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: What forces have shaped humanity the most?
Jimmy Wales: The forces that have had the most impact on shaping where we are today, there are several of them. I think one is reason – the sort of enlightenment view that by thinking, and arguing, and discussing rationally, we can make the world a better place. I think that’s been really, really huge, and it’s really made a very positive impact. The overall respect that we have today for science and technology, and thinking about things in that way, has had enormous, positive impacts on the world compared to older, more superstitious ways of looking at things.
From a practical point of view, one of the real things that’s making a huge difference – and today we’re seeing this in more and more places – is the idea of freedom – free markets, free minds, freedom of speech.
Obviously it hasn’t penetrated everywhere yet; but increasingly we see more and more people are coming around to the idea that respect for individual rights is really important if you want to have a prosperous society. And I think that’s one of the things that shapes where we are today, and where we can go in the future if we want to have a healthy society.
Question: What forces have shaped technology?
Jimmy Wales: The major forces that have shaped where we are in technology; it’s such a broad question. I’m not sure how to answer it. I can answer it in very sort of practical ways and say things like, ________, the ongoing drive to make computing power cheaper and cheaper and cheaper is just enormous in all levels of technology. But that’s a really practical kind of answer that, to me, doesn’t get at philosophical, fundamentals. And so, what really drives us in technology is human curiosity and the freedom to pursue and explore ideas.
Recorded On: Aug 10, 2007