Tim Berners-Lee (Photo by Silvio Tanaka on Flickr)
Keynote speech by Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Tim Berners-Lee gave a keynote speech at the launch of our Digital Productivity and Services Flagship. This page hosts a video of his speech.
The player will show in this paragraph
At the Digital Productivity and Services Flagship launch, Sir Tim Berners-Lee spoke about the internet and the world wide web, including their history and their future. He described how he invented the world wide web, and some of his ideas for how it will be used in the future.
Other topics he covered included Australia’s national broadband infrastructure, open data, the semantic web and the internet of things. He closed with a call to action for programmers to use their knowledge to make computers work better.
Transcript[Facilitator is standing on a stage]
Facilitator: With those words of context it is now my enormous pleasure to introduce to you Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Sir Tim is someone who I think needs absolutely no introduction, but I will introduce him as in the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, W3C. Please welcome Sir Tim Berners-Lee to the stage.
[Camera pans out to show Sir Tim Berners-Lee walk up to the stage, Image changes to a slide which reads Keynote address – Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Director, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)]
[Sir Tim Berners-Lee stands behind a podium where he gives his presentation]
Tim Berners-Lee: Well it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me. And, congratulations to everybody who’s been involved in the... in getting this putting this day together, putting the... these... this exciting new initiative together. I suppose, it’s great that you recognise Aboriginals present and past, and it’s funny that we say Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s funny how you divide people up. I think maybe I should start addressing people as dear geeks, connected people, and not yet connected people.
Because in a way it seems to me now that there are these three categories of people, and I know that by geek I mean somebody who can actually be good on a computer, they can make it do something different to what it does now, and by somebody who’s connected, somebody who does have access to a computer and uses it, and by disconnected person, then well so many people that actually for one reason or another they may have a phone, they may have signal, they may have Wi-Fi, but for one reason or another they don’t... they’re not actually using it. So perhaps that’ll be... so there are geeks, connected, and disconnected. So I will talk to you about various... about many things, because, a lot of it’s about data. I’m going to emphasis data. A bit because it’s been a thing that I expend a certain amount of time doing.
It’s great to be back in Australia. When last time I came, it was actually a really long time ago, it was when the WWW7 Conference was hosted by Southern Cross University in Brisbane, and by the way I just should mention that while CSIRO does many things, from my point of view it is right up there among places in Australia, the most important place in Australia because it hosts the W3C office in Australia. And by the way, if you if you work for an Australian IT company, or not even, or an IT user, then maybe you should talk to them and ask them about whether if you haven’t joined W3C yet, then you should. You’ll find them back there. I will say it just now, and I will not say it again. So, I won’t make comment about the weather, partly because I realise that, you know, we can make many jokes about it, especially coming from London you know where people always make jokes about your weather, but I won’t make jokes because I understand there are actually people who would be here, who are not here because their houses are flooded, and it’s so sad to see that again after only a couple of years you have so much issues with too much water in this case.
But it’s a fascinating time to be here. It’s a fascinating time in the world. It’s a fascinating time in in Australia, or we’ll say the National Broadband Network is a, you know it’s a wonderful commitment to getting everybody connected, if you look at Australia compared to other places, it’s a brilliant foundation, it’s a brilliant commitment, and hopefully it will be the foundation for many things. It will be a foundation, but having established that foundation, getting everybody connected, the fact that you have a piece of fibre optic coming out of the wall really is only a start. If you go to thewebindex.org, and you look at the Web Index, you’ll find that the countries are arranged in order, and you can find where Australia ranks, and you can see where it ranks amongst its peers, I think when the Index was brought out the infrastructure was not very good, as I imagine that’s rapidly picked up, and Australia will keep up, but there are very many more things that are measured there. It’s exciting because of the new flagship. It’s an exciting time because in the world of data, there’s more and more data out there, the web is great because things connect, when you search the web things connect, and it’s more beneficial that when you follow one hypertext link that it could go anywhere, there are lots of other things, but when you connect data in a way that sort of multiplicative power is even more important. The most important use of data that you produce is by somebody else for some reason that you’ve never imagined, and that the fact that when you connect two pieces of data together that you get much more value means that as more data is produced out there, and as more data is produced, and produced in useable form within your country, then the value of each piece goes up.
