NEWS

‘We should all learn at least one foreign language; we need diversity, we need to have different ideas’

On May 15, 2000 at an exhibition on Ancient Mathematics at the Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW), a smiling Briton was wandering around and photographing everyone and everything with his mobile telephone. Imagine visitors’ surprise to learn that the British «tourist» taking photos with his new gadget was Tim Berners-Lee, the designer of the World Wide Web. Lee, who was in Greece to attend a conference at the IME on «Cultural Convergence and Digital Technology» from May 15-17, graced the Greek edition of Popular Science with an interview, of which an excerpt is presented here. The full version is to appear in Popular Science in the Greek edition of Kathimerini on Saturday. The person who helped spread the Internet to countless households around the world, spoke about the legendary days of 1989, when, as a young researcher at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, he tried to convince scientists on both sides of the Atlantic of the importance of his invention. He spoke with respect and affection about two Greeks who played a decisive role in the development of his project, Michael Dertouzos and George Mitakidis, and discussed the cultural problems arising from the spread of the Internet and the semantic Web. This is expected to cause further major changes in our relationship with the Internet, although he said he faces the same difficulties in convincing people of the importance of the innovation, as he had in 1989 with the Internet. As far as we know, two Greeks played a very important part in developing the Web – (the late) Michael Dertouzos in the US and George Mitakidis… … in Europe, precisely. You know at that time I was very worried about taking the W3C over to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) because as a European, I always had the fear that the US would take over the Web, but I wanted Europe, where we started, to be very strongly involved. So I asked Michael how we could make the W3C in two parts. Even today there is the general impression that the Internet is an American invention. Particularly as the English language prevails on the Web, many fear that local cultures are at risk. Are we moving in the direction of a global culture? The Internet and the Web clearly promote a new international culture. I think, however, that it is important to have a boundary. We in Britain, for example, are losing the Welsh language and culture and that is a very great shame. Each time we lose a dialect we are poorer. At the same time, however, if people in the Middle East, for example, could make more websites, and read each others’ websites, wouldn’t this contribute to better global understanding? People are seeking global peace and that can happen only within international mutual understanding, and the Internet helps this happen. Moreover, international mutual understanding is helped by a common language, a common shared alphabet. The technology of the Web, with the xml and the Unicode currently being developed, is moving strongly toward supporting a large number of different languages and dialects. In fact, the greatest volume of e-mail I get almost daily is in Korean, because of the Korean spammers, who keep sending advertisements. Eventually, both might happen: the development of local languages and a global English language, an amalgam with English as the common denominator. To get back to the boundaries, however, I think that everyone should learn at least one foreign language. We need diversity, we need to have different ideas. Another important question is the convergence of technologies. You have frequently mentioned that we should separate the content and the form. You see that I have brought my mobile phone, which supports the Internet protocol, and of course in future mobile phones will support a number of applications. So the separation of content from the message does occur and of course technologies will converge. That will also apply to radio communication, WiFi, classic media. The Web will be there. You have predicted a «web of people.» We have always had a «web of people.» People are a web. Everything that happens, even our meeting here today is part of the huge web of people. Tim Berners-Lee Of Scottish origin, the inventor of the World Wide Web was born in London in 1955 and studied physics at Oxford from 1973 to 1976. He worked at CERN in Geneva from 1984 to 1994, where he wrote his first hypertext program. His decision to link the program with the Internet brought him into the spotlight and was significant in making the Internet itself popular. In 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (www.w3.org) that functions as the basic engine for research and development of the Web, although it does not run the way the Web functions. It includes the most important international firms and research centers active on the Internet.