It’s nice to hear that, every once in a while, the nice guy finishes first. Sir Tim Berners-Lee was just awarded the Millennium Technology Prize. He was also knighted last December and listed as one of Time’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
So what did he do that was so great?
He invented the Worldwide Web while at CERN in 1989. That in itself is not new: the hypertext concept is prevalent as far back as 1945. No, the real kicker is that he then gave the technology away. Without his contributions, the Internet as we know it today would never have existed:
“There would have been a CERN Web, a Microsoft one, there would have been a Digital one, Apple’s HyperCard would have started reaching out Internet roots,” he said. “And all of these things would have been incompatible.”
His current project, the Semantic Web, aims to make information retrieval more intelligent and intuitive. He is also outspoken about abolishing software patents altogether:
“What’s at stake here is the whole spirit in which software has been developed to date,” he said. “If you can imagine a computer doing it, then you can write a computer program to do it. That spirit has been behind so many wonderful developments. And when you connect that to the spirit of the Internet, the spirit of openness and sharing, it’s terribly stifling to creativity. It’s stifling to the academic side of doing research and thinking up new ideas, it’s stifling to the new industry and the new enterprises that come out of that.”