So that’s why talking about data, and everybody getting on board with projects like this and with open Government data, which I’ll talk about a bit as well, it’s really, really relevant. People are discussing of course a lot as well at the moment social issues around the internet, they’re talking about how the internet, it could be used for governance, and they’re talking about the governance of the internet, which are kind of related, but mirroring things. There’s a lot of concern, again we’ve just come from Davos, concern of course, every year among the people who are meeting there, among many things, but cyber security again is up there, but also a lot of concern all across the world that cyber security will lead to laws which will be too strong, and will end up decreasing the rights of human beings, which will be a disaster. So these times are really interesting times. I’m going to put them in perspective a bit by sort of going back sort of to what for me was a fun innovative time, so inventing the Web more than 20 years ago, because I wanted to just reflect about what it took to be in an innovative environment then, some of those things have changed, some of them haven’t. So I’ll go back look at the history, and then quickly we’ll zoom forward and think about the fun things which are happening now, new standards coming the W3C, what that will mean, what you should be up to speed on, talk a bit about open data, talk a little bit about linked data, so I think the first linked data project in the Australian Government is just, people have shown me in the mail room, so you can go, “Never mind Eric” Eric’s very good but we’ll also go and see the linked data Government people who are doing linked data in Government, that’s really important too. We won’t talk about Zebedee.
So then I’ll talk a bit, if I have time, about some of the social issues around data as well; obviously everybody talks about privacy. Also I’ll talk a bit about preserving this Web, and then stepping back and thinking about what we really want to get from it, and thinking about whether really what we want what’s out there is good enough. OK, so who in the audience was alive in 1969? A reasonable number of people were alive. However that doesn’t mean the number of people who actually, in most audiences the number of people and I see quite a lot of people who were not alive, or who were quite young in 1969 1969 was the year that Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn and people invented basically the internet. 1989,
20 years later, was when the internet had had 20 years to spread, mostly across America, and I was using it and frustrated out there, we had the internet, you could write a program on one computer which could communicate with a program on another computer, but there was no programs to do the web thing, there was no HTTP, there was no HTML, there were no web pages, there were no web servers, there were hypertext links on CD-ROM manuals, but there were no hypertext links that went across the planet, and for a huge number of people, if you suggested a hypertext link which went across the planet people would express deep, deep skepticism. So, but it’s worth thinking about what it was like then. So at that point I was a Software Engineer, working at CERN, CERN is a great place, it has people coming from all over the world to do physics, and when you build pieces, electronics, twice as big as this room, which are full of jammed together really, really complex bits of electronics, and you do that by bringing pieces from different institutes and plugging them together, sometimes 300 metres down underground, then that takes a lot of coordination, but there’s no military style at CERN which says that everybody will use the same sort of computer, so all these people come with different sorts of computers. Now, yes, it will be sort of, you know, do they come with Android or iPhones, do they come with Macs or Linux? There were Macs and there were PCs, but they were also different sorts of mainframe, and different sort of minicomputer, and they ran different operating systems, not everybody ran Unix, there were you know operating systems like VAX/VMS, people came wedded to them, they brought their teams from the Universities, so when they produced documentation they used their favourite computer, running their favourite operating system, and they used their favourite documentation system, or if they didn’t have a document system, then they wrote one them self. These are Physicists, they are bright, they are creative, they are to a certain extent frustrated because they can’t really do physics until they’ve done a huge amount of engineering, and they’re sufficiently creative so that if you show somebody if he comes across a work saying “You should use this word processor,” he’ll look at it and if he can find a possible thing wrong with it he’ll just rewrite it himself. So CERN had seen people create documentation systems til CERN had documentation systems coming out of its ears, and of course none of them talked to each other, they weren’t networked. Some of them you could access over a network, but you’d have to find out how to get on the network, find out how to log into the remote system, then find out how to use that documentation system, and then you would have to download this, bring this stuff back. And if you did bring the stuff back, the chances were pretty low that when you got it onto your own machine that you’d actually be able to do anything with it, because it would be in incompatible format.
