The Birth of the World Wide Web
Fifty years ago, in response to the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik, the U.S. military set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency. It would become the cradle of connectivity, spawning the era of Google and YouTube, of Amazon and Facebook, of the Drudge Report and the Obama campaign. Each breakthrough, – network protocols, hypertext, the World Wide Web, the browser, – inspired another as narrow-tied engineers, long-haired hackers, and other visionaries built the foundations for a world-changing technology.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of an extraordinary moment. In 1958 the United States government set up a special unit, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, to help jump-start new efforts in science and technology. This was the agency that would nurture the Internet.
Tim Berners-Lee Has Some Regrets
“For people who want to make sure the Web serves humanity, we have to concern ourselves with what people are building on top of it. We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places. The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has ended up producing, – with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform, – a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.”
“There are people working in the lab trying to imagine how the Web could be different. How society on the Web could look different. What could happen if we give people privacy and we give people control of their data. While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people, – and can be fixed by people.”
Ecosystem of Fake Bots, Information, and Distorted Realities
When Tim Berners-Lee hoped for an internet to collaborate and share information, he probably didn’t have fake news or the weaponization of information in mind.
We might talk about today’s information as something more than a “Russian thing” one day. The events we are witnessing appear to be akin to Martin Luther’s ushering in a dramatic new way of thinking about the world. But the revelations and online chicanery spilling out of the 2016 US Election alone could prove to be the 95 theses wake up call for the titans of technology.
The internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible
The open, global internet is the most powerful communication and collaboration resource we have ever seen. It embodies some of our deepest hopes for human progress. It enables new opportunities for learning, building a sense of shared humanity, and solving the pressing problems facing people everywhere.
Over the last decade we have seen this promise fulfilled in many ways. We have also seen the power of the internet used to magnify divisiveness, incite violence, promote hatred, and intentionally manipulate fact and reality. We have learned that we should more explicitly set out our aspirations for the human experience of the internet. We do so now.