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Tim Berners-Lee receives Draper Prize

Tim Berners-Lee
Tim Berners-Lee

The man credited with inventing the World Wide Web, Timothy J. Berners-Lee, will receive the 2007 Charles Stark Draper Prize, the $500,000 annual award and gold medallion considered "engineering's Nobel Prize."

The Draper prize will be presented Feb. 20 in Washington, D.C.. to Berners-Lee, who "imaginatively combined ideas to create the World Wide Web, an extraordinary innovation that is rapidly transforming the way people store, access, and share information around the globe,'' according to the National Academy of Engineers (NAE), which established the Draper Prize in 1988 to honor engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society.

Berners-Lee proposed his concept for the web in 1989 while at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).  He launched it on the Internet in 1991 and continued to refine its design through 1993. 

Now a senior researcher and holder of the 3Com Founders Chair at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Berners-Lee continues to guide the evolution of the web as founder and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an open, international forum that develops standards for the Web.

"Berners-Lee demonstrated a high level of technical imagination in inventing this system to organize and display information on the Internet," according to a NAE statement. His innovations include the Uniform Resource Identifier (URL), HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

More remarkably, Berners-Lee chose to use scalable, public domain software in the web's basic structure, which allows other to build inventions on its open architecture. "While others made millions off his invention, the soft-spoken programmer went on to found the World Wide Web Consortium," Mark Frauenfelder wrote in an October, 2004, article for Technology Review.

Berners-Lee, a native of England who attended Oxford University, has received numerous honors, including Finland's first Millennium Technology Prize in 2004. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2004.

The author of 1997's "Weaving the Web" with Mark Fischetti, Berners-Lee continues to develop new web technologies and recently helped found the Web Science Research Initiative, a new long-term collaboration between MIT and the University of Southampton to generate research agendas to probe the web's scientific and social aspects.

He also continues to promote the issue of "net neutrality," recently commenting on his own blog: "When I invented the web, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end in the USA.''

On his home page, Berners-Lee answers a "kid's" question on whether the web was "a good idea or a bad one" at length: "I think the main thing to remember is that any really powerful thing can be used for good or evil. Dynamite can be used to build tunnels or to make missiles. Engines can be put in ambulances or tanks. Nuclear power can be used for bombs or for electrical power. So… what is made of the web is up to us."

The Draper Prize, awarded annually, was created at the request of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., to honor the memory of "Doc" Draper, the "father of inertial navigation," and to increase public understanding of the contributions of engineering and technology.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 10, 2007 (download PDF).

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