Now I wasn’t a Physicist, I only did three years of physics, and you can’t really call yourself a Physicist, but I had a certain amount of training in physics, and that trains you to generalise, so when you look at a problem like this, and I spent some time bashing my head against it, like I spent my time writing code to pull stuff out of one documentation system, converse it, and put it into another one, and when you’ve done that a few times and you’ve looked at networking protocols, you generalise. So I realised that you could generalise this into imagine an abstract documentation system which was flexible enough to include all this stuff, and I suggested it to a few people, and what happened was that I suggested it to a few people, and of course CERN had this thick skin, because the moment you had somebody who had a trace of physics about them saying, “Hey, it would be really cool if I wrote a program to solve all the world’s problems,” they’d say, “Oh yes, you know please, you know, join the queue over there.” Or well in fact there was not even a queue there was a queue over there for suggesting new physics experiments, there was no queue for designing software systems, or network, or new network protocols. So there was nowhere to go. Somebody said, “Write a proposal about it,” so I did. In 1989, in March, I wrote a proposal about an internet based hypertext system. Somebody said to me a year later, “Hey, what about the hypertext system,” I said, “I wrote a proposal,” they said, “You did? You should send it to me,” I said, “I think I did.” “Well, send it to me again.” So I sent it around to these usual suspects, and I put – just to rub it in – I put “March 1989, May 1990” on the date, so to make a point this wasn’t the first viewing of it, and I sent it around, exactly the same thing happened absolutely nothing because, you know nobody had a mandate to go and get me to design the web. But my boss, Mike Sendell so if you’re wondering about why things, you know innovation happens, one of the things is great bosses who let you do things on the side, and a lot of companies now instantiate this formally with 20% time, or 10% time, you can spend a certain amount of time doing whatever you like Mike found an excuse, I wanted to buy a NeXT machine, who remembers the black NeXTcube? Hmm, yes, a few people remember that. That was a really, really cool machine. Steve Jobs made it, by the way, for the others when parted company with Apple, before he went back to Apple, he spent the time making this fantastic magnesium cube, 12 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches, made of magnesium with heat syncs and optical... it had all kinds of cool things, and it had an interface builder program which made it very easy to use as a developing environment, and Mike Sendell said to me, he said, “You know Tim, you wanted to buy those NeXT, why don’t you go ahead, why don’t you test it, and while you’re doing it you’ll have to test it, as a developing environment for that we’ll need some sort of a... some sort of a play program, you’ll need to test it by developing some random program, why don’t you say do that hypertext thing,” with a wink, and Mike had this fantastic twinkle in his eye, [audience laughter] and then there was this sudden movement of the spirit, and that’s when I realised So in September I opened the box with the NeXT in, and by November of 1990 I had the thing running, and after that the process of getting the web working was a little bit like a bobsled, in that I – has anybody been on a bobsled team? Last time I asked that question actually one person had.
But I have never been, this is what I imagine it’s like, that a bobsled is very heavy, you have to push it going, you know to get moment behind the project is really hard, but you just put everybody you can gather, you put their weight behind it, and it starts to move, and there is a really, really critical point, but you have to notice, this is the point when the bobsled has actually picked up moment and is actually now going downhill, and if you don’t get in and steer then all is lost. So you have to watch that point, and for the web that was 1992, 1993 – 1994 we had to be in, we had the Consorti running, because suddenly industry was involved, suddenly this bobsled was being pushed by people that I’d never met before, they wanted to get together and collaborate and they wanted to steer it, and so forming the Consorti in 1989, that it was W3.org – you can go to W3.org and it’s still working more and more crazily on more and more specs, you can go there and see what they’re doing, and there are things like HTML5 are currently being standardised there as we speak, and we may be able to talk a bit about that later. Mike Sendell let me start it, I had to actually move to MIT because CERN did not know how to run an industry consortium, you know they just didn’t do tech transfer for higher global hypertext systems, hadn’t done that before. MIT kind of had, they’d done that sort of thing, so you know that design, that I was basically involved just you know defining HTTPs, a Hypertext Transfer Protocol, defining HTML, the language that people still write when they make web pages, that defining URLs, those things which have got start off http:// and so on, that was the basis, that was the foundation, and all the stuff that you see out there is all based on that, and has happened since that, and the really important thing is that just as Vint Cerf and company in 1969 had built the internet without knowing about the web, and without in a way caring about the web, they just wanted to build it for any arbitrary program that wanted to run on top of it, they built the internet as a platform which did not dictate what it was going to be used for, so the web is the same thing. And it’s that aspect of the web which is really important to preserve; That is the platform which does not dictate what sort of applications are built on top of it.
