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Internet’s 30th Birthday: Father of the web has a few words to say

  • Published at 12:38 am March 13th, 2019
Photo: Bigstock

The internet is a giant network of computers that are united by their ability to communicate and exchange information through the network

In the spring of 1989, Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee sent a project to his boss - a document labelled Information Management: A Proposal.

He was then a fellow at the physics research laboratory Cern - the famed particle physics lab in Switzerland and his proposal on March 12 was for a decentralized system of information management that signalled the birth of the World Wide Web as we know today. 

Now the internet and the web are two different things even though the term is used interchangeably. 

The internet is a giant network of computers that are united by their ability to communicate and exchange information through the network. Connecting to the internet means a computer is connecting to millions of other computers that are connected a network called the internet. 

Now the World Wide Web that Tim John Berners-Lee is credited for is a universally accepted way of accessing the internet.

The internet now is part of our daily lives from social media, the internet of things and scarily enough elections. Berners-Lee wrote an open letter yesterday warning of the dark side of the net and reiterating the infinite possibilities of knowledge that can be found on the information superhighway. 

The British mathematician his letter, he said: “Today, 30 years on from my original proposal for an information management system, half the world is online. It’s a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go.

“The web has become a public square, a library, a doctor’s office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more. Of course with every new feature, every new website, the divide between those who are online and those who are not increases, making it all the more imperative to make the web available for everyone.

“And while the web has created opportunity, given marginalized groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.

“Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how “much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”

In order to tackle the problem, he suggested, the world has to firmly understand what it actually is. 

“Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment. System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward click bait and the viral spread of misinformation. Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse,” he said. 

But all hope, he thinks, is not lost. “At pivotal moments, generations before us have stepped up to work together for a better future. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, diverse groups of people have been able to agree on essential principles. With the Law of Sea and the Outer Space Treaty, we have preserved new frontiers for the common good. Now too, as the web reshapes our world, we have a responsibility to make sure it is recognized as a human right and built for the public good. This is why the Web Foundation is working with governments, companies and citizens to build a new Contract for the Web.

“This contract was launched in Lisbon at Web Summit, bringing together a group of people who agree we need to establish clear norms, laws and standards that underpin the web. Those who support it endorse its starting principles and together are working out the specific commitments in each area. No one group should do this alone, and all input will be appreciated. Governments, companies and citizens are all contributing, and we aim to have a result later this year,” he goes on to say. 

Tim Berners-Lee is currently a professor of computer science at the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is also the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the continued development of the Web. 

He is also the founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and is a senior researcher and holder of the 3Com founders chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He is a director of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI). 

In 2012 he was named as a member of the board of trustees of the Ford Foundation. He is also the founder and president of the Open Data Institute.