Tim Berners-Lee

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Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Tim Berners Lee arriving at the Guildhall to receive the Honorary Freedom of the City of London
Born
Timothy John Berners-Lee

8 June 1955 (age 64)

Other names TimBL
TBL
Education Queen’s College, Oxford (BA)
Spouse(s)
Nancy Carlson
(m. 1990; div. 2011)
Rosemary Leith (m. 2014)
Children 2
Parent(s) Conway Berners-Lee
Mary Lee Woods
Awards Turing Award (2016)
Queen Elizabeth Prize (2013)
Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (2009)
Order of Merit (2007)
ACM Software System Award (1995)
Scientific career
Institutions CERN
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
World Wide Web Consortium
University of Oxford
University of Southampton
Website Official website

Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA FBCS (born 8 June 1955),[1] also known as TimBL, is an English engineer and computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He is a Professorial Fellow of Computer Science at the University of Oxford[2] and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[3][4] Berners-Lee proposed an information management system, on 12 March 1989,[5][6] then implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the internet, in mid-November of the same year.[7][8][9][10][11]

Berners-Lee is 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).[12] He is a director of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI),[13] and a member of the advisory board of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.[14][15] In 2011, he was named as a member of the board of trustees of the Ford Foundation.[16] He is a founder and president of the Open Data Institute, and is currently an advisor at social network MeWe.[17]

In 2004, Berners-Lee was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his pioneering work.[18][19] In April 2009, he was elected a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences.[20][21] Named in Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century, Berners-Lee has received a number of other accolades for his invention.[22] He was honoured as the “Inventor of the World Wide Web” during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, in which he appeared in person, working with a vintage NeXT Computer at the London Olympic Stadium.[23] He tweeted “This is for everyone”,[24] which instantly was spelled out in liquid-crystal display (LCD) lights attached to the chairs of the 80,000 people in the audience.[23] Berners-Lee received the 2016 Turing Award “for inventing the World Wide Web, the first web browser, and the fundamental protocols and algorithms allowing the Web to scale”.[25]

Early life and education

Berners-Lee was born on 8 June 1955 in London, England,[26] the eldest of the four children of Mary Lee Woods and Conway Berners-Lee; his brother Mike is an expert on greenhouse gases. His parents were computer scientists who worked on the first commercially built computer, the Ferranti Mark 1. He attended Sheen Mount Primary School, and then went on to attend south west London’s Emanuel School from 1969 to 1973, at the time a direct grant grammar school, which became an independent school in 1975.[1][18] A keen trainspotter as a child, he learnt about electronics from tinkering with a model railway.[27] He studied at The Queen’s College, Oxford, from 1973 to 1976, where he received a first-class bachelor of arts degree in physics.[1][26] While at university, Berners-Lee made a computer out of an old television set, which he bought from a repair shop.[28]

Career and research

Berners-Lee, 2005

After graduation, Berners-Lee worked as an engineer at the telecommunications company Plessey in Poole, Dorset.[26] In 1978, he joined D. G. Nash in Ferndown, Dorset, where he helped create type-setting software for printers.[26]

Berners-Lee worked as an independent contractor at CERN from June to December 1980. While in Geneva, he proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext, to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers.[29] To demonstrate it, he built a prototype system named ENQUIRE.[30]

After leaving CERN in late 1980, he went to work at John Poole’s Image Computer Systems, Ltd, in Bournemouth, Dorset.[31] He ran the company’s technical side for three years.[32] The project he worked on was a “real-time remote procedure call” which gave him experience in computer networking.[31] In 1984, he returned to CERN as a fellow.[30]

In 1989, CERN was the largest internet node in Europe, and Berners-Lee saw an opportunity to join hypertext with the internet:

I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the Transmission Control Protocol and domain name system ideas and—ta-da!—the World Wide Web[33] … Creating the web was really an act of desperation, because the situation without it was very difficult when I was working at CERN later. Most of the technology involved in the web, like the hypertext, like the internet, multifont text objects, had all been designed already. I just had to put them together. It was a step of generalising, going to a higher level of abstraction, thinking about all the documentation systems out there as being possibly part of a larger imaginary documentation system.[34]

This NeXT Computer was used by Berners-Lee at CERN and became the world’s first web server

Berners-Lee wrote his proposal in March 1989 and, in 1990, redistributed it. It then was accepted by his manager, Mike Sendall, who called his proposals ‘vague, but exciting’.[35] He used similar ideas to those underlying the ENQUIRE system to create the World Wide Web, for which he designed and built the first Web browser. His software also functioned as an editor (called WorldWideWeb, running on the NeXTSTEP operating system), and the first Web server, CERN HTTPd (short for Hypertext Transfer Protocol daemon).