But it also raises the platform. Suddenly instead you know the computer is an exciting platform I could use the computer to imagine a world, a web browser, and program it to put a web browser. The internet was an exciting platform, it’ll allow any two programs anywhere in the world to communicate between each other. And now every web page becomes a computer, and to a greater extent these web pages can start to communicate between them, so instead of having ten to the power of 11 web pages out there, we may end up with ten to the power of 11 computers talking to each other. And if you’re into complexity and you’re thinking about sort of how the world will change as all the data out there starts to be processed by computers, then that is a very interesting change, and it’s a challenge to everybody. And I think one of the important things that I want you to pick up all the way along, is that every stage the new challenge comes from people thinking about how life could be different, and using the existing platform, because it’s sufficiently powerful, adding a new piece of platform on and actually making the whole thing completely different. Hopefully this flagship will do that in lots of different ways, and maybe we’ll see lots of uses of the existing platforms coming out of the flagship, maybe we’ll see a new platform coming out which will just raise the bar completely change the paradigm of how you think about development in ITC at all. So who knows? The most important thing I suppose is that you make sure that you have lots of students involved and that they are not fettered, that you give them grants so that they can use the whole however many years they’re do to a PhD, just wondering about how things will be really cool. So also interesting to build large chunks of open source software so that you can experiment by developing a platform which is bigger than that you’d develop, so encourage that one person can develop, so encourage your students also to collaborate together so that they end up kind of producing bigger, bigger projects. So as we’ve heard already on more than one occasion today, it’s a lot about data is really important, and one of the things coming out of... another thing coming out of W3C, along with the open web platform of HTML5, is linked data, and linked data is the most sophisticated technology for dealing with data, but I’m going to talk more generally just first about the importance of putting data out there at all. I know, I use to say data too, I’ve been in America for too long, so I apologise, I will call it day-ta today. So as I say, the value of it is much greater when there’s more of it. And for me, for personally, in January 2009, so about this time four years ago, and I was looking forward to a new year and I thought, you know what am I going to do this year, and I thought, do you know what, we just don’t have enough data out there, so I’m going to just spend this year arguing that people data on the web. This Web 2.0 had happened, and there were lots and lots of websites out there which were data based, so there were lots and lots of, of databases hidden behind websites, and you had to use the website to get at it, but if you were interested in the data as a scientist, or as a journalist, you couldn’t get it. People call it the deep web, people call it the hidden web, and you know, that people were starting to write about it and feel frustrated. But in fact we have formats for putting the data out there. The semantic web project had produced among it, you know many, many projects, many, many different languages came out of it, but the basic languages for putting data out there were sort for done, so it’s a question of putting data out there. I was lucky enough in the beginning of that year to get Sultan Ted to do a 20 minute Ted talk, which I used for getting people shouting, in the audience shouting ‘raw data, ’ and now I won’t make you do that, but you could remember, keep the phrase in your head for when you need it.
The raw meant data now, the raw was don’t wait til it’s perfect, just put it out there. So then that same year, later on in the spring I was having lunch with Gordon Brown, he turned to me and said, “Tim, what should the U.K. do to make the best use of the internet,” and I said, “Well you should put all the Government data on the web,” and he said, “OK.” So I’ve never ever had such a, had the feeling that I’m pushing hard on something, and then suddenly sort of the door, the pushed door is opened, it’s unlocked, and so that was great, because when you’ve got leadership from the top, and the U.K. had then, the U.K. has now with, with David Cameron, and the U.S. had at the same time with Barack Obama, so then there were some projects, and one in the U.K. was there was this great six month period when everything ramped up and there was some data was put up there, data. gov.uk, there was a domain was put together very quickly by some people in the Cabinet Office, they said they’d put data up there and that if you wanted to join in you should join this Google group, if you wanted to join in the beta, the beta tests. And so by getting people to join a mailing list they got hold of 3,000 names of developers who were interested in data, and that is key, because in this Government data thing, which I hope will become a larger and larger thing of course in this country, and if anybody remotely connected with the Government in any way take this away, take this to heart, instead of looking at the suits in the front row.
It’s a question of making sure the supply and demand work, so that you need to get that Government data out there, and you need to also have people, make sure that you’re nurturing the people who are making all the new companies which are feeding off that data and producing useful services. And so what the U.K. has recently done is produce an Open Data Institute in the East End of London, or has been created in order to train people, and to also look after both sides, to make sure that there is a supply and make sure there’s consumption of specifically Government data. And I can think maybe a big overlap with the sorts of things which generally for scientific data and weather data and health data may be being done by the new flagship. So I’d be interested also in seeing in the future maybe some collaboration between the Open Data Institute folks and people, data all over the world, the planet, and people in your flagship. When you’re persuading people to put data online it’s amazing how difficult it can be. When people have asked about what they should aim for, one of the things I produced, and you can find it on the web, is the five star scheme. So the five star scheme sort of recognises there are different levels of data that you can get. One star is the biggest star if you like you get one star if you have solved the political problem of making the data available at all, even if what I actually see on the web is a horrible image of a photocopy of a fax of some table which actually had the data in it. OK? If it is available with a useable license, then you get your big star. But you know if anybody who actually wants to try and use the data, if it’s not in machine readable form then actually having to retype it is a pain. So if it’s in machine readable form you get two stars. That’s pretty easy. If you give it to me in a Microsoft Excel format you will get two stars, however I will say, “excuse me, you know that is a proprietary format,” all you have to do is export it as a comma separated values file, a CSV file, and then it’s not proprietary, so you get three stars if it’s got an open license, it’s on the web, it’s machine readable and it’s in a non-proprietary format, and a huge amount of data actually sits at the three star level, Government data.
