The power of the Internet

Technology has enabled and connected people during a rough time these past two years. In fact, whilst often it does get a bad reputation, technology was for many a saviour. We are now fortunate to be in times where we can meet up in person, and this means events too.

We recently attended the Tech Show London, where Sir Tim Burners Lee agreed, it was nice to be back in person, as this gives people real connections and real interactions, and although the Internet was great for connecting people when we couldn’t, there is nothing better than a real-life connection.

There is no one better than Sir Tim Burners Lee who knows the power that the Internet holds, and how much society now relies on it.

The future of the web?

Lots of things are changing and the future is unknown, but Sir Tim explained at the Tech Show London that we have to go forward by creating new systems and technologies within the web, which will essentially be creating new opportunities. However, the key thing to remember here is doing this based on our values. Sir Tim said: “Sometimes our mission has to change but you must ensure we always go back to our values.”

The Internet has always had a respect for people, no matter what colour, race, or culture, and we need to maintain this level of respect and ensure that everyone feels safe and valued when using the Internet. Since the digital era has come into conversation the Internet now works on two key questions:

  • What do we believe?
  • What do we know?

We know what we know, due to science and that’s what leads us to democracy. “Science and democracy are two things we have, and we know we have,” Sir Tim said. “So when we make the future web, lets make it serve these two elements – science and democracy and therefore serve civilisation.”

Creating the web

Looking back on how and why he created the web, Sir Tim explained: “I wanted all the information to be available to people, and to be able to share. It was hard convincing people it would be a good thing, as most people couldn’t imagine it, but I knew having the power to share and access to information would be the future.”

This was now 30 years ago, and Sir Tim joked it seemed like a good idea at the time. Fast forward to now, and what could go wrong with the web? “So many good things and so much value did come from the Internet, but now things are different. The spirit we had very early on was so incremental and inspirational, and there was an enablement – which now we seemed to have lost,” Sir Tim explained.

With the Internet now everyone is on the same social sites, it is not about looking for new information and using this tool for good, people are just being fed sometimes what can be mindless information. Sir Tim expanded: “A lot is now controlled by the bigger corporations, and now ANYONE can just go on and get a domain name and make a website.”

The second version of the web – web 2.0 really saw the influx of social media, data and also a lot more purchasing and spending. Not only did this limit innovation, but what is worst is the way that data was being abused. We saw this with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, as people were being manipulated to buy something that wasn’t in their best interest, which Sir Tim said couldn’t have been further from his intentions when creating the Internet.  

But that was not the worst of it, as people were also using the Internet to spread information that filled people will hatred and led them to believe things that were not true, hence the era of fake news.

Sir Tim explained with the Internet we need a change, and for a change, you need movement. “When people start to move gently in a direction, it doesn’t matter how many people are using the web, what matters is that they are happy. That is what I care about.”

It is hard to understand or even imagine what the world will be like. What we know now can be turned upside down. But what we do know is that currently it is all about the data, Sir Tim said: “All your data from across every aspect of life is stored differently and all over the place. But imagine if it was all stored together – this will change everything and benefit everyone.”

Looking back at what he had created, and what it has become now, although there were a few aspects that didn’t quite turn out how Sir Tim imagined he still exclaimed: “I want to thank you all for donating the Internet to humanity.”

Yes, most of us will agree with Sir Tim that it is a bad thing to be using data in the wrong way, and in a company, you would be punished and end up in prison for fraud, but with the web things are different. The problem is with the Internet you cannot stop anyone from saying anything and Sir Tim concluded by saying: “Of course there is the freedom of speech, but on the other hand we need to do something when serious harm is caused by the spread of misinformation, and if we see one change in the future of the Internet, I hope it is that.”

The Internet is a very powerful but dangerous place, and as humans we need to ensure we stick to what Sir Tim set out to do – stick to our values.