Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a name that will be remembered down the ages as one of the greatest inventors of all time. He, almost single-handily, developed one of the greatest tools for mankind since the invention of the printing press.
Today the world has never been so interconnected, and it has never been easier to access and share information. The World Wide Web has revolutionized the way we communicate, work, and play to even a few decades ago.
In the following article, we'll take a quick look at the man and his groundbreaking work. Without it, all websites, including our own, simply could not exist.
On behalf of Interesting Engineering, may we wish Sir Berners-Lee a very happy birthday and a fond and heartfelt thank you.
We salute you, sir!
How did Berners-Lee impact the world?
Berners-Lee, by developing the World Wide Web as we know it today, revolutionized the way humans communicate and share information with each other. It is arguable that this development has been the most significant to mankind since the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century.
Just like the printing press centuries before it, the World Wide Web has provided an unprecedented platform for individuals to share their thoughts, build businesses, and access the entire back catalog of human knowledge - all at their fingertips.
It, in no small part, has set mankind on a path to the next phase in our technological development. Many consider the World Wide Web to be the catalyst for the current phases of the Information Age and so-called 4th Industrial Revolution.
This really can't be emphasized enough. Never before in human history has it been so easy to get information, communicate with other people around the world, and/or start a business of your very own.
For artisans, the World Wide Web has provided a means for them to share their own work and bypass traditional roadblocks like publishers, record labels and art galleries/dealers. As an artist you can know freely share your creations on whatever platform you wish and, if desired, monetize it.
Just as the printing press wrenched the control of information from the state and church, so too has the World Wide Web provided a vehicle for the people to control what they see and share. Often to the frustration of those who would prefer it otherwise.
The printing press opened the door for some of the greatest developments in thought in the world. For example the Protestant Reformation, and, in its wake, the Scientific Enlightenment that followed.
Without the printing press, the modern world would be a very different place indeed. It is exciting to think what the development of the World Wide Web will foster in the near and distant future.
So long as it remains free of authoritarian interference of course. For this reason, leading thinkers like Berners-Lee have long argued for an Internet Bill of Rights to preserve the internet and World Wide Web as a public space free from censorship and state control.
Such a bill, if it could be passed, would strive to protect and provide:
- Freedom of expression,
- A diverse, decentralized and open platform and,
- Net neutrality for users and content alike.
Berners-Lee has emphasized the need for Internet users to drive its [the internet] direction. He is no stranger to voicing his concern over governments increasingly deny Internet users’ rights to privacy and freedom, they must engage in debate, action, and protest.
“I believe we can build a Web that is truly for everyone: one that is accessible to all, from any device, and one that empowers all of us to achieve our dignity, rights, and potential as humans.” - Tim Berners-Lee.
What the future has in store for the World Wide Web is anyone's guess, but there is no doubt it has been one of mankind's greatest inventions.
But this is, in part, the author's opinion. We'll let you decide if the WWW has changed the world or not.
What did Berners-Lee invent?
As we have already seen, Berners-Lee is widely acknowledged as the creator of the World Wide Web, as we know it today. Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, was working at CERN in Switzerland at the time, and in August of 1991, his first version of what would become the World Wide Web was born.
At that time in order for scientists at CERN to share and access information they needed to physically move between computers. Berners-Lee realized this was far from efficient and it might be better to form a network using the existing internet infrastructure of the time to do so.
He realized that information could easily be shared using a 1960s technology called hypertext. This was created by Ted Nelson in 1965.
Berners-Lee proposed the idea to his boss in March of 1989 but, surprisingly, he wasn't that impressed. He even wrote, famously, that it was "vague but exciting" on Berners-Lee's proposal.
Yet despite this minor setback, Berners-Lee pressed ahead with his plan. Scrounging time from his main duties at CERN, Berners-Lee had managed, by 1990, to develop a prototype for his vision.
At this point in time, Berners-Lee had created three elements that are vital to the WWW today:
- HTML (Hypertext Markup Language),
- URI (uniform resource identifier, which we now call URL) and,
- HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol).
Soon after, the world's very first web page had been created, and by 1991 it was public to anyone with an internet connection. This event would kick-start an explosion in websites around the world.
By 1993, 130 websites were in existence, and by 1993 this had increased 5-fold to over 620. By 1994, according to MIT, this had grown exponentially to around 2,700 sites including Yahoo! and Amazon.
Not long after this had grown to around 650,000, and today there are millions, if not billions of websites around the world.
Why was the invention of the World Wide Web important?
As we have already seen, the World Wide Web has freed up information exchange between people around the world. It has enabled anyone with an internet connection the ability to access a wealth of information, to freely communicate within anyone else on the web, and, if they desired, start their own business or platform.
It has revolutionized many aspects of human lives and opened up entirely new industries never before dreamed off. You can video call your friends and family the other side of the world in real-time, play co-operative games with other people you've never met, and send messages and e-mails to recipients within seconds.
Any and all of this would seem like 'magic' to generations past. For many, the WWW was just the start of something much bigger to come.
If claims about the 4th Industrial Revolution have any real weight, then the future of work (and everything) will become unrecognizable to even a few decades ago. For better or worse, the world of work will probably never be the same again.
But like any revolution in technology throughout history, and as the adage goes "when one door closes, another opens", many jobs will become obsolete, but in their wake, new opportunities will rise.
Called 'Creative Destruction' by some economists, the advent of things like IoT, AI, and Machine Learning promises to give mankind more free time to pursue their hopes and dreams, and hopefully, make some money out of it.
But like all predictions of the future, only time will tell.
What does Berners-Lee do now?
You might well wonder what Berners-Lee has been up to since his great invention back in the 1990s. Well, as it turns out, he hasn't been idle.
Since the dawn of the web, Berners-Lee has been the Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, W3C for short. This, if you are not aware, is a web standards organization that was founded in 1994 and develops interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools).
Berners-Lee is also the Director of the World Wide Web Foundation which was launched in 2009 to coordinate efforts to further the potential of the Web to benefit humanity. He is a founding Director of the Web Science Trust (WST), also launched in 2009, to promote research and education in Web Science, the multidisciplinary study of humanity connected by technology.
At MIT, Berners-Lee is the 3Com Founders Professor of Engineering in the School of Engineering, with a joint appointment in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL). He is also a Professor in the Electronics and Computer Science Department at the University of Southampton, UK.
In 2001 Berners-Lee also became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He is also the recipient of several international awards including a knighthood in 2004 by H.M. Queen Elizabeth, and in 2007 he was awarded the Order of Merit.