So it may well be that a lot of the people you know in Government, the folks who are in Government, you’ll be aiming for that three star data. Please, do make sure you get those three stars. In other words don’t ask everybody to buy proprietary software in order to use their data, it’s just like the web, you get a huge benefit from people using this open standards. Well how do you get the fourth and the fifth stars? Well, then you have to go and talk to people who understand about links data. When you put linked data then out there, then you use the standards, there’s one called RDF that allows you to use URLs, those things which start http://yada-yada-yada, you use those to identify the key concepts in your data. So if you put out stuff about Sydney, and on the web, and you use a URL, you use linked data, then if I’ve got stuff about Sydney I can put out there some data, some meta data which says, you know that Sydney is the same as that Sydney. If we talk about population, or blood pressure, I can say put meta data on the web that says when he says syst, then that means the same thing that I mean by systolic, put a link across, both those terms are actually URLs, so they’re things you can look up, things the machine can figure out, so if you use linked data then I can link my stuff to it, and you get four stars. And if you’re on the five stars, you’ve actually done the linking, you’ve put this data out there on the web and you’ve thought, you know what, I bet there’s some other people who’ve also used systolic blood pressure, and you’ve done your homework, and you’ve gone and found those people. This is hard work, and you talk to them, and you agreed, and you made some links, so that if I pull in your data I’ll get some of theirs, and vice versa. And so you’ve made some of the job of analysing all the data on the planet easier for everybody. So that’s the plug for, you know, for the five star scheme. Use the five star scheme. You don’t push necessarily all the time for five stars. In each project look at, if it’s the one star project, start working on making it two star, if it’s a two star project work on three star. You may find that Government departments will rest on their laurels at three star, and that University departments, or projects, or organisations like CSIRO, will take that data and make it into the five star and really get the maxim data out of it, maxim effect out of it, because you know it seems to me this flagship is about that, it’s getting the productivity, it is producing new benefit, producing new jobs that people can now do, new companies will come up because actually if that data is linked together you get insights which can drive completely new businesses. And that is really exciting, and everybody who takes part in this whole world of data becomes, becomes part of it.
So, and the linked data standards you can find out of course at W3.org, and don’t forget the demo. So, I’m going to talk a little bit in a way as a little detour about, about privacy, because otherwise I think we’re going to have a question on cessation by the way, so any of these things which I skip over you’re welcome to ask questions about later. But, and privacy because a lot of people, when the moment you say, “Hey, you should put Government data on the web,” they say, “I can’t do that because of privacy.” And in fact that is true of course in any small number of cases. Actually, you know, when you look actually at the databases in Government there are huge parts of Government, like the Department of Transport and public buildings and works that deal with things like the potholes, the drains, when the buses run, when the trains run, things that, you know really valuable information. It is really much more valuable to live in a country where there is open data about there, about when the trains run and when the buses run, than to live in something where that data is locked up behind a proprietary firewall. I don’t know what the situation is in Sydney, I haven’t checked, but you can often check just by looking at Google Maps, and in some cases where Google has got that data they will offer you a public transport route from A to B, as well as a car route from A to B, and it works in some cities, and it doesn’t work in other cities, so if it doesn’t work in your city you need to go and find out who has locked up the schedule data, and you can go to the Google site and it’ll tell you... you know, they’ve got a standard for putting... putting it all out there. So, you know in a way there’s a huge amount of data where privacy doesn’t apply. There’s some data where clearly it does, there’s salary data, in general it’s typically not public. If you are saying how much it costs to run each school, it’s very valuable to put that information out. If you have a school which has only got one teacher, then you have to be careful.
