Berners-Lee calls for higher purpose of Web

Designers of Web tech need to consider not just cool new features they can enable but also the impact that information sharing has on all of humanity, says Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the underpinnings of the World Wide Web, isn't just concerned about getting browsers on more mobile devices. Architects of the Web need to consider how it will affect all humanity as it evolves.

Berners-Lee was one of the speakers here this afternoon at Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything, a conference organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Tim Berners-Lee at MIT. Martin LaMonica/CNET

In his talk, Berners-Lee reprised his role in writing the protocols now used on the Web and how a few chance encounters led to the World Wide Web Consortium being first located at MIT. Looking ahead, he said that the W3C, which manages the development of technical Web standards, needs to adapt to the "ridiculous" number of mobile devices, including mobile phones and tablets.

But even as engineers hammer out the next version of HTML, they have a duty to fulfill a weighty social purpose of the Web, he said. As the way that people connect in society, the Web supports justice, government transparency, and human rights to freedom, he said.

"The challenge before us is getting everyone involved. At the same time that we're a technology consortium, it's incredibly important to push things" in how the Web affects society and culture," he said. "It's not only just about making a cooler device or a cooler Web site. One thing that's changed about the Web is that it's so big and so ubiquitous."

The Web should serve to connect more people and bridge cultural gaps and misunderstandings among people, Berners-Lee said.

One tablet per child
Berners-Lee was part of the lineup of people who spoke on the topic of "computing for everyone" today, which included Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab and chairman of One Laptop Per Child.

Nicholas Negroponte at MIT Martin LaMonica/CNET

Negroponte said that the inexpensive laptops made by One Laptop Per Child have been distributed to 2.4 million people in 40 countries, making an "extraordinary impact" on people in poor countries. As an example, he showed a photo of young child in Peru using a laptop to teach his grandfather how to ready and write, which raises the child self-esteem and raises his profile in the community.

He said the nonprofit will release engineering diagrams for a $75 tablet although it's not yet clear whether it will make the device itself. Multitasking will be a feature because they will be used by students who quickly switch between different tasks, such as playing chess and reading books.

Because OLPC is a nonprofit with a social mission, he said he regretted the negative press it has received. When asked what he would do differently, he said "I might not have pissed on Microsoft and Intel so hard. I used to think it was a badge of honor...If you put me back five years, I would have done it more gracefully."

 

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