Jimmy Wales is an American Internet entrepreneur known for his role in the creation of Wikipedia, a free, open-content encyclopedia launched in 2001. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, holding the board-appointed "community founder" seat. In 2004, he co-founded Wikia, a privately owned, free Web-hosting service, along with Angela Beesley.
Together with Larry Sanger and others, Wales helped lay the foundation for Wikipedia, which subsequently enjoyed rapid growth and popularity. As Wikipedia expanded and its public profile grew, Wales took on the role of the project's spokesman and promoter through speaking engagements and media appearances. Wales has been historically cited as the co-founder of Wikipedia but he disputes the "co-" designation, asserting that he is the sole founder of Wikipedia. Wales' work developing Wikipedia, which has become the world's largest encyclopedia, prompted Time magazine to name him in its 2006 list of the world's most influential people.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, Wales attended a small private school, then a university preparation school, eventually attaining a bachelor's degree and master's degree in finance. During his graduate studies he taught at two universities.
Question: How do we fight extremism?
Jimmy Wales: If we understand that the root cause of terrorism is frustration with the poverty, and no hope, and tyranny in various places, then we need to think about how we arrange our affairs to help these very tragic places to become reasonable places for people to live. And I think we have no choice. We’re going to do that. It’s just a matter of how bumbling we are at it along the way. So then I’m very hopeful to imagine a time in 100 years from now when Ethiopia is prospering with a middle class, and people doing the simple thing that people want to do everywhere. Which to me what most people want out of life is they want to go to work. They want to have a decent job. They want to make a decent amount of money. They want to come home and play with their kids. And that the extremism we see in various places of the world is not natural. It’s certainly not inevitable and something that we can do something about in the long run. And I’m reasonably optimistic about that.
Of course I have some concerns about bad things that may happen. Certainly when we have irrational, tyrannical governments working very diligently to get their hands on nuclear weapons, it’s got to scare you. It’s got to scare all of us that the Iranians have a missile that can reach Munich; and they’re working, as far as anybody can tell, quite diligently to get nuclear weapons. Who knows? I don’t know how to solve that problem, but I do know it doesn’t do the world a lot of good to think about people like that with their values in control of incredibly dangerous weapons. That’s the kind of thing that I think could really derail human progress in the next century. But I’m optimistic, so I don’t think it’s going to come to that.
One of the things that you have to remember is that nuclear weapons are a World War II era technology, right? This is not rocket science anymore. It’s something that can be built, will be built, but that at least so far, as societies have come to the point of having those tools available, there’s enough moral and ethical people everywhere in the world that realize that by using this may not be a good idea; that it doesn’t further anything valuable. And that’s not to say it’s never going to happen; but it is to say that I’m reasonable optimistic that people understand that a nuclear holocaust is a very bad thing and that we should try to avoid that at all costs. And so I would expect to see really mass public demonstrations, and really mass strikes to prevent some of these things from happening if it comes right down to it.
Recorded on: Aug 10, 2007