So, and in fact the art of understanding, I think that’s one of the good projects that you guys are going to be up to, but the art of finding out how you can release aggregated data without accidentally giving away somebody’s health care data is a really important thing to do more research in. But in general, so when it comes to pushing people to put Government data on the web, I have said do the low hanging fruit first, OK, you’ve got some data which is got a lot of privacy implications, don’t do that, do the other stuff first. There’s so much more of the other stuff. When it comes to actual sort of privacy of data on the web, a lot of people are worried, a lot of people, you know if you talk about privacy, the talk naturally goes to one particular scenario, and that is that you’ve, you ended up typing a lot of information about yourself into a social networking site, and now you’re wondering, and the social networking site is making a lot of money by selling profiles of you to advertisers, and after you spent a little time investigating one particular thing, all the ads you get for the next week are all about that particular thing, even though in fact you don’t want to buy one at all, but because they’re getting better and better at trying to figure out what it is that you really want to buy, and you know and there’s these questions about whether that’s an overall benefit and should you be able to control it.
In W3C we have the do not track header, which is a possible switch that browsers could have, so you can change between two modes about I’m relatively happy to be tracked, and I’m relatively unhappy about being tracked, and that is a really difficult discussion which going on. Do join in – join the W3C working group and help them come to a good conclusion about that. So it’s a very interesting area. It does presuppose some things which I’d be inclined to question. One is that you actually have to store all the data in life in these websites, in these Web 2.0 websites. One of the things we could do is we could build live, so actually I have my personal data stores, and there’s some interesting personal data store projects out there. Another is that, another myth is that the value of my personal data is that to a large company that wants to track me. I think in fact if you think about my personal data, if you could include not just the stuff, some websites, but the stuff on my computer, and all the stuff which could be on my computer, and the stuff which will be on my computer, and the stuff which will be in my phone if I leave on the GPS tracking, and if I leave on the accelerometer so that as I’m walking about my phone knows whether I’m running or jogging, or sitting still, that’s an awful lot of health data. If I actually, if my battery would last well enough for me to just track that 24/7, then that’s a huge amount of valuable data. And actually who’s it most valuable to? No, you know not the drug company, it’s actually me. You know, nobody else is more interested in my health than me. Nobody else also has got the possibility of taking that health, you know fitness data and merging it with things like which drugs I’ve been taking, and, and my DNA information in the future.
So I think one of the things that we’re missing is the personal integration of data, and so that the myth is that what we should be thinking, talking about is the value of my data to other people, instead of the value of my data to me. There’s another myth, and this is I suppose now Tim’s 3 myths of privacy the third one is that the social privacy problem is just locking the data up Danny Weitzner and folks at MIT have been experimenting with this for a long time realising that if you try to lock the data up and never let anybody have it, nothing’s going to happen, you’re health data isn’t going to be seen by a Doctor. When you do unleash it, then when you let it out of the box, once it’s out of the box a Doctor’s going to use it, it’s going to be in a hospital it’s sort of out there, and in fact you don’t really want it to be not out there because if you do have an accident in another State, ideally you really want that Doctor to be able to access it, too. So in fact you want very fluid access at the right time for that data. So we’re working towards a situation where locking up the data isn’t what’s going to happen, in fact we’re going to have to instead think about what are the appropriate uses of different data. When you employ somebody, should you be looking at their social network history before they were 16, or should they have the right to say, “Please don’t.”
Would you decide that the world would be a better place, and Australia will be a better country, if you just decide that you’re going to allow people to exclude certain sorts of data from hiring decisions? I know at MIT if I want to hire somebody I have to make it very clear to the HR department if there’s any question that I have hired somebody without being biased by their gender, by their colour or creed, by their marital status, and their age. So there’s a huge fluid of information, which even though it’s pretty apparent in a lot of cases when somebody sits down at interview, I’m just not allowed to use it. So we have a situation here where the information is out of the box, I’ve guessed their gender, OK, but I’m already pretty use to the situation where I just have to remember not to use that, and where I’m held accountable, and if I suddenly look at the people and, lots of women have turned up and not got the jobs, and a few men have turned up and they have got the jobs, then I can get into trouble. We could do the same thing with lots of different sorts of data set. That means we could have lots of interesting national and international debates. I say national here because, you know, some of that stuff, it may be cultural, it may be that different countries make different decisions about it, and we have to have interfaces, so in other words American Doctors may be careful before exchanging data with Australian Doctors because in fact the understanding in the U.S. and the understanding that Australia came to were different, just because that’s, you know, everybody made a decision about how they want their country to be, and they came out just being slightly different. And that obviously dealing with that sort of thing in terms of programming the computers it’s going to make things more tricky [Audience laughter].
