Entrevue avec Tim Berners-Lee, le père du web

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Entrevue avec Tim Berners-Lee, le père du web

Entrevue avec Tim Berners-Lee, le père du web


First of all, thank you very much for being
with us, Mr. Berners Lee, it’s a real honour
to have you on this show. My pleasure Let’s talk about your childhood: both your
mother and father were mathematicians and computer programers. you already mentioned
that there were a lot of science discussions at home, but when did you realize that science
was a vocation for you? I think it’s not so much, a sudden realization,
having constantly been on that path, with mathematics always being used in conversations,
with a very scientifical attitude from both of my parents, so there was no question. So you didn’t think of doing something else
than science? Not really, because I enjoyed building things,
I enjoyed electronics on one side, in school I was good at maths, so between the two sciences Electrical trains? Electric trains, yeah… (laughs) Let’s begin with the year 1999, when it all
began at the CERN. At that time, could we say that what you wanted to do was simply
to solve a communication problem within your team at the CERN in Geneva? Well, it wasn’t between the team, the problem,
the frustration was that we had all these different systems which existed for people
to keep track of their documents, different systems running on different computers.
I didn’t want to make another one, I realized that the problem was I wanted ONE virtual
system which would include them all. So really I realized that it had to be something universal,
it had to be very very general design. And by that time, you had already invented
the hypertext, it was already 10 years old by that time, is that right? The Enquire system… So I had a program called Enquire which had
links yes, that was 10 years before yes. So already I’ve been playing with the idea
of “note cards which would connect one to the other and…” that was all in the 80s,
when the computers, they didn’t have graphics… It was all typing, and these cards scroll
up on the screen. Is that true that the first killer app was
a phonebook? For the web? Yes Well the problem is how do you get people
to pick up the strange new piece of software, and it turned out that what everybody shared
was that they needed to have access to the phonebook, and the phonebook was stored on
one computer, on the main frame computer, so we put a main frame server on it. So, the
motivation for people to use the world wide web was just to be able to get to the phonebook.
And once they had the web browser, then they found a lot of things. When did you realize that your invention was
going to be big? There was no, again, no one particular moment..
There was the load on the first server, when I looked to the log after the first year,
went up by a factor of ten. And then the next year the load, the number of hits, on the
first server went up by a factor of ten again. And the next year the log went up by a factor
of ten again. Then the logarithm went up again, and was completely locked into a mathematically
exact exponential growth. So there was no one point… It was like a bib bang, but it
was continuous. it’s a nice analogy… In your book, Weaving
the web, publication in 1999, you mentioned that by 1991, several different web services
were already in competition, competing against each other. Gopher for instance, was in some
way easier, you said, to use, to program for than the www. Why do you think your system
won this war? Well, there was a point, where the gopher
system was a simpler system, and in fact, when you look at the charts of the amount
of traffic on the Internet backbone, they measured it. Well, Gopher was expending exponentially,
the web was down below here, the web was less. And there was that particular point that when
the people who ran the Gopher, the University of Minnesota, they sent around an email message
to say “You know, probably not today, and not very much, but we might possibly charge
in the future.” So everybody thought WOW! It’s not free! We may have to pay log royalty
charges. And at that point the Gopher traffic tchhhhh tanked, and the world wide web continued
to increase. Is that what gave you the incentive to keep
it free? Well there was a clear… in those days there
were a lot of people who would only use it if it was completely royalty-free. People
working in their garage, they’re working for the world, they’re not working for themselves,
they didn’t want to pay royalties, people working for a big company as well, if they
worked on a code, the Gopher code, that would end up their company being liable for huge
payments down the line. So that it would be very very important to make sure that the
web was declared to be royalty free. But it was your philosophy from the beginning
to keep it, the www, free? You never thought about charging anyone for this? Well because, going back to the earlier philosophy,
it should be universal. That was a big ask. That was going to be a universal thing. You
could put anything on it. So the people, if you’re asking that, you can’t also ask
for 2 cents per clic. In 1999, in an interview you voiced a fear,
really prophetic fear, that in the future, there would be a real danger of people going
all freely to one big portal that’s what you said, and all the advertising revenues
going on the same one source, this would snowball into one immense place where all our needs
will be fulfilled, and, I quote, ‘in a big (and that’s your quote) commercial Vatican”.