Mike Sendall buys a NeXT cube for evaluation, and gives it to Tim [Berners-Lee]. Tim’s prototype implementation on NeXTStep is made in the space of a few months, thanks to the qualities of the NeXTStep software development system. This prototype offers WYSIWYG browsing/authoring! Current Web browsers used in ‘surfing the internet’ are mere passive windows, depriving the user of the possibility to contribute. During some sessions in the CERN cafeteria, Tim and I try to find a catching name for the system. I was determined that the name should not yet again be taken from Greek mythology….. Tim proposes ‘World-Wide Web’. I like this very much, except that it is difficult to pronounce in French… by Robert Cailliau, 2 November 1995.[36]

The first website was built at CERN. Despite this being an international organisation hosted by Switzerland, the office that Berners-Lee used was just across the border in France.[37] The website was put online on 6 August 1991 for the first time:[28]

info.cern.ch was the address of the world’s first-ever website and web server, running on a NeXT computer at CERN. The first webpage address was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html, which centred on information regarding the WWW project. Visitors could learn more about hypertext, technical details for creating their own webpage, and even an explanation on how to search the Web for information. There are no screenshots of this original page and, in any case, changes were made daily to the information available on the page as the WWW project developed. You may find a later copy (1992) on the World Wide Web Consortium website.[38]

It provided an explanation of what the World Wide Web was, and how people could use a browser and set up a web server, as well as how to get started with your own website.[39][40][41][42][28] In a list of 80 cultural moments that shaped the world, chosen by a panel of 25 eminent scientists, academics, writers, and world leaders, the invention of the World Wide Web was ranked number one, with the entry stating, “The fastest growing communications medium of all time, the internet has changed the shape of modern life forever. We can connect with each other instantly, all over the world”.[43]

In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the W3C at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It comprised various companies that were willing to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the Web. Berners-Lee made his idea available freely, with no patent and no royalties due. The World Wide Web Consortium decided that its standards should be based on royalty-free technology, so that they easily could be adopted by anyone.[44]

In 2001, Berners-Lee became a patron of the East Dorset Heritage Trust, having previously lived in Colehill in WimborneEast Dorset.[45] In December 2004, he accepted a chair in computer science at the School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, Hampshire, to work on the Semantic Web.[46][47]

In a Times article in October 2009, Berners-Lee admitted that the initial pair of slashes (“//”) in a web address were “unnecessary”. He told the newspaper that he easily could have designed web addresses without the slashes. “There you go, it seemed like a good idea at the time”, he said in his lighthearted apology.[48]

Policy work

Tim Berners-Lee at the Home Office, London, on 11 March 2010

In June 2009, then-British prime minister Gordon Brown announced that Berners-Lee would work with the UK government to help make data more open and accessible on the Web, building on the work of the Power of Information Task Force.[49] Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt are the two key figures behind data.gov.uk, a UK government project to open up almost all data acquired for official purposes for free re-use. Commenting on the opening up of Ordnance Survey data in April 2010, Berners-Lee said that: “The changes signal a wider cultural change in government based on an assumption that information should be in the public domain unless there is a good reason not to—not the other way around.” He went on to say: “Greater openness, accountability and transparency in Government will give people greater choice and make it easier for individuals to get more directly involved in issues that matter to them.”[50]

Berners-Lee speaking at the launch of the World Wide Web Foundation

In November 2009, Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web Foundation (WWWF) in order to campaign to “advance the Web to empower humanity by launching transformative programs that build local capacity to leverage the Web as a medium for positive change.”[51]

Berners-Lee is one of the pioneer voices in favour of net neutrality,[52] and has expressed the view that ISPs should supply “connectivity with no strings attached”, and should neither control nor monitor the browsing activities of customers without their expressed consent.[53][54] He advocates the idea that net neutrality is a kind of human network right: “Threats to the internet, such as companies or governments that interfere with or snoop on internet traffic, compromise basic human network rights.”[55] Berners-Lee participated in an open letter to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He and 20 other Internet pioneers urged the FCC to cancel a vote on 14 December 2017 to uphold net neutrality. The letter was addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, Senator Brian Schatz, Representative Marsha Blackburn and Representative Michael F. Doyle.[56]

Berners-Lee’s tweet, “This is for everyone”,[24] at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London

Berners-Lee joined the board of advisors of start-up State.com, based in London.[57] As of May 2012, Berners-Lee is president of the Open Data Institute,[58] which he co-founded with Nigel Shadbolt in 2012.

