In particular, Berners-Lee has, for some time, been working on a new platform, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots. On this winter day, he had come to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the World Wide Web Foundation, which he started in to protect human rights across the digital landscape. For Berners-Lee, this mission is critical to a fast-approaching future.
As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever. The original idea for the Web was born in the early s, when Berners-Lee was growing up in London. His parents, both pioneers of the computer age, helped create the first commercial stored-program electronic computer.
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They raised their son on tales of bits and processors and the power of machines. One of his earliest memories is a conversation with his father about how computers would one day function like the human brain.
As a student at Oxford in the early s, Berners-Lee built his own computer using an old television and a soldering iron. He graduated with a first-class degree in physics, without any particular plans for his future.
The Land Before Bits and Bytes
He subsequently landed a series of jobs at different companies as a programmer, but none of them lasted long. He worked on a program to help nuclear scientists share data over another nascent system. It was an information system that used an older software known as Hypertext to link to data and documents over the Internet. There were other information systems at the time.
What made the Web powerful, and ultimately dominant, however, would also one day prove to be its greatest vulnerability: Berners-Lee gave it away for free; anyone with a computer and an Internet connection could not only access it but also build off it.
Computer History: Who Invented Copy and Paste Command?
Berners-Lee understood that the Web needed to be unfettered by patents, fees, royalties, or any other controls in order to thrive. This way, millions of innovators could design their own products to take advantage of it. And, of course, millions did. Computer scientists and academics picked it up first, building applications that then drew others. In the beginning it was truly open, free, controlled by no one company or group.
The individual was incredibly empowered. We, collectively, by the billions, gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology. Facebook, Google, and Amazon now monopolize almost everything that happens online, from what we buy to the news we read to who we like. Along with a handful of powerful government agencies, they are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways. Shortly after the election, Berners-Lee felt something had to change, and began methodically attempting to hack his creation. As billions more connect to the Web, he feels an increasing urgency to resolve its problems.
For him this is about not just those already online but also the billions still unconnected. How much weaker and more marginalized will they become as the rest of the world leaves them behind? We were now talking in a small, non-descript conference room, but Berners-Lee nevertheless felt called to action. Talking about this milestone, he grabbed a notebook and pen and started scribbling, slashing lines and dots and arrows across the page. He was mapping out a social graph of the computing power of the world. When about a fifth of the page was covered with lines and dots and scribbles, Berners-Lee stopped.
To fill it up so all of humanity has total power on the Web. It was a few days before Mark Zuckerberg was set to testify before Congress. And in this obscure part of the Web, Berners-Lee was busy working on a plan to make that testimony moot. The idea is simple: re-decentralize the Web.
The man who invented the computer
Working with a small team of developers, he spends most of his time now on Solid, a platform designed to give individuals, rather than corporations, control of their own data. How society on the Web could look different. For now, the Solid technology is still new and not ready for the masses. But the vision, if it works, could radically change the existing power dynamics of the Web.
The system aims to give users a platform by which they can control access to the data and content they generate on the Web. This way, users can choose how that data gets used rather than, say, Facebook and Google doing with it as they please. Part of the draw is working with an icon. For a computer scientist, coding with Berners-Lee is like playing guitar with Keith Richards. But more than just working with the inventor of the Web, these coders come because they want to join the cause. These are digital idealists, subversives, revolutionaries, and anyone else who wants to fight the centralization of the Web.
However, he created the command while working for Xerox Palo Alto Research Center at some point between But there is always more to this type of story, right? The concept was inspired by the pre-Computer-Age practice in which manuscript editors literally cut out sections of text usually with editing scissors and then paste them onto a new page. For most early adopters, the earliest they recall using this type of computer system command being able to duplicate and move sections of text with the cursor is in WordStar, introduced in , or WordPerfect, a program that enjoyed widespread popularity from the late 70s all the way into the early s.
Today, the names that are most often used in conjunction with the beginnings of a certain technology are most often tied directly to its success. If having an idea makes you the inventor, than this discussion should start much further back than who founded Facebook; what about MySpace and Friendster?
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