That was in 1999. Do you think that Facebook has become this portal? I think that a lot of people, and there are
several large companies out there, in the space, and in different countries, they compete,
but I think there’s a lot of people feel that the domination of particular to particular
big monopolies is starting to really damage innovation. They feel that as an entrepreneur,
they’re starting a company, they can never really compete on the open web, and I think
people are sad for the original spirit of the web that everybody would have their own
website, and that website would be their own complete creation, and it would stand, out
there on the web, without an intermediate. Do you see this as a drift from the primary
philosophy of the web, the commercialization of all those services? Yes, the original philosophy of the web was
“decentralize”. It was a decentralizing force, and it was enabling ad hoc loose groups
of people to do what they never could do before. I think that is a really important part of
the ethos of the web, and I think a lot of people are thinking they are losing this now. But are you personally sad about this? Well, I’m personally concerned about this
point where we are trying to design new systems, in a lab, where people would be able to throw
in their own data, and control what they put on their own. Well, let’s see for a moment I’m the devil’s
advocate, and I tell you that Mark Zuckerberg has achieved some of the dreams you cherished
about the user friendliness of the future web. Do you think that in some ways this is
true, that this users friendliness is what you envisioned for the future of the web
back in the 90s? I think, whenever, if you have a big company,
a monopoly, then ways you can spend a lot of time on the user interface, America Online
did that, when it was the monopoly provider, and all the people were amazed with the things
that America Online did. And when it did not come along, America online tried to pretend
that the Internet didn’t exist, or that the Internet was part of AOL, and then they
realized they had to confess that actually AOL was just one part of a bigger web. I think
that what happens is that you can make the walled garden, beautiful inside, but in the
end, all of the effort you put into making the walled garden beautiful can never compete
with the jungle outside, of free crazy growth. Do you think that there is still enough jungle
left to counteract these big monopolies? I think there will be possibly a tipping point
in the future, when people start to relieve a claim than individual voice. But you know in Le Cid, a play from Pierre
Corneille, When Rodrigue says to the king a really famous sentence, and I quote: “And
the combat ceased for a lack of soldiers”. Do you think that in the future there will
be enough people aware of these beginnings of the web to be able to philosophically counteract
this monopoly-type of thinking that is inside Facebook and Twitter and all those big companies? Yes, because of the way people are wired.
I mean here we are in a web conference in Montreal, and this is full of people, there
are hundreds of people here who are all really excited about the democratizing effect of
the web. And I think a lot of people, when they just sit down naturally, they like to
operate in the world, they like to be empowered, they like to be connected to whoever, and
that feeling, I think, is very motivating. But what do you say is the bigger threat to
the development of the web as you imagined it back in the days? Always, ever since the beginning, it’s always
been, the biggest threat has always been that something controls the internet. Some government,
some company, if it gets a strangle hold on the Internet, so it sees everything that goes
by, it spies on you, and it starts to slow down traffic in different places, now we use
the web in so much of our lives, that anybody controls the web, ends up being in control
of US. Privacy: it’s been a great debate between
specialists, and thanks to Edward Snowden, it’s now part of the public debate. Do you
think greater privacy online will be achieved with improved laws or, as Jeremy Zimmerman,
a guy you know from “La Quadrature du cercle”, said in a book a few years ago: as a result
of easy-to-use cryptography apps becoming more and more widespread in the world. I think privacy is not just about cryptography,
so one thing, so for example, any web app, now we can do cryptography inside the web
app. So, you can build the web app which talks to another version of itself using crypto,
because the web app’s software has got cryptographic potential now. So that’s exciting, and it
means all kinds of things can be built where encryption… by encryption… is normal.
Also, we’re moving very largely towards where all the links are being encrypted, so
using https instead of http. So more and more of the traffic on the web is being encrypted.
So we’re moving towards an encrypted world. Though privacy is not… we don’t just need
that. I think it’s also because, for example if you are a doctor, you end up seeing a lot
of people’s data, you have to have responsibility. So also we need to have a lot of discussions
about how… what we’re allowed to use data for. So I might, as a doctor, be able to get
a data, when I’m saving someone in an emergency, when I’m out on the streets with an ambulance,
I may just use any technique to find out what their blood type is… and then afterwards… And Apple implemented it on the Health Kit,
isn’t it? So the Health Kit may be part of it, but what
we need to move towards is where the data is used for some things but not for others.
