British creator of World Wide Web scoops first technology 'Nobel prize'
SIR Tim Berners-Lee, credited with inventing the World Wide Web, has avoided both the spotlight and the riches won by many internet entrepreneurs. But yesterday he received the first Millennium Technology Prize - a £663,000 cash award recognising his revolutionary contribution to humanity’s ability to communicate.
The award, presented by Finland’s president, Tarja Halonen, is among the largest of its kind. It was established in 2002 along the lines of the Nobel prizes and is backed by the Finnish government.
"Building the web, I didn’t do it all myself. The really exciting thing about it is that it was done by lots and lots of people, connected with this tremendous spirit," Sir Tim, 49, said at the award ceremony in Helsinki.
The prize committee outlined the award to be given for "an outstanding innovation that directly promotes people’s quality of life, is based on humane values and encourages sustainable economic development".
Sir Tim is recognised as the creator of the internet while working in the early 1990s for the CERN Laboratory, the European centre for nuclear research near Geneva, Switzerland.
His graphical point-and-click browser, "WorldWideWeb", was the first client that featured the core ideas included in today’s web browsers - Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera and Mozilla among them.
In developing the browsing concept, he fleshed out the core communication protocols needed for transmitting web pages from servers to users, the HTTP, or hypertext transfer protocol, and HTML, the so-called markup language used to create them.
The prize committee underlined the importance of Sir Tim’s decision to never strive to commercialise or patent his contributions to the internet technologies he has developed.
Sir Tim says he would never have succeeded, if he had been asking for money for his inventions.
"If I had tried to demand fees, there would be no World Wide Web, there would be lots of small webs," he said.
He also remains modest about his achievements. "I was just taking lots of things that already existed and added a little bit," he said.
But Pekka Tarjanne, chairman of the prize committee, said: "No-one doubts who the father of the WWW is, except Sir Tim himself."
During the 15 years since he began working on the WWW idea, Sir Tim’s inventions have undergone rapid changes, but the underlying technology remains the same. Knighted in December, he continues to work at the standard-setting World Wide Web Consortium at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the United States.
His recent project - which experts say is potentially as revolutionary as the web itself - is called the semantic web. Very technical in nature, it is an attempt to bring an agreement on how information is stored on the internet and to organise the jungle of data found on the net into a "web" of concepts. "It is an exciting new development that we’re making," he said.
The goal of the global database is to allow computers to use a form of intelligent reasoning about concepts and ideas in documents to sort out relevant information. This would, in turn, make it much easier for users to find only what they want to find, and nothing else.
In his acceptance speech, Sir Tim focused on technology as an evolving process that was just in its infancy. "All sorts of things, too long for me to list here, are still out there waiting to be done. There are so many new things to make, limited only by our imagination," he said.
The millennium award will be granted every two years, and the Finnish government has agreed to supply the prize money.
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