It’s been almost exactly a year since my first AMA (https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2091d4/iamtimbernersleeiinventedthewww25_years/), and I look forward to joining you once again to see what your hopes and fears are about the future of technology and to answer your questions.
The World Wide Web is now 26 years old, and it’s an integral part of the technological boom we’re experiencing today. Our connections, our commerce, and our communications have come to depend on it—and those essential tasks can now be performed with a pocket-size device. As the role of technology continues to grow in our lives, we need to take stock of where we’re headed. I’m part of a campaign enabled by Nokia discussing all of these topics and hope you will join me on wired.com/maketechhuman
I’m also the the founding director of the World Wide Web foundation, which you can learn more about on this link: http://webfoundation.org/about/sir-tim-berners-lee/
Looking forward to answering your questions. Victoria will be with me via phone today. AMA!
With the developments about internet users’ privacy (or lack of) online, what would you recommend we do? Do we stand up to the government, or get around these problems with encryption etc?
Great and very important question, with no simple answer. We must work with government to make them accountable when they use our personal data — however they got it. Just a battle of crypto might is not a solution, we also need to change laws and change the structure of government agencies. We need to give the police certain power in exchange for transparency and accountability. And we need to encrypt email and web traffic everywhere, for general security.
Do you remember your first thoughts, or words, when you achieved the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server?
Nope. I was head down getting stuff working…. the server and client were both on my machine at that stage… I wasn’t using source code control, so I could nto go back and find the critical commit with the “hmm GET seems to work” comment 🙂
What are your views/thoughts/feelings on net neutrality?
Net neutrality is really important. Basically we do so much cool stuff on top of the network layer, it has to remain an unbiased infrastructure for all our discussion, innovation, etc. I must have the right to be able to communicate with whatever or whoever I want, without discrimination, be it political or commercial. See for example things I’ve said at http://webfoundation.org/2015/02/netneutrality-this-victory-is-for-everyone/ and http://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/ansip/blog/guest-blog-sir-tim-berners-lee-founding-director-world-wide-web-foundation_en
What is the single most valuable thing I can do on an individual level to help defend the open internet?
Great question. Keep asking that question. Don’t take it for granted. Keep an eye on the situation in your town, your country, your company. In each year of using it, spend some time with others working or writing or lobbying or protesting as needed to keep it open.
In his 2012 book Cypherpunks, Julian Assange wrote, “the Internet is a threat to human civilization.” He was referring to the great potential for surveillance and control of people. To what degree do you agree with that statement, and what can we do to ensure the Internet of the future supports life, freedom, and autonomy?
“Any powerful tool can be used for good or ill” <– true but we have to make sure on balance good things win. We need to protect against not only governments but criminals too, and viral conspiracy theories which seem to sprout from nowhere. I think that if we the people stand firm in democratic countries and demand that all power over the net taken by government comes with direct accountability to the people in how it is used, then we can indeed have a wonderful civilization. We need to keep it decentralized both technically and socially. We need to protect our rights using both code and law.
Do you regret not building more security into your initial designs? If so, what additional security measures would you have implemented?
I wish we had a much more powerful general private key management ecosystem which allowed my computer to trust the same people/systems which I do, for the same reasons. See discussions on email@example.com etc
When was the last time you said to yourself “Christ, that’s not what I invented it for!”?
Seriously, when I heard of people being hit by crytpowall and crptolocker attacks.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future relationship between technology in general terms and humnakind?
Well, the outcome is not a foregone conclusion, that tech will in fact end up working in humanity’s best interests. But we have a choice! These things are laws and tech standards and so on which actually we control. So it is up to us, where ‘us’ is humanity, and in general, about us, I am optimistic — so long as we keep our eyes on the prize.
For a really long time people were talking about Web 2.0–can there be a 3.0? Or is the connected reality such that the web is a basis for all technology to play with?
Maybe 2.0 = silos of user-generated content and 3.0 = breaking out of those silos and user-controlled data
What do you think about the right to being connected to the internet? I’m not asking just for now. How important do you think it would be in, say, 50 years from now?
I think it will become more and more crucial. (See e.g. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/12/12/web-human-right_n_6313688.html ) In many ways the web is not just a luxury for cool early adopters it is critical for people to really take part in society, education. The #MakeTechHuman http://www.wired.com/maketechhuman idea is about technology serving humanity … much of that is going to use the net. So no use if the net is controlled spied on or only available to the few.
