to school OK
without a phone, didn’t we? My
children think they need a £500
phone. If they are mugged for their
phone, they aren’t going to be able
to text for help, are they?”
My younger sister, Mary, lives
over in Worcester. A coronary
care nurse at the Worcestershire
Royal Hospital, with two children,
her rationale for not having a
smartphone or engaging online
is slightly more nuanced.
“It is one more thing to feel
responsible for. Basically, I am a
bit lazy about it; I simply can’t be
bothered. I only got this brick
“I hate social
media. It made me
feel discontented.
friendships will
continue without
phone because we were once
separated during a fireworks
display when the children were
little, and my husband went
apoplectic and forced me to get
a mobile phone.”
She admits her refusal to
upgrade has affected her life.
“I have a terrible sense of
direction and could do with sat nav.
But because I don’t have it, I avoid
driving to new places. Driving in
rural Worcestershire in the dark,
I can’t look at the map and there
are no street lights. I ended up
knocking on someone’s door
once because I was lost. Yet I still
feel the disadvantages outweigh
the advantages.”
Such as?
“I hate all this texting and social
media. I hate Instagram,” she says.
“There is probably a total of six
photographs of me in existence
— between the ages of 12 and
18 and looking hideous. My
15-year-old daughter probably has
six photos a day taken of her. She
and her friends Photoshop them.
And I think it does weird things
to girls’ self-image. Fifteen is an
age where your face is spotty and
your clothes are rubbish. I wish
for my kids’ sake I had brought
them up at a different time. Even
10 years ago.”
She abandoned Facebook for
peace of mind. “I was constantly
faced with photos of people
saying, ‘This is a meal I have just
cooked and here are my children
on holiday in the sea laughing,’
and I would be at home arguing. It
was making me feel discontented.
Meaningful friendships will
continue without Facebook.”
Evelyn and Mary both cite real
life as a satisfactory replacement
for the transitory thrill of the
selfie. Bored on a train? Read a
book, look out of the window. Talk.
Both my sisters and our mother
(another internet naysayer) rely on
the men in their households to be
the “designated internet user”.
“My husband does emails,”
opines my mother, aged 86.
“While he’s alive, I’m all right. If I
want to communicate with people,
then I will ring or write to them.”
This is a problem, according to
the internet entrepreneur Martha
Lane Fox, who says 23% of the
British adult population lack basic
digital skills, and it frustrates her.
Entering the House of Lords in
2013 as a crossbench peer, she
used her maiden speech to
address the need for digital skills
throughout the UK and formed
a charity, Doteveryone, to help.
“The barrier to getting online
can be age, or it can be poverty. Or
just a resistance to technology,”
she says. “Most people know the
internet exists, but this group
can’t see there is any benefit to
being online. You have to show
them things that matter to them.”
My mother suggests that, at her
age, she would rather spend her
days seeing friends, reading books
and listening to music than
learning a new skill. This doesn’t
cut the mustard with Lane Fox.
Seriously injured in a car accident
13 years ago, she now has to walk
with a stick.
“I save a lot of time not hobbling
about shopping. You go online to
Rosie with her sisters
Mary, left, and Evelyn,
right. Below: Martha
Lane Fox, an advocate
for digital skills
make your time more precious
and valuable.”
It also helps businesses operate
more efficiently and streamlines
public services. “Having people
who refuse to go online means a
huge cost to the country in terms
of efficiency,” she adds.
In 2014, the Tory politician
Francis Maude even suggested that
the elderly should go online or risk
losing access to key government
services. “Everything that can be
delivered online should be
delivered online and only online,”
Maude said. Offline pensioners
would get a single lesson, or
“assisted digital option”, after
which they would be on their own.
“I think Francis Maude is being
provocative,” Lane Fox says, “but
I agree with him that if you give
people the opportunity to learn
and they still refuse to use the
service, it is a huge cost to the
country. We need to insist we are
in the 21st century. ”
How does this wash with my
sisters? Not too well, it seems.
“Well, I know how to turn a
computer on,” says Mary, whose
achievements include a first-class
honours degree in English,
a string of nursing qualifications
and Grade 8 piano. “But the
essence of nursing is not about
computers, which is just as well.”
“You are missing out!” I feel like
shouting. For all their insistence
that music, nursing, newspapers,
books and maps don’t need a digital
revamp, I want them to realise how
the online world offers knowledge
and opportunities that are broader
and more accessible than in the
analogue world of old. As our
parents age, I also want my siblings
to be on the family group chat.
Which, at present, doesn’t exist.
