Language (SGML). He felt it would be
more logical if domain names were
listed in descending order of hierarchy— org.acm.cacm, for instance—
but the Domain Name System already
existed, so he took it as it was.
In 1990, Paolo Palazzi, a physicist at
CERN, tried to tempt Berners-Lee into
joining his Programming Techniques
Group. Instead, Berners-Lee showed
him the Web project he was working
on. Palazzi says he saw the problem
Berners-Lee was trying to solve, but
did not fully understand his proposed
solution. Nonetheless, he thought the
project was worthy of support. “
Truly innovative ideas cannot really be
grasped, so you have to trust the person proposing it,” he says.
Berners-Lee was someone he
trusted. “He had a special way of go-
ing about solving problems,” Pala-
zzi says. “Tim is one of this class of
people who have peculiar abilities at
inventing or discovering.”
It was the way he combined existing
ideas—hypertext and Internet proto-
cols—that was innovative, Palazzi says.
HTML, HTTP, and URIs were inventive
in themselves, but, Palazzi says, “The
way they combine together is, I think,
a stroke of genius.”
By 1994, the Web had progressed
from a small research project to a
global phenomenon, with compa-
nies such as IBM adopting it and new
companies such as Netscape, the first
browser company, being created.
Berners-Lee moved to the computer
science department at the Massachu-
setts Institute of Technology (MIT)
and founded the World Wide Web
Consortium, an international group
that developed standards for the Web.
In 2008, he was named the 3Com
Founders Professor of Engineering at
MIT. In 2016, he became a professor
in the computer science department
at Oxford University, although he is
also still working at MIT.
The Turing Award is the latest in
a long list of honors recognizing the
work of Berners-Lee. In 2004, he was
knighted by Queen Elizabeth, who
also awarded him the Order of Merit in
2007. He is a fellow or member of many
professional organizations, includ-
ing the Royal Society and the National
Academy of Sciences, and has been giv-
en medals by groups ranging from the
Institute of Physics (IOP) to the United
Nations Educational, Scientific, and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Turing Award includes a prize
of $1 million, with financial support
provided by Google. Berners-Lee has
not yet made plans for what he will do
with that sum.
In 2008, Berners-Lee founded the
World Wide Web Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting access
to the Web for all. “That was about
recognizing that there was a duty
that the haves have to the have-nots,
to try and get as many people to have
as much access as possible,” he says.
The Alliance for Affordable Internet,
a project of the Foundation, seeks to
drive down the price of broadband
access so people in developing countries can access the Web.
Open access continues to be an issue for the Web, Berners-Lee says.
“Whenever people ask me the question, ‘What’s your biggest fear?’, it’s always been that some one entity, either
commercial or political, should control
the Web. That would be the death of it.”
Net neutrality is important, he says; a
service provider should not be able to
control what content its customers see.
He also worries about governments either blocking access to certain Websites, or worse, using the
Web to track which websites users
visit, then punishing people based
on that information.
“It’s also something which countries like America and the U.K. have
to be very careful with, make sure they
don’t slip into the fear of terrorism.
The war on terrorism is being used as
an excuse for many things, but one of
them can be taking away people’s fundamental rights to communicate.” He
cites recent calls by the U.K. government, in the wake of the terror attack
in London in March, to be given backdoor access to applications such as
Whatsapp for fear terrorists are using
them to coordinate attacks.
At MIT, Berners-Lee is co-director of
the Decentralized Information Group,
which is working, in his words, on “
re-decentralizing” the Web to burst some
of the “filter bubbles” people have created for themselves on social media.
“Because the Internet didn’t have
countries as a thing, [some people]
hoped that people would learn to just
break down cultural barriers and it
would lead to love and understanding
across borders, and world peace. And
it didn’t,” he says. The group is pursuing the notion that perhaps the right
software could help realize that utopian vision.
Another project Berners-Lee currently is working on seeks to give people
greater control over their data, such as
where it is stored and what other people
and applications have access to it.
For young computer scientists
looking to have an impact on the
world, Berners-Lee recommends ignoring conventional wisdom and following their own instincts.
“You should feel free to develop
something for yourself, because it
seems to appeal to you, scratches an
itch that you have,” he says. “To a certain extent, one has to beware of asking the users what they want, because
the things which they would find really exciting, they can’t imagine.”
Neil Savage is a science and technology writer based in
© 2017 ACM 0001-0782/17/06 $15.00
The World Wide Web
there was a duty
that the haves have
to the have-nots,
to try and get
as many people
to have as much
access as possible.”
Watch the Turing recipient
discuss his work in this exclusive