What do you think will be the Web’s next biggest contribution to society?
Hopefully, we will be able to roll out a world in which people can together and merge all the data which is about themselves and use it with all sort of cool apps to really better their lives. We are working on this sort of thing in dig.csail.mit.edu
What do you think about memes?
One does not simply ask the inventor of the WWW what he thinks about memes.
What is one question you wish people would ask about but never do? What answer do you have for them?
“Hey, is it OK if we establish an endowment for your foundation/consortium/retirement?” “Yeah, sure!”
In today’s age of technology, how can the layperson protect their privacy?
Install PGP compatible encryption on your mailer. Get a geek friend to help, as it has not been made very smooth. Hopefully it will soon. That’s a simple practical step. Limit the organizations you give data to to ones you get value from, like magazines and (reddit and) clothes shops you buy from for example. Buy the pro version of an app where the free version pays for itself by ransacking your privacy.
How do you see the web in the next 20 years? Any milestone to consider that changes the way we use internet?
Well… We have had a whole campaign webwewant.org to ask people what sort for a web they want for the next 25 years. It is up to us, but hopefully we will lock down (in culture and where necessary law) the fact that it is open. The number of people using the web will soon cross the 50% and soon 75% of the world population, and then instead of worrying about getting the majority online the spotlight will b to those who remain disenfranchised in the remaining 25%, 10% . Milestone? When I have enough bandwidth to bring me a scene in wrap-around HD so my eyes and ears can’t tell I’m not in the other place.
If you could go back and change how HTTP was implemented, would you change anything? For example, would you change the TLD to be first in the URL, before the domain name, subdomains, and arguments? This is often cited as a great problem in making URLs clearer to end users.
Yes, thinks like instead of http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/c having http:/com/redddit/www/r/IAmA/c for example I thought about, and would probably have been a more flexible and consistent idea.
On you statement about making tech more human. We’ve all seen the Hollywood adaptions of technology becoming hazardous to humanity as well as recent scientists making statements about their fears on A.I. Technology. My question is are these fears justifiable? What are your thoughts?
Well, the fact is that machines are becoming smarter. It seems unreasonable not to imagine that they will become smarter than us. What happens at that point is not obvious. That we have to think about it now is clear.
Do you think your fame has changed you?
How could I measure that?
Making technology more human requires it to interact more closely–and seamlessly–with our lives. As we enter the era of the Internet of Things, how do you envision addressing the security and privacy concerns associated with remotely-accessible devices in all aspects of our lives? Do you feel that, e.g., HTTP+SSL is sufficient, or do you see new protocols and architectures as a necessary step in improving security?
HTTP+TLS is important. We need to review the ways by which our systems trust particular certs. We need to use client cert more. We need to be able to set up family certs and so on without huge cost, or relying on the external PKI. We should be able to make out own PKI. By default, we should store IoT data in the house and analyze it within the house without having to go through an untrusted cloud system just to get functionality. The keys we use for things like TLS, GPG, SSH should be interoperable….
Do you agree that NSA and GCHQ etc are / will be one of the biggest threat to humanity? (This was the result of a survey among MIT/Harvard/Stanford professors and students.)
That is a bit simplistic by itself. Did the survey ask about agencies you don’t know about in other countries, who are perhaps even less constrained than those two? Did it ask about criminal agencies world over?
What are your thoughts on decentralizing the web? Is it necessary? Can it be fast enough?
“Can it it be fast enough” depends on what “it” is and may be a PhD project. In the crosscloud project at CSAIL we are trying to break the link between apps and data, so you can use any app and tell it where to store the data where you control the data. Data stores become commodities. That could be a first step to moving the data into more of a peer-peer system without conventional servers at all.
What are your views on the treatment of women on the internet with regards to harassment and threat, often geared towards activists?
I think that the mistreatment/abuse/harassment of women is a very serious issue. I think in general boys need to learn early on to have and to show total respect for all women. If you look back at your online behavior and realize you have made even one off-color remark, then cringe and never do it again. It has a massive negative affect. It is not funny. It is not cute.
Whats your best non-internet thing that you love?
What’s the best thing to come from the Internet?
The spirit of global collaboration among all the people working on it.