The government has pledged to
teach the 10% of UK adults who
are still in “internet darkness” how
to be computer savvy, with the
culture secretary, Karen Bradley,
putting digital literacy on the same
footing as English and maths.
I relay this to my neo-Luddite
sisters. It is like witnessing prewar
toddlers being forced to drink cod
liver oil. They know they must
oblige, but they really don’t want to.
“The trouble is I panic and start
pressing every button,” Evelyn
says. “I call for one of the children
to help me, but I never learn.”
Will Mary ever change?
“If I crash the car trying to find
somewhere without sat nav,
I might,” she concedes n
The Sunday Times Magazine • 53
The Dish
Three chefs appearing at the Big Feastival
serve up an extra helping of feelgood flavours
Foodie fun down
on the farm
he Sunday Times is the
official media partner of the
Big Feastival, which is taking
place this weekend on the
Cotswold farm of the Blur
musician and cheesemaker Alex
James. The selection of recipes
featured here all come from chefs
appearing at the festival: Mark
Hix, Antonio Carluccio and our
columnist Candice Brown.
If you’re heading there today,
other chefs and food writers to
look out for include Prue Leith,
Nathan Outlaw and Clodagh
McKenna. You can also hear
amazing music from De La Soul
and Madness. We’ll be there too,
hosting a number of events (see
right) and handing out 8,000
copies of The Sunday Times.
The Village Hall
Sunday morning newspaper club
with Eleanor Mills, editorial
director of The Sunday Times
Mark Hix
Full English tart
You can vary the topping on this as
much as you fancy, but try to use
things that you would traditionally
have for breakfast. I’ve used a
mixture of the sun-dried tomato
base and the mushroom duxelles
here, but you can use just one or
the other if you prefer. At the
Big Feastival today, I’ll be cooking
lots of brunch dishes at the Neff
Big Kitchen.
The Table Sessions
Q&A with Candice Brown,
hosted by Eleanor Mills
Neff Big Kitchen
Candice Brown will be cooking
her pavlova recipe, featured here
For the mushroom duxelles
A good knob of butter or 1 tbsp
rapeseed oil
4 people
2 shallots, peeled, halved and
finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
100g-120g button or open cup
mushrooms, finely chopped
For the sun-dried tomato paste
50g sun-dried tomatoes in oil
For the tart
4 butter puff pastry sheets rolled to
3-4mm and cut to 8cm x 10cm
100g piece of streaky bacon cut
into 1cm cubes or 4 rashers of
streaky bacon
2 tomatoes, halved
Vegetable or corn oil, for brushing
80g-100g black pudding, broken
into chunks
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
01 To make the mushroom
duxelles, melt the butter in a
heavy-based pan and gently cook
the shallots and garlic for a minute
without colouring. Add the
mushrooms, season and cook
gently for 3-4 minutes, stirring
occasionally until soft. Set aside.
02 To make the tomato paste, blend
the sun-dried tomatoes in a food
processor with enough of the oil to
form a smooth paste. Set aside.
03 Heat the oven to 200C
(non-fan 220C). Prick the pastry
with a fork to prevent it from
rising, place on a baking tray and
bake for 5 minutes, then remove
from the oven. Put the bacon and
tomatoes on a tray, brush the
tomatoes with a little oil, season
and cook for 3-4 minutes under
a medium grill.
04 Spread the tomato paste and
mushroom duxelles on the puff
pastry, then arrange the bacon,
tomato and black pudding on
top with half a hard-boiled egg.
Brush with a little oil and bake for
8-10 minutes.
Antonio Carluccio
Macaroni with
young vegetable
Frittedda is a speciality of Palermo,
Sicily, where this stew of young
vegetables is often eaten with
panelle — chickpea flour fritters.
I like to use it as a pasta sauce, and
often add finely sliced artichoke
hearts. This recipe is dedicated to
Sicily, the first region in Italy to
“import” pasta from the Arabs.
4 people
60ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
150g young broad beans, podded and
peeled (peeled weight)
150g sweet young garden peas
(podded weight)
300g asparagus tips
350g dried macaroni, or casarecce
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley,
finely chopped
50g parmesan, freshly grated
01 Heat most of the extra-virgin
olive oil in a large saucepan, add
the onions and fry gently until
soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add the
raw broad beans, peas and the
asparagus tips.
02 Add 100ml water and braise
until the vegetables are tender,
about 10 minutes. Season to taste.
03 Cook the pasta in a large
saucepan with plenty of boiling
salted water for 6-7 minutes, or
until al dente. Drain well and mix
with the sauce.
