Way back in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, at that time a fellow at the Physics Research Laboratory Cern on the French-Swiss border dispatched to his boss Mike Sendall a document entitled INFORMTION MANAGEMENT: A PROPOSAL. The memo envisaged a ‘System’ with which physicists at the center could share ‘General information about accelerators and experiments’. But Sendall took the memo, jotting down a note on top of it, saying “Vague but exciting” and left it at that. However, Tim Berners-Lee never let grass grow under his feet, while it took another year (1990) for him to start writing code, while the project had chosen a new name – Berners-Lee christened it as the World Wide Web.
The following years (30) had seen many memorable events. But along with good things came a mighty lot of unfortunate issues like fake news, misinformation, hate speech and many more that its inventor Berners-Lee never imagined would ever surface.
Though deeply hurt by witnessing his creation debased by such ruinous materials that include fake news and unwarranted surveillance, the great inventor had plans to fix the problem too.
“While the web has created opportunity, given marginalized groups a voice and made our daily lives easier,” he says, “it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.
“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.”
Berners-Lee, who never directly profited off his invention, has also spent most of his life trying to guard it. While Silicon Valley started ride-share apps and social-media networks without fully considering the consequences, Berners-Lee has spent the past three decades never bothering about these. Right from the very start, he knew how the undeniable power of the Web would one day transform governments, businesses, societies.
He also visualized that his invention could, in evil hands, turn into a destroyer of worlds. What’s more, his prophecy came true, in the recent past, when it came to light that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 US Presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s campaign.
He also did not forget how In 2012, Facebook conducted secret psychological experiments on more than 700,000 users. These episodes had no doubt pained the veteran who felt himself responsible for these calamities.