How technology is changing what it is to be human


After completing graduate school at Stanford, David Ferris worked for Cincom Systems. He developed database software and natural language interfaces; and following this sold the technology to large corporations.

He then spent several years as an independent marketing consultant, specializing  in software. This was fun. Highlights included:

  • Advising venture capitalists on their investments
  • Writing a monthly article about software. This was widely read, and was the first internationally syndicated column in the computer industry
  • Getting to know most of the key people in the software business
  • Refusing Microsoft’s proposal to acquire a word processing package from him. Er, wrong

During this time, he also conducted experiments into whether money can buy you love. The tests included being asked to leave a cafe with the world’s richest man for not spending enough; spending a pleasant evening in a hot tub with the world’s third richest man and his girlfriend; and being periodically bored by another of his top-ten-richest acquaintances. Conclusions:

  • Paul Mccartney was right. Up to a point
  • The riches of Croesus and a hot tub continue to elude him, although he is less bored

David then formed a PC software development and training firm, Ferrin Corporation. That business was successful among large businesses headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, such as Bank of America, Del Monte, and American President Lines. It ended up being acquired by IBM.

David then formed an IT research firm which specialized in email and closely related technologies. Ferris Research became well known in its niche. He and his colleagues advised hundreds of the world’s largest organizations, such as Deutsche Bank, Exxon, Hoffman La Roche, the US Department of Defense, and Unilever. Clients also included many technology vendors, from Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, down to three-man startups.

When mankind develops new ways of communicating, that often has a profound impact on life. Think of language, writing, the book, the postal system, and the telephone. And since 1965, new methods of computer-based communications have (sometimes literally) revolutionized existence. So in 2011, David founded and financed a new museum about email and digital communications: see He continues there as Executive Curator.

In 2012, David started a new project, studying and writing about the impact of technology on human beings.


Personal Summary

David was brought up in London. Early on, he developed a great fondness for the place, which he still retains. Some of his earliest memories are of Southgate tube station, a beautiful piece of Art Deco.

His enjoyment of matters academic were initiated at Enfield Grammar School, where the teachers and many of his fellow students were highly motivating. He then studied mathematics and philosophy at Nottingham University. That was also exciting and stimulating.

Nottingham, by the way, has a good claim to be the world’s first industrial city. Weirdly, this is overlooked by its PR firm, which prefers to focus on its Robin Hood associations. As it happens, David had dinner with the Sheriff of Nottingham several years ago; he was excellent company and not at all evil.

On graduation, he went to live in Paris, where he was an incompetent au pair. Out of the blue came a scholarship to do a PhD in Philosophy at Stanford University, California. On balance, he found that more tempting than an uncertain career as a poorly paid domestic. So, temptation being one of those things he can’t resist, he opted for California.

David considered becoming an academic, but computers got his attention instead. He plunged into artificial intelligence research, and with his colleagues produced one of the world’s first and longest-lasting expert systems. He was also one of the earliest users of the Arpanet, precursor to today’s internet.

Stanford was interesting and inspiring, but sadly a Faustian bargain for some. The high pressure environment meant that one of his colleagues committed suicide, and another became a devotee of L Ron Hubbard.

Having embarked upon his career, David quickly decided he wanted to live in both San Francisco and London, and he’s done that ever since. Today, his main interests include:

  • Comparative religion. Especially Judeo/Christian/Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist beliefs
  • Asian statuary, especially Hindu and Buddhist
  • Travelling in places that are very different. Some of his most enjoyable trips have been to Eritrea, Cairo, and India; he’s looking forward to a trip to North Korea in April
  • His excellent son Nicholas, who lives in New York
  • Conversation with friends and family
  • Cooking for friends
  • Visiting man-made underground spaces (bunkers, disused tube stations, etc)
  • Trying to speak French
  • Hanging out. Notably in the French House, in London’s Soho; and the Caffe Trieste, in San Francisco’s North Beach

He is also very fortunate to be a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Vintners, a roughly 1,000-year-old trade association based in London. Among other things, being a member obliges him to share a 300-years+ wine cellar. It’s tough, but someone’s got to do it.