Hi, let’s talk, because I see you’re standing up there and I came prepared to talk for a certain amount of time, and I have some more things to say. I know that we have started a bit late, so we can abbreviate things if you like.
Facilitator: Sorry, I’m hoping that we still have a chance for a few questions.
Tim Berners-Lee: Me too. Yes.
Facilitator: So if you could
Tim Berners-Lee: OK. I’d understood we would run questions over the top of the hour if we were running late. If you want to stop at if you want to stop in time to stop at 12 and have questions, then yes, we’d have to wrap this up very quickly. So I will just say a few things before we stop for questions then. So I will just give you the Table of Contents for what I would have said, and you can Google me on the web and find out all the places I’ve, I’ve said things. Obviously I would give you a huge haranguing about net neutrality, OK, particularly as I have a feeling that even though in the, in the Web Index Australia came out good for human rights on the web, I have a worry, I’ve seen people express concern that the Government is liable to take too much control and to take away people’s rights, maybe to spy, maybe to block. There’s a lot of blocking going on. Like did somebody release the set of sites that were blocked? That was interesting. Was that here? So beware of a Government that has the ability to control what you see on the web. You might be happy with a Government that you like, but imagine a Government that you didn’t like having that power. Imagine an oppressive Government having that power. Be careful what you build. Maybe you want to build stuff into the Constitution.
So, net neutrality is really, really important as a basis, not just for science and for the open market, but also for democracy, and democracy is really, really important. So the only other thing I’d mention in general is that thinking about innovation, and especially I think at the start of a flagship like this, that you have got to assume that everything is changeable when you look at a computer. A lot of people nowadays, too many people who grow up now, I think are looking at the computer just like they use a refrigerator, white goods – they open it, it has stuff in it, if it doesn’t have stuff in it they stock it, then if it doesn’t work they call somebody, give it to them, “Ah, my computer’s broken,” you know, the “Ah, the fridge is not working.” So, the geeks I started off by making a distinction between the geeks who program. Who here has programmed a computer at any time in any computing language? Right. We have a good set at the end of the debate, guys, line the doors, don’t let anybody else out until we’ve explained everything to them.
So in a lot of audiences of course, you know out there on the street you have a relatively small number of geeks, but you geeks understand it actually when you open this computer, but you may forget, you may think, “Oh yes, yeah, I get my word processor, and I get my email client,” you may forget, you know that thing, anything you can image, that computer can control every pixel of that screen, it can pull the little loud speakers in and out, make any sound you can imagine, it can look at you with its camera, and it can therefore do any kind of gestural interface that you can program it to do. If you can imagine using that computer as an interface for example to big data, or as an interface to your Government, or as an interface to other, very importantly, collaborative interface with other human beings on the planet, if you can imagine it in any way doing something really, really, really interestingly different, then it is your bounded duty as a geek and you’ve raised your hands and your names have been taken to program that computer and fix it. OK? I don’t think we’ve just seen enough innovation. OK? The web’s been out there for a while, lots of things have been innovated on top of it, but I don’t know that people have actually completely turned the thing upside down. You lot are the sort of people who could do that, and should do that. Remember, you know, you can program that computer, a Turing machine, every Turing machine is equivalent, if you could imagine one machine doing it, you can imagine the others doing it, so the challenge that Alan Turning left the computing world with, like he said that all computers are correctively equivalent, that means that what they do is only limited by your imagination, so go for it. Thank you. Let’s have questions.
Facilitator: I confess I am genuinely sorry to push you, to finish your presentation. It was really very exciting. But I think it really worthwhile getting a few questions from the audience. This is a unique opportunity for all of us, so we have a couple of roving mikes, a mike at the back there with Louisa.
[Image changes to a slide that reads Q&A]
Tim Berners-Lee: Certainly this is a much more interesting part for me.
Facilitator: Absolutely. So do we have a question from the audience? Who’s going to be brave enough to ask the first question? Oh, we already have one, so fire away.
[Camera pans to the audience to show Sunada Creagh]
Sunanda Creagh: I’m a Journalist with The Conversation. I wanted to ask, you were talking about making data available about the debate that’s going on in academic publishing around open access, and putting a lot of research findings behind paywalls. You know, how do you see that struggle playing out in the coming years? Will the open access activists win out, or will the commercial academic publishing model triumph? Thank you.
