It was destiny really
With hindsight, Spencer was always going to be a science and tech communicator. His first computer was an Acorn Electron, and he was soon programming the school computers at lunchtime, writing fiction in class that he would read out to the school, and performing in school plays in the evenings.
So writing and talking about tech? Hardly a surprise really.
He studied computer science at Cambridge, and found time to run the university radio station while he was there. And sure enough, once he’d finished his dissertation on Artificial Intelligence (using genetic algorithms to break the world record for visiting all London underground stations in the shortest time), he abandoned a career as a programmer to be a local radio travel reporter, broadcasting updates from a light aircraft. “I loved that job”, he says. “It taught me to be accurate, concise, and to talk to time. All while banking sharply in high winds.”
After 7 years hosting a breakfast radio host, he came back to tech, and joined the BBC as an iPresenter. Which is like an iPhone, but with less memory.
From there it was a short hop to Click, “my spiritual home”, as he describes it. “It’s the most amazing mix. I’ve seen a giant Gun-dam robot in Japan, and I’ve seen how tin-cans on sticks have beamed the Internet to an AIDS clinic in Africa. Some of the most exciting innovation actually happens in the developing world, where they literally hack existing kit together to just get things done.”
His love for the future is not unconditional, and he’s taken some controversial journeys, exposing security loopholes in Facebook, and giving the first televised demonstration of a botnet.
And being on TV every week of every year has opened up many other opportunities too. “I’ve met amazing people on my travels – inspiring, clever, innovative, resilient people with great ideas and memorable stories. And I’ve been asked to tell my own tales on stage around the world, and I’ve even been invited onto those celeb-type TV programmes. The first one was Mastermind – which was a real baptism of fire. I think I did as good a job as I could, but I’m still gutted at the easy questions I got wrong.
I still occasionally wake up at night and cry out ‘Brie!’”
Facts & Figures
On-air and on-stage
“Getting a good interview is part art and part science”, says Spencer, who believes that guests can easily spot an interviewer who doesn’t know their stuff. “Don’t just go in hard – show respect, show that you’re an expert, and then have a conversation.” This is how he approached Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (“he still scared the hell out of me”). He’s chatted music and tech with Will.I.Am, Paul McCartney and Brian Eno, movie tech with James Cameron, and national security with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. “The only time I dried up was when I met HM The Queen”, he admits. “But she was a true pro, and kept the conversation going”
Spencer often speaks at events about his life as a technology tourist, and looks ahead to the exciting new innovations he has been lucky enough to see in the lab.
He tells stories of tech from around the world, and explains the big trends of the moment – artificial intelligence, automation and blockchain, amongst others – to help companies transform into digital businesses.
He has presented live shows at the Hay Festival, the BBC Radio Theatre, hosts live events and interviews, and has even presented an award at the BAFTAs.
Spencer graduated from Cambridge University with a double first in Computer Science, and is an Honorary Doctor of Technology at Coventry University.
He was honoured to be named by T3 Magazine in 2015 as the Tech Personality of the Year (not least because it confirmed he did in fact have one).
Spencer has spent 20 years as a technology tourist, discovering how technology is changing lives in countries across the tech spectrum.
He’s filmed in the Antimatter Factory at CERN, tested satellite broadband in the scorching Namib desert, been rescued by a robot lifeguard in LA, and dodged a space laser in Australia. You should see his frequent flyer account.