April 12, 2011, 5:46 PM — Two decades after creating the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee says humans have become so reliant on it that access to the Web should now be considered a basic right.
In a speech at an MIT symposium, Berners-Lee compared access to the Web with access to water. While access to water is a more fundamental right, because people simply cannot survive without it, Web access should be seen as a right, too, because anyone who lacks Web access will fall behind their more connected peers.
"Access to the Web is now a human right," he said. "It's possible to live without the Web. It's not possible to live without water. But if you've got water, then the difference between somebody who is connected to the Web and is part of the information society, and someone who (is not) is growing bigger and bigger."
Berners-Lee appeared at the MIT symposium on "Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything," part of the school's 150th anniversary celebration. Other notable speakers included Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop Per Child, who also created the MIT Media Lab.
Berners-Lee has been outspoken on net neutrality, and at MIT warned against ISPs having too much control over how we use the Web. Berners-Lee also touched on smartphones, repeating his stance that it is better to develop Web apps that run on mobile devices than to create apps that circumvent the open Web.
He also said it's important for the Web not to simply become an instrument to spread unfounded rumors and conspiracy theories. One of his goals is to make the Web a system in which scientists can share data and information more effectively.
The Web has grown so large that the number of Web pages rivals the number of neurons in a human brain, Berners-Lee said. And the Web must be analyzed, just as we analyze the brain.
"To a certain extent, we have a duty about the Web which is greater than our duty about the brain, because with the brain we just analyze it," he said. "But with the Web, we actually get to engineer it. We can change it."