[Camera pans back to Sir Tim Berners-Lee]
Tim Berners-Lee: I think the open access publishing will win out. I think there are so many reasons why there is sort of inequality because of people who don’t get access to all that information. I think coupled to that of course there’s the publishing of data which is also very important, so that publishing is not just open access to the Paper, it’s when the Paper is based on data. Nowadays, it’s all open access to the data. Now though of course because of the publishing model there are some Papers where anybody can get the data, but they can’t actually get the Paper, so but in the future I think we will move to a situation where access is open and other methods, so for example if you go to Nature for example you will find places where you have an author has a choice, and if you pay upfront then, of a few thousand dollars, then you pay once and for all for the publication of that Journal, and everybody can access it for free, and so what’s interesting there is to look at whether a research group can charge that to their research funder. So if you’re a research funder, if you’re an in Government check, that you accept in research proposals a budget line for the upfront publication fees, if you like the sort of indefinite curation of the articles when they’re published. That appeals to me a lot. I think there are a lot of people out there who feel it’s really important, a lot of publishers that realise that that’s the way the direction is going, and of course the unfortunate death of Aaron Swartz on the 11th of January, brought his whole battle in that direction, which was one of the many things he was doing, brought that to many people’s attention.
Facilitator: I think we have another question at the back.
Question: There’s a proposal for individual data logs to be stored in Australia for up to two years. I’m just wondering what you thought of that?
Tim Berners-Lee: First of all I say that is important to fight serious organised crime, and it is important for a country to be able to defend itself against a state sponsored cyber-attack. Having said that, the dangers of snooping on people, for one thing if you do snoop on people, if you record for example the websites that somebody visits, then you know you’re not going to get the criminals, because they are going to go they’re going to use Tor, they’re going to go through some intermediate nodes, they’re going to go to some trouble in order just to obscure it, they will open up a tunnel, a VPN – if you block VPNs then you’re toast, nobody will win out there, there will be uprising, because everybody in industry needs VPNs, and whistle blowers sometimes need VPNs. So, so on one side the danger is that information actually won’t contain the information for stopping the serious criminals, only the people who have taken out too many library books.
Then think what you’ve got, OK, these logs have got data on the websites people have gone to, so you can find out that somebody has gone to a health site, in the URLs you’ll see exactly what sort of cancer they are worried about, you will be able to tell exactly which for somebody’s gone to. You will produce a world in which a teenager who really needs to go to an online forum to compare, to get some professional advice, or really needs to know whether or not they’re suffering from a given disease, or wants to understand something about sexuality, medicine, growing up, and realises that if they click they will be branded for the next two years as having gone to that site, and that their house will be branded as having somebody who’s worried about suffering from cancer, so I think, you know imagine that if you actually end up not being able to use the web for these very, very intimate things, but remember that sometimes people share with the web things that they don’t even share with their nearest and dearest. So that information is so dangerous, you have to think about it as dynamite, you know you have to think about it, if it gets away what you’ve done is you’ve prepared a dossier on every person in the country which will allow them, if that dossier is stolen, to be blackmailed, maybe you’ll have every member of the Australian military will have this little dossier which will allow a foreign power to exert a huge amount of pressure on them by threatening to release that, if they just would hack into the system once. So when I say it’s like dynamite, you have to treat it like dynamite, you’d have to put it in some sort of a vault, and when you have something that dangerous, if you have a Government agency which deals with that, then boy, do you have to have another Government agency with the same power looking at that first Government agency to track what it actually does with it. I have seen no country which has set up those two, the watchers, and the watchers of the watchers, with reciprocal powers to check each other for corruption, and no way... and I don’t know we’re doing that with sufficient openness. So the whole thing seems to be fraught with massive danger, and probably a really, really, really bad idea.
Facilitator: Wonderful. I’m going to ask for just one more question, then we will move to the Panel session, where there’s more opportunities to ask questions. So who’s got the microphone at the back? So, last question, please.
Bruce Tabor: Hi Tim, just two questions quickly about HTML5. Briefly is that going to see the end of Java with HTML5, but a more important question is malware already seems to be completely out of control, is making every webpage a, you know, potential computer going to multiply the malware problem, and how are we ever going to bring it under control?
Tim Berners-Lee: Both are really interesting sort of one hour answer questions.
Facilitator: Thank you very much. Please...
Tim Berners-Lee: And I think that you really had two for the price of one.
Facilitator: We’re feeling generous today. Please join me in thanking Sir Tim.