The invention of the World Wide Web changed the world. But this staple of modern life has taken a dark turn, and its inventor hopes to save it.
During the spectacular opening ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the noisy stadium hushed with expectation as the lights dimmed. Attention was soon focused on a solitary desk, where a middle-aged man in a white jacket typed on a computer keyboard.
The words “This is for everyone” quickly flashed up in LCD lights to the more than 60,000 spectators who filled the stadium, and were simultaneously broadcast to an estimated one billion people watching around the world. The man at the desk was Tim Berners-Lee, a modest, low-key computer genius who was being honored as the creator of the World Wide Web, which he had invented some years earlier.
“The Web” turned 30 this year, and it is now used by half the planet—some four billion people. It is a platform of software services that sits on top of the infrastructure we call the Internet, which is a global “network of networks”—creating a kind of marriage of information and technology that is simple and easy to use.
Berners-Lee’s vision and how it developed makes for a fascinating story.
Tim grew up in London, the very bright, enquiring son of very bright parents, who themselves were computer pioneers. After earning a first-class honours degree in physics from Oxford University, he pursued a career as a computer scientist and software engineer.
For several months in 1980, Berners-Lee worked at CERN in Switzerland, the home of European particle physics research. What he saw there—lots of different computers with lots of information, but not connected to each other or with the Internet—inspired a dream that was to dominate his life: What if all computers could be linked together in such a way as to produce an information space that everyone, regardless of where they lived, could freely and simply access, add to, and interact with?
The breadth and scope of his vision was staggering—to connect anything and everything with everything else. His brainchild, what we know as the “World Wide Web,” represents the accomplishment of this prodigious feat.
Working again at CERN in 1984, Berners-Lee was the right man in the right place at the right time. Not only could he dream an outrageous dream, he also had the knowledge and skills to turn that dream into reality. In 1990, he and his team wrote the first Web programs and began creating the now familiar acronyms, language, protocols, and standards that define today’s World Wide Web.
Berners-Lee could have patented his invention, received royalties, and become very rich. Instead, he ensured that his work would be publicly and freely available to all. No single person or organisation would own the platform that is the World Wide Web, but it would nonetheless need careful leadership to nurture, protect, and improve it. So, in 1994, he founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to carry out this function.
Great progress has been made in facilitating people talking with people, but the biggest development is still in progress: creating a “Semantic Web” in which more capable machines and software will be able to analyze all the data on the Web to understand its meaning—machines talking with machines (see Weaving the Web by Tim Berners-Lee, chapters 12 and 13).
But despite its conspicuous success, “the Web” is not performing as Berners-Lee envisioned. Too much power has become concentrated in too few organizations. From the beginning, he realized that, in the wrong hands, his invention could be misused and abused. The temptation to monitor, manipulate, spy, and corrupt is simply human, and the Internet with its World Wide Web has now become a new battleground where cyber warfare of every kind takes place.
Berners-Lee has concluded that, instead of serving humanity as he intended, the Web he created has failed, becoming “a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human” (“‘I Was Devastated’: Tim Berners-Lee, the Man Who Created the World Wide Web, Has Some Regrets,” Vanity Fair, July 1, 2018).
In late 2018, Berners-Lee took a sabbatical from directing the W3C to begin work on a brand-new platform he calls “Solid,” which he hopes will rescue the situation. The aim is to radically change the way Web applications work in favor of greater user control—more personal privacy and protection of personal data. According to Berners-Lee, a new decentralized Web is coming, and he is in a hurry to complete it.
Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web has been hugely instrumental in transforming how this world functions, but it has also unwittingly enabled the “dark side” of human nature, with its inherent moral failings, to further manifest itself.
The stark truth is that no amount of clever computer programming can transform human nature. Good inventions can’t prevent evil. What is needed is a “spiritual re-engineering” of the human heart, where the trouble truly lies.
We at Tomorrow’s World are committed to proclaiming this vision that will soon become a reality. A new age is coming that will truly transform how this world functions—forever! It may or may not have an “Internet” or a “World Wide Web” sitting upon it, but it will certainly do what no human can possibly do—transform the human proclivity towards evil by providing a new heart to all who are willing to have one (Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31; 36:25–27). This holds the most wonderful promise for the advancement of all humanity, leaving all human inventions, however welcome they may be, far behind.
And it will be made possible by God’s intervention rather than human invention! We are talking, of course, about the new age that will be ushered in when Jesus Christ returns to establish God’s righteous government on this earth (Daniel 2:44–45; 7:27; Revelation 5:9–10; 11:15). This new age will begin by dealing with the source of all evil (Revelation 20:10), and continue by progressively giving human beings a new nature (1 John 3:4–9)—God’s holy, righteous nature—which is only possible through His Son Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:2–4).
The returning Christ will be the right Person, at the right time, in the right place, and with the right knowledge and skills to transform the entire world forever. It is His destiny to rule over this earth as King of kings, and His reign will be truly wonderful: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6–7).
This remarkable vision for the future is not a fanciful or outrageous dream, but a powerful, compelling reality that is certain to come—and come soon. If you would like to learn more, write for or download our free resource The World Ahead: What Will It Be Like?