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) was launched in October 2013 and Berners-Lee is leading the coalition of public and private organisations that includes GoogleFacebookIntel, and Microsoft. The A4AI seeks to make internet access more affordable so that access is broadened in the developing world, where only 31% of people are online. Berners-Lee will work with those aiming to decrease internet access prices so that they fall below the UN Broadband Commission‘s worldwide target of 5% of monthly income.[59]

Berners-Lee holds the founders chair in Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he heads the Decentralized Information Group and is leading Solid, a joint project with the Qatar Computing Research Institute that aims to radically change the way Web applications work today, resulting in true data ownership as well as improved privacy.[60] In October 2016, he joined the Department of Computer Science at Oxford University as a professorial research fellow[61] and as a fellow of Christ Church, one of the Oxford colleges.[62]

Tim Berners-Lee at the Science Museum for the Web@30 event, March 2019

From the mid 2010s Berners-Lee initially remained neutral on the emerging Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal for with its controversial controversial Digital Rights Management (DRM) implications.[63] In March 2017 he felt he had to take a position which was to support the EME proposal.[63] He reasoned EME’s virtues whilst noting DRM was inevitable.[63] As W3C director he went on to approve the finalised specification in July 2017.[64][63] His stance was opposed by some including Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the anti-DRM campaign Defective by Design and the Free software foundation.[64] Varied concerns raised included being not supportive of the internet’s open philosophy against commercial interests and risks of users being forced to use a particular web browser to view specific DRM content.[63] The EFF raised a formal appeal which did not succeed and the EME specification became a formal W3C recommendation in September 2017.[65]

On 30 September 2018, Berners-Lee announced a new application made by open-source startup Inrupt based on the Solid standards, which aims to give users more control over their personal data and lets users choose where the data goes, who’s allowed to see certain elements and which apps are allowed to see that data.[66]

In November 2019 at the Internet Governance Forum in Berlin Berners-Lee and the WWWF launched Contract for the Web, a campaign initiative to persuade governments, companies and citizens to commit to nine principles to stop “misuse” with the warning ” “If we don’t act now – and act together – to prevent the web being misused by those who want to exploit, divide and undermine, we are at risk of squandering” (its potential for good).[67]

Awards and honours

“He wove the World Wide Web and created a mass medium for the 21st century. The World Wide Web is Berners-Lee’s alone. He designed it. He loosed it on the world. And he more than anyone else has fought to keep it open, nonproprietary and free.”

—Tim Berners-Lee’s entry in Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century, March 1999.[22]

Berners-Lee has received many awards and honours. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2004 New Year Honours “for services to the global development of the internet”, and was invested formally on 16 July 2004.[18][19]

On 13 June 2007, he was appointed to the Order of Merit (OM), an order restricted to 24 (living) members.[68] Bestowing membership of the Order of Merit is within the personal purview of the Queen, and does not require recommendation by ministers or the Prime Minister. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2001.[69] He has been conferred honorary degrees from a number of Universities around the world, including Manchester (his parents worked on the Manchester Mark 1 in the 1940s), Harvard and Yale.[70][71][72]

In 2012, Berners-Lee was among the British cultural icons selected by artist Sir Peter Blake to appear in a new version of his most famous artwork – the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover – to celebrate the British cultural figures of his life that he most admires to mark his 80th birthday.[73][74]

In 2013, he was awarded the inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.[75] On 4 April 2017, he received the 2016 ACM Turing Award “for inventing the World Wide Web, the first web browser, and the fundamental protocols and algorithms allowing the Web to scale”.[25]

Personal life

Berners-Lee married Nancy Carlson, an American computer programmer, in 1990; she was also working in Switzerland, at the World Health Organization.[76] They had two children and divorced in 2011. In 2014 he married Rosemary Leith at the Chapel RoyalSt. James’s Palace in London.[77] Leith is a Canadian internet and banking entrepreneur, and a founding director of Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation.[78] The couple also collaborate on venture capital to support artificial intelligence companies.[79]

Berners-Lee was raised as an Anglican, but in his youth, he turned away from religion. After he became a parent, he became a Unitarian Universalist (UU).[80] He has stated: “Like many people, I had a religious upbringing which I rejected as a teenager … Like many people, I came back to religion when we had children”.[81] He and his wife wanted to teach spirituality to their children, and after hearing a Unitarian minister and visiting the UU Church, they opted for it.[82] He is an active member of that church,[83] to which he adheres because he perceives it as a tolerant and liberal belief. He has said: “I believe that much of the philosophy of life associated with many religions is much more sound than the dogma which comes along with it. So I do respect them.”[81] When asked whether he believes in god, he stated: “Not in the sense of most people, I’m atheist and Unitarian Universalist”.[84
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