It has been 30 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee sat down at his desk at Cern and changed the world with a humble sounding document called “Information Management: A Proposal”.
The memo, piloting a system to allow computers to share information via an emerging technology called hypertext, did not catch many people’s eyes as it crossed their desks. But it contained the building blocks of the internet as we know it.
Today, to mark this momentous anniversary, leaders in the British tech industry will meet Berners-Lee at Downing Street.
I believe that technology is a force for good. Berners-Lee’s example shows how technology can vastly improve people’s lives, and from the first commercially available computer to the World Wide Web, these digital advances have reshaped the world for the better.
The next generation of British entrepreneurs and digital innovators have picked up this baton and created thriving online services: Boohoo, a leading light in e-commerce; Deliveroo, which has challenged the traditional hospitality industry; and Ocado, which has reshaped the weekly shop for hundreds of thousands of people using Berners-Lee’s vital invention.
Britain is still leading the way in digital innovation; a £79m national supercomputer to be announced by the chancellor tomorrow, based in Edinburgh, will have a computing capacity five times quicker than the UK’s current capabilities.
Today I am also pleased to confirm that Bloomberg’s flagship technology summit, Sooner Than You Think, will be taking place in London in June.
It will be a great opportunity to showcase our fantastic firms and talent to global leaders and investors, and reaffirms the UK’s position as Europe’s leading tech hub.
All this success must be tempered with caution. I am not blind to the dangers of the internet, and neither is Berners-Lee himself, whose World Wide Web Foundation is doing crucial work to make the internet safe and equal for all.
Tragic stories of how young and vulnerable people have been exposed to shocking content online have touched me deeply.
Things need to change. Behaviour not acceptable offline should not be acceptable online. For some, the internet has become a place where people are not held to account for their actions, such as cyber-bullying, grooming, and spreading fake news.
We will soon publish a white paper to tackle these challenges head-on. It is part of our plans to lay the rules of the road for the future of technology.
To make sure that we are leading this debate, we have also established the world’s first Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which will determine how data-driven technologies and artificial intelligence are used for the benefit of society. I am pushing ahead with this world-leading work, and DCMS will shortly publish the centre’s strategic vision.
There are few on the planet with a better understanding of these issues than Sir Tim Berners-Lee. As we come together to celebrate how his invention has inspired others’ innovation, it is also the right time to address some of the excesses that are enabled by the internet.
Promoting innovation and ensuring responsible technology are both vital in demonstrating why Britain remains at the heart of technological success.