04 Add the parsley and divide
between four warmed plates.
Sprinkle over the grated
parmesan and pour on a stream
of the remaining extra-virgin
olive oil. Serve hot.
The Sunday Times Magazine • 55
Candice Brown
This is what I’m making at the
Big Feastival today. It’s the
perfect late-summer dessert,
making the most of the last British
strawberries of the season.
4-6 people
For the passion-fruit curd
2 large egg yolks
75g golden caster sugar
6 ripe, wrinkled passion fruits
Juice of 1 lemon
50g unsalted butter
For the meringue
300g golden caster sugar
1 lemon, halved
5 egg whites (at room temperature)
1 tsp cream of tartar
10g freeze-dried strawberry pieces
For the strawberries
1 bottle of prosecco
100g white caster sugar
400g fresh strawberries
For the mascarpone cream
600ml double cream
50g icing sugar
250g mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
01 To make the passion-fruit curd,
whisk together the egg yolks and
sugar in a mixing bowl for about
1 minute. Scoop out the flesh and
seeds from five of the passion fruits
into a food processor. Blitz for 10
seconds to loosen seeds, then press
through a sieve into the egg and
sugar mix, discarding the seeds.
Add the lemon juice, then set aside.
02 Set a heavy-bottomed pan over
a low-medium heat and melt the
butter without letting it come to
the boil. Add the yolk and fruit
mixture and cook, whisking
56 • The Sunday Times Magazine
03 Once thickened, remove from
the heat and add the flesh and
seeds from the remaining passion
fruit and stir to mix. Pour into a jug
and allow to cool.
04 Heat the oven to 200C
(non-fan 220C). To make the
meringue, spread out the sugar on
a large baking tray and heat for
about 10 minutes, until the sugar
starts to melt around the edges.
Remove the tray and reduce the
temperature to 130C (non-fan
150C). Rub the lemon round the
inside of the bowl of an electric
mixer fitted with a whisk
attachment. Wipe the whisk with
the lemon, too.
05 Put the egg whites into the
bowl and whisk on a medium speed
until fluffy. Add the cream of tartar
and mix for another 30 seconds.
Slowly add the hot sugar to the
egg whites, a spoonful at a time,
whisking all the while. Once all
the sugar has been incorporated,
continue whisking until the
meringue is stiff and glossy. Fold
in the freeze-dried strawberries.
06 Line a baking tray with
greaseproof paper. Spoon the
meringue mixture into a piping
bag fitted with a large, round
nozzle and pipe out four to six
nests the size of a small plate onto
the tray. Bake in the oven for
1 hour 30 minutes, then leave to
cool completely.
07 To make the strawberry
topping, bring the prosecco and
sugar to the boil in a saucepan and
simmer for 10 minutes. Remove
the stalks from most of the
strawberries and roughly chop
into large pieces. Place in a bowl
and pour over the hot prosecco
mixture, then leave to cool before
placing in the fridge.
08 To make the mascarpone cream,
place the cream into a mixing bowl
and whip to soft peaks. Sift in the
icing sugar, add the mascarpone
and vanilla, then mix again. Cover
and place in the fridge.
09 To assemble, spoon the cream
then the curd onto a meringue
and swirl through with a knife.
Using a slotted spoon, add some
strawberries. Dot on more cream,
curd and strawberries. Add a fresh
strawberry with a stalk to each n
The Dish
constantly, until the mixture
begins to thicken. This will take
about 5 minutes. Don’t let it boil.
The author of Persiana shares three dishes perfect for special occasions
Feasts of eastern promise
Sabrina Ghayour
rowing up in a Persian
household there were
seemingly endless parties, which
we call mehmooni. I remember
being seduced by the exotic smells
that filled the house and watching
platters of elaborately presented
dishes emerge from the kitchen.
Feasting plays an important role
not only in Persian culture, but
also that of the entire Middle East.
Today, time plays a key factor in
whether or not we entertain, as
often life gets in the way. So I’ve
made these recipes conducive to
the way we live. They’re
straightforward and, for the most
part, not too labour-intensive.
