Tim Berners-Lee will go down as one of the great computer scientists of all time. Tim BL, as he is known, literally invented the World Wide Web (WWW) on which you are reading and accessing this information.
Yesterday at a conference in London, Tim BL called for an Internet “bill of rights” to guarantee the “independence of the Internet and ensure user’s privacy.” A worthy goal set from a man whose life’s work did much to create today’s society and our foreseeable future. Too bad Tim BL’s comments will be viewed as a joke in most of the world. Tim BL has been hacked by reality.
The world of 1989, when Tim BL founded WWW, no longer exists. Twenty-five years ago, the Soviet Union’s empire was coming unglued, China was killing democracy-supporting citizens in its capital, and the United States ruled the world like a colossus. WWW was an infant that supported a group of information craving scientists who needed to share different types of data in a common way. And, Edward Snowden was six years old and playing in his backyard in North Carolina.
2014 is a very different and most dangerous world. It is filled with strong regional powers like China and Russia who don’t view the sharing of information with the same rosy glow that Tim BL does. It is populated by violent, non-nation state players whose powers are enhanced by their ability to spread their view around the globe. And both nations and non-state actors understand that the web is a virtual reality in which to fight and steal and proselytize.
The US which dominated the Internet for so long is beginning to quickly lose its grip as nearly four billion people have access to the Web in 200 plus countries – many of whom are more like China and Russia in their view of the Internet than the US. And, most certainly, the hopeful view of Tim BL.
So, on the 25th anniversary, I salute Tim BL. He’s a good man fighting a lost cause. Perhaps the world needs more of his type. Because the future of the Internet is looking rather glum.