William Pickett, emeritus professor of history at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, writes exclusively for V3 on the impact of the web on its 20th anniversary, exploring how it changed the world and how it will develop in the future.
"Suppose all the information stored on computers everywhere were linked. Suppose I could program my computer to create a space in which anything could be linked to anything. All the bits of information in every computer at CERN and on the planet would be available to me and to anyone else. There would be a single, global information space."
This was Tim Berners-Lee's original vision of the web, something that occurred to him while working at CERN in the early 1980s.
Underlying this dream was a desire to benefit society. This urge, his colleague at CERN, Robert Cailliau, has suggested, may have stemmed from Tim's unitarian, universalist creed.
He 'accepts the notion of divinity but in an abstract way', not requiring, for example, that 'you believe six impossible things before breakfast'.
Berners-Lee and Cailliau had great hopes for the web and thought it would grow since they offered it free to the world, but they could never have envisioned what it would become two decades later.
How the web touched every aspect of our lives
Little would they have envisioned the power of such companies as Facebook (with over 750 million members) and Twitter to assist in forming interactive social groups throughout the world and in the toppling of certain authoritarian regimes.
Or Amazon, YouTube, Yahoo and Blogger, or Wikipedia, a universal, comprehensive, user-generated encyclopedia, or Google, the most common starting place for queries of every sort.
Or the need for every public organisation and institution to have a web site as part of establishing its identity and accomplishing its purpose, and of smartphones and tablet computers with applications ranging from video viewing, to stock trading, to weather forecasting.
The web has expanded faster than Berners-Lee and Cailliau expected as a result of the efficiencies provided by the operation of Moore's Law and, with the advent of mobile computing, Reed's Law.
The former has predicted accurately that the number of transistors on a computer chip, the power of computers and computer memory, will double every two years. The latter has predicted accurately that the utility of a large network (such as a social network) will scale exponentially in proportion to the size of the network.
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