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Man who invented web: 'No, there is no button to kill the internet'

Tim Berners-Lee says there’s no single way to kill the internet – unless governments around the world acted in unison.

Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web in 1991 as a way for physicists worldwide to share their work.
Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web in 1991 as a way for physicists worldwide to share their work.
Image: LeFebvre Communications/PA Wire

THE MAN CREDITED with ‘inventing’ the world wide web has insisted there is no ‘kill switch’ that could shut down the internet.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee made the comments at the launch of a new worldwide index evaluating how lives in various countries had been improved by online services.

“The way the internet is designed is very much as a decentralised system,” Berners-Lee said.

“At the moment, because countries connect to each other in lots of different ways, there is no one off switch, there is no central place where you can turn it off.”

Berners-Lee’s comments came in response to moves by governments in countries targeted by Arab Spring protestors to try and shut down internet usage in those countries. The Press Association said those moves had prompted some speculation that Hosni Mubarak’s administration in Egypt had discovered a ‘kill switch’ for the web.

The Englishman added that while the global internet system could be disabled, doing so would require governments to get together to fundamentally change the architecture of the internet so that its traffic was managed by a central system.

“If that does happen, it is really important that everybody fights against that sort of direction,” he said.

When Berners-Lee was asked whether he had secretly ‘installed’ a kill switch himself, he joked:

I am afraid that now that you know I will have to shoot you.

Berners-Lee was working as a researcher at CERN when he conceived the ‘WorldWideWeb’, a system which allowed hyperlinks to be inserted into existing documents so that they could be easily navigated by readers.

Though previous incarnations of the internet have existed since 1969, documents were only retrievable on a one-by-one basis with no intuitive way of being able to navigate from one document to another.

The Briton was 36 when he created the system, intended as a way of allowing internationally dispersed groups to share their work with each other.

“To follow a link,  a reader clicks with a mouse (or types in a number if he or she has no mouse). To search and index, a reader gives keywords (or other  search criteria),” Berners-Lee wrote in an email newsgroup in 1991.

“These are the only operations  necessary to access the entire world of data.”

The project started “with the philosophy that much academic information should be freely available to anyone,” he added.

On that note…

Miaow! Welcome to the world’s first internet cat video film festival

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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