So it’s only use for medical purposes for example, not for checking your insurance,
not for selling advertising. So Privacy isn’t just about locking data down with cryptography,
it’s about understanding sometimes regulations, sometimes it’s just cultural understanding
about what it’s appropriate to use data for. But people have to talk about it, what do
you think about our digital literacy, do you think we have enough digital literacy
right now? because we all have big phones, cellphones, but at the same time, it doesn’t
seem that our culture towards it it’s as developed as it should be. I think programs like this are really really
important… Thank you very much to tell people always
to be checking, don’t take it for granted, don’t just use the latest app, think about
whether it’s encrypted, think about the social when you use the latest app… what’s
the social thing, are you creating a group of bullies, are you creating something which
is useful, could you be using this for educational purposes, think about the social impact of
what you do, think about the undercovers, think about how things work when you design
a social network, think about what sort of society your network will create. But we give away so much like personal data,
it’s not photos or pictures of our kids anymore, it’s our biometric data… It’s
much more bigger, to be breached with that data than with our credit card or let’s
say this kind of… true. Do you fear kind of a digital 9/11? I think actually we will get a tipping point.
But I think people will get to the point where as they have more and more of their personal
data is available, they will more and more realize like “Do you know? this is my data”.
So we are working on new architectures where “Yeah, I have my data, when I get it from
the hospital, I can store it on MY data store, where I control who gets access to it”. Your
insurance company : “you want to look at my test results? Let’s talk”. But by default,
I get to share my data with myself, I get to share it with my family, but it’s: “I
control my data”. We’re in so much data of different types, which is out there about
me, it’s actually going to be very empowering for me to be able to do things with a tool
helping manage my life. And when people see that power is potentially available, I think
there will be potentially big movement, the my data movement, “That’s my data, I own
it, I get to keep it, and I get to do things with that”. So you personally own a running app, I think
that you use Moves, is that right?. Yeah, I’ve used Moves for a while. You don’t fear that this data will be breached
and given to hackers? It’s a concern, yeah. I would much prefer,
I’d like to move to something where the data is directly stored, not in the cloud,
but in my cloud, my personal cloud. Is that true that you’ve been caught hacking
computers back in the days in Oxford, and you’ve been banned from using these computers? Yeah… you’re going back a bit… So my
partner in Physic was the brains behind it, but all we did was to use a printer we were
not supposed to use. But we did get banned for using the printer. Just for using a printer! For using the computer… Yes, we used it in
a bad moment. Hacking has become a little bit more complex
than that right now. Yeah Sure we ask questions about education, science,
there is a big debate here in Quebec about the future of our education system. If you
would meet our education minister, what would you say to her, what advice you’d give her
about the future of our education? I would say two things: one really important
thing, that teach people a code, to teach people to understand especially women, because
traditionally there’s been a bias the other way; teach the girls to code, get them to
understand, expose them to the possibility of being creative… Some will go that way,
some won’t. Whether or not people become computer programmers, still they have to learn
about computers. Because, if you’re a minister, if you’re in Parliament, if you’re a judge,
if you’re on a jury, you have to understand the technology because all our lives are transacted
to that technology, and so, to be a citizen, you have to understand it. So that is something
that the educational system need to deliver. You’re a rather discreet person compared
to other web stars or tech stars like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Would you like to see
a movie being shot about your life? Somebody has already made a short one… Is that good? What was good about it was that the main point
of the movie was to explain the need for the net neutrality, and explain the threat. So
that’s the difficult thing to explain to people. About warn them, So if somebody takes
control of the internet, why is that bad, what could they do. So the movie explains
that. That is a difficulty to explain, so I’m really grateful to them to putting things
on record. Have you seen the last Steve Jobs movie? Yes How did you find it? Well I didn’t know. I was in the same room
with Steve, I would be interested to meet him. He was going round a cellular project
which used the next machine, ours was called away so … so we almost met. So It would
have been fascinating to meet him. So I can’t say whether the movie is accurate. Last question. What would you like us to
know about the future of the web. What do we have to know about it, for the next years? That you have to take care of the Internet.
You could spend the 95%, or 99% of your life just using the web, but the other 1%, please,
think about protecting it. Think about looking at the legislation which is coming through,
is somebody trying to put legislation in your country, or another country which is trying
to take control of the web, look at the deals with the big companies, are they in fact starting
to restrict your freedom? And if necessary, use that 1% of your time to go and protest,
get everybody, start a movement, you need to be maybe an activist, everybody has to.
If you use it, then you have a duty to protect it also. Care for your web! From his inventor. That’s
a really nice message… Look after it, look after it… Tim Berners, thanks for your time, and we
wish you to be there for a long time. Thank you.

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