Esther Dyson, named by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful women in American business, is regarded as one of the most influential voices in technology.
Esther Dyson was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on January 14, 1951. In 1980, Dyson founded EDventure Holdings, a pioneering information technology and new media company. In 1982, she took over Rosen's Electronic News. In the late 1980s, she became an active investor in Eastern European technology ventures. She also became involved in public discussion about the future of the Internet. In 2000, she started writing a column for the New York Times.
Esther Dyson, named one of the most powerful women in American business by Forbes magazine, is a study in contradictions. She's widely regarded as one of the most influential voices in technology, but she's not a programmer or high-tech executive, and doesn't even have a phone at home. Dyson started out as a magazine fact checker, but ended up managing her own venture capital fund. She has rarely, if ever, voted, but she's an active technology policymaker in Washington. Dyson was born on January 14, 1951, in Zurich, Switzerland, to prominent mathematician Verena Huber-Dyson and physicist and futurist writer Freeman Dyson. Her father worked at the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and Dyson grew up accustomed to seeing Nobel laureates at the dinner table. An aspiring novelist, she started her own mini newspaper at age eight,and later worked as a page in the public library. She entered Harvard University at age 16, but by her own account, rarely attended classes, instead spending most of her time at the university newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, or hanging out with friends on the Harvard Lampoon. She graduated with a B.A. in economics in 1972.
Foray into Venture Capital
Although she'd hoped to become an entertainment writer at Variety, she ended up as a fact checker, and later a reporter, at Forbes, where she became fascinated by the business world. In 1977, she left print journalism behind and became a Wall Street securities analyst specializing in electronics and technology. In 1980, Dyson founded EDventure Holdings, a pioneering information technology and new media company. Her career took another turn in 1982, when she joined venture capitalist Ben Rosen and took over Rosen's Electronic News, an industry newsletter which she purchased the following year and renamed Release 1.0. Her newsletter quickly became a must-read among elite technology executives. In 1983, she took over the PC Forum, an industry hot ticket where Bill Gates rubbed shoulders with Lotus founder Mitch Kapor and other high-tech giants.
Internet Policy Adviser
In the late 1980s, Dyson became an active investor in Eastern European technology ventures. She also became increasingly involved in the public discussion about the future of the Internet. As co-chair of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC), head of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), and interim chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Dyson has helped mediate and inform public policy regarding privacy, encryption, trust, and the assignment of Internet domain names. Her book, Release 2.0, addressed to a general, non-technical audience, presented in plain English the key issues and controversies surrounding the evolving Internet.
In January 2000, Dyson started writing a syndicated twice-weekly column, Release 3.0, for The New York Times. The feature discusses the impact of digital technology on daily life as well as on the world's social, political, and financial fabric. In addition to managing EDventure Holdings, Dyson continues to invest in start-up Internet companies and to serve on various boards that set policy for the Web.
Her latest venture is an effort to help women - and men, too - live better, more healthful lives. Her goal, she says, is "not to cure cancer but to foster health so people don't get cancer in the first place".
Her non-profit, HICCup (Health Initiative Coordinating Council), will help people in five US communities become "radically" healthier, she says, as well as collect data to help people in other places make healthful choices.
She pays attention to her own health, too. She swims 50 minutes every day - sometimes fast, sometimes slow - and wears an activity tracker. She holds up her wrist in the late morning. The band sparkles, which means she has reached her fitness goal. "It's only 11:30," says a visitor. "This goal is too low," Dyson says. "I need to fix it."
Her answer reflects a drive for improvement - for herself and the world - and helps explain why she decided to create a health initiative.
"If I was a maid, I'd want a dirty room," she says. "I think in American health I've found a really dirty room.
"My parents are both scientists. They like order. Ask, 'Why?' And when the answer doesn't make any sense then fix it."
As part of the BBC's Women in Tech series we spoke to six other pioneers in a traditionally male-dominated industry.