Many of you are now familiar
with cuisine from the Middle East
and its abundance of flavour,
colour and ingredients. My
recipes are the kind of food I like
to eat at home, but are also heavily
inspired by my travels and by food
from around the world. They all
have plenty of Persian flavour to
help you create a feast that is
perfect for your table, no matter
what the occasion may be.
leg of lamb
4-6 people
Feasts by Sabrina
Ghayour is published
on September 7
(Mitchell Beazley £20)
1kg leg of lamb, butterflied
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
1 heaped tbsp thyme, finely chopped
2 tbsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for cooking
For the pomegranate salsa
200g pomegranate seeds
The Sunday Times Magazine • 57
½ cucumber, finely diced (to the
same size as the pomegranate seeds)
1 small red onion, very finely diced
1 tsp nigella seeds
8 large mint leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp olive oil
01 Remove the lamb from the
refrigerator 20 minutes before you
intend to marinate it and ensure it
is splayed open and as flat as
possible, so that the meat cooks
evenly. If there are any sections
with much thicker meat, use a
small knife to make incisions to
open them up and flatten the meat
more evenly.
02 Combine the remaining
ingredients from the first group
in a bowl to make a marinade,
seasoning generously with
Maldon sea salt and freshly
ground black pepper. Rub the
marinade all over the lamb and
really work it in. Cover with
clingfilm and marinate for a
minimum of 30 minutes at room
temperature, or overnight in the
refrigerator, if preferred.
03 Heat the oven to 200C
(non-fan 220C). Line a baking
tray with baking paper.
04 Drizzle a little olive oil into a
large frying pan set over a medium
heat. When the oil is hot, place the
marinated lamb in the pan with
the skin side facing down. Seal the
lamb on all sides until brown,
without letting it blacken or burn.
It should have a nice crust in about
10 minutes.
Sticky, spicy
4-6 people
05 Transfer the lamb to the
prepared baking tray and roast for
15-20 minutes, depending on how
you like your meat cooked. I like it
very pink and juicy, but if you
prefer medium or well done, leave
it in for a further 5-10 minutes.
Vegetable oil
3 large or 4 medium aubergines,
halved lengthways and cut into
half-moons 2.5cm thick
2 heaped tbsp rose harissa, plus extra
to taste
4 tbsp clear honey, plus extra to taste
06 Meanwhile, combine all the
ingredients for the salsa in a bowl,
stir well and set aside.
To garnish
2 tsp sesame seeds, lightly dry-toasted
1 tsp nigella seeds
½ small bunch (about 15g) of
coriander leaves, roughly chopped
4 spring onions, thinly sliced from
root to tip
07 Cover the lamb with foil and
leave to rest for 10 minutes. Serve
carved into slices with the salsa
on top.
You can share and
save recipes from
our digital editions
58 • The Sunday Times Magazine
01 Place a large saucepan over
a high heat and pour in oil to
1cm depth. Line a plate with a
double layer of kitchen paper.
02 Add the aubergines to the pan
and coat them in the hot oil. They
will act like sponges and absorb
the oil, but they will release some
once cooked through. Fry for 10-12
minutes, adding more oil as
necessary to help them cook and
tossing them every few minutes,
or until they begin to shrink,
soften and take on an even,
golden-brown colour on all sides.
03 Use a slotted spoon to transfer
the aubergines to the paper-lined
plate. Lay two sheets of kitchen
paper on top to absorb the excess
oil. Use kitchen paper to wipe any
remaining oil from the frying pan.
04 Transfer the aubergines back to
the pan and add the harissa, honey
and a generous amount of Maldon
sea salt and freshly ground black
pepper. Stir well to coat evenly
and adjust the levels of honey,
harissa and seasoning as desired.
05 Serve with the sesame seeds,
nigella seeds, coriander and spring
onions scattered over.
The Dish
Peach, lime
and pistachio
polenta cake
8-10 people
3 peaches
3 large eggs
200g caster sugar
3 unwaxed limes
150g fine polenta
175g pistachios, finely blitzed
150g salted butter, melted and cooled
slightly, plus extra for greasing
02 Heat the oven to 160C
(non-fan 180C). Grease a 23cm
round springform cake tin and line
it with baking paper.
03 Beat the eggs and sugar
together in a bowl. Finely grate the
zest of 2½ limes directly into the
bowl. Add the polenta and blitzed
pistachios, then mix well. Stir in
the cooled melted butter and,
lastly, the puréed peaches.
04 Pour the mixture into the
prepared cake tin and bake for
45-50 minutes, or until a skewer
inserted into the centre of the
cake comes out clean. Leave the
cake to cool completely in the tin,
ideally overnight.
05 Remove the cake from the tin
and place it on a serving plate.
Prepare the topping just before
you are ready to serve. Spread the
Greek yogurt straight from the
refrigerator over the surface of the
cake. Alternatively, if you’re not
going to eat the whole cake in one
sitting, you can slice it into portions
and top each slice individually.
06 Slice the peach and arrange on
top of the yogurt. Scatter over the
pistachios and finely grate the
zest of the remaining lime half
over the top. Drizzle over the
honey and serve immediately n
Part 2 of Sabrina Ghayour’s Feasts
For the topping
150ml Greek yogurt
1 peach
25g pistachios, roughly chopped
2 tbsp clear honey
01 Put the three peaches into a
small saucepan, cover with boiling
water and simmer for about 25
minutes, or until soft. Drain, then
immediately plunge the peaches
into cold water. Remove the
stones, drain any excess water,
then blitz the rest in a blender
until smooth.
The Sunday Times Magazine • 59
A life in the day
Admit when you’re
scared about doing
something and do
it regardless
The only person you
can rely on for your
personal happiness
is yourself
That life consists of
a constantly changing
mix of both good and
bad times
66 • The Sunday Times Magazine
Bethany Mota
The social media queen on beauty,
cyber-bullying and interviewing Obama
ethany Mota, 21, is one of
the world’s most powerful
voices in social media, with 25m
followers across her platforms.
Since uploading her first video
aged 13, her beauty and lifestyle
vlogs have been viewed more
than 1bn times on YouTube
alone. She lives in Los Angeles.
My alarm goes off
at 7am, but I press
“snooze” about 10
times before putting on some
upbeat pop music to get me in a
good mood. I dance around for 10
minutes in my pyjamas to kickstart my day. I’m always dancing.
If I’m shooting a video, I pull
on something comfortable, like
skinny jeans and a T-shirt, as I’ll
have a few outfit changes later on.
It takes an hour to do my hair and
make-up. My mirror is near a
window — doing make-up with
natural light is a good tip. I’ve
chosen the wrong foundation
shade because of bad lighting on
more than a few occasions.
My favourite breakfast is an
açai bowl. I blend the berries with
almond milk, kale and banana,
then top it with strawberries, chia
seeds and coconut. It tastes so
good and is superhealthy.
I’ll check Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If I’ve uploaded a video,
I’ll respond to comments. I post
photos and messages that are
positive and inspiring. At about
10am, a production assistant and a
videographer come over. A simple
talking piece to camera might take
an hour to shoot, but a video with
multiple locations can take days.
Lunch is something convenient
in my fridge, maybe chicken salad
and quinoa. Sometimes I get
cravings for popcorn or Flamin’
Hot Cheetos, which are terrible.
I started on YouTube after I was
a victim of cyber-bullying. When
I was 11, already a shy kid, someone
(it turned out to be a girl I thought
was my friend) set up a Myspace
page in my name and made fun of
my weight and appearance. I felt
powerless and, over time, my
anxiety got so bad, I rarely left the
house. I started watching YouTube
in my room and eventually got the
confidence to post a video — about
make-up, although I wasn’t much
into beauty products back then.
Writing my book was difficult
because I’d never been honest and
vulnerable about the bullying
before. But when I became tearful
reliving it, I knew it was a sign that
it might help others going through
something similar. I’ve found a way
to be thankful for what happened.
That experience changed my life in
ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Two years ago, I interviewed
President Obama at the White
House. I was so nervous, but he was
so easy to talk to that it felt like we
were just hanging out. We agreed
that young people must be involved
in decisions for the future because
we’ll be the ones living in it.
I carry on filming or editing in
the afternoon. I do all the editing.
I taught myself and I love making
sure my personal touch comes
across during the creative process.
When I’m genuinely enjoying what
I’m doing — whether icing a cake
blindfolded, giving DIY decorating
tips or showing how to do quick
and easy hairstyles — that’s when
my viewers relate best to me.
I allow my true character to
come across, so I show the silly
moments and the times I stumble
over my words. My viewers see
me as a normal person, and that
connection becomes a friendship.
It’s amazing when I meet them in
person and hear how I’ve helped
or encouraged them in some way.
Around 6pm I put on insane
high-energy music and get on my
treadmill. I like going out to dinner
with friends — there are a lot of
great sushi spots in LA — and
then we’ll go to a movie. Later, after
a shower, I put on an oversized
T-shirt, get back on my laptop and
continue editing late into the
night. I try to be aware whether
my online time is productive.
I hate those evenings when I think,
“What have I been doing for the
last four hours?” But
once I shut my laptop,
I’m straight out n
Interview by Caroline Hutton
Make Your Mind Up by Bethany
Mota is out now (Century £15)
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The Sunday Times, journal
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