CERN and the Invention of the World Wide Web

CERN and the Invention of the World Wide Web

Recently I visited Europe, and the high point of the trip was my tour of CERN (wikipedia link).

After trying unsuccessfully to register for a tour, I decided to just go for it, and when I arrived at the visitor center, the group just leaving had extra space so I joined up.

High-energy particle physics probably bore most people, but for me, it was nerd heaven.CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid

The CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) facility is where the detector and control room are. I was able to go underground. Here is a selfie of me with the 2,000 ton detector:

CMS Detector

Birthplace of the World Wide Web

What many people don’t know is that the World Wide Web was invented at CERN by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Not the Internet (the WWW is just a part of the Internet). Here is a photo of the first World Wide Web server (sorry about the low-quality, but it is housed in a weird globe), which is another remarkable footnote of computing history – Steve Jobs’ NeXT computer:

First WWW server at CERN

 

Al Gore and the Internet

Since we are on the subject, Al Gore did not proclaim to “invent” the Internet. What he did do is help create and nurture the Internet. That is in fact, true. When asked what distinguished him from his challenger in the 2000 Democratic Presidential nomination, he stated this:

During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

As Vice President, Gore was in charge of promoting and developing the “Information Superhighway” and launched a number of initiatives that without a doubt placed him on the list of people that helped create what we know today as the Internet. Don’t believe me?

Vint Cerf (“Father of the Internet”) and his colleague Bob Kahn, who actually did create the Internet (along with others; it was a world-wide group effort) wrote this in response to the critique and ridicule of  Gore’s statement, which they felt was unjustifed.

Some Excerpts:

Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development.

…But as the two people who designed the basic architecture and the core protocols that make the Internet work, we would like to acknowledge VP Gore’s contributions as a Congressman, Senator and as Vice President. No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time. [Emphasis mine]

The fact of the matter is that Gore was talking about and promoting the Internet long before most people were listening. We feel it is timely to offer our perspective.

As far back as the 1970s Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship.

As Vice President Gore promoted building the Internet both up and out, as well as releasing the Internet from the control of the government agencies that spawned it. …Gore provided much-needed political support for the speedy privatization of the Internet when the time arrived for it to become a commercially-driven operation.

No one in public life has been more intellectually engaged in helping to create the climate for a thriving Internet than the Vice President. Gore has been a clear champion of this effort, both in the councils of government and with the public at large.

The Vice President deserves credit for his early recognition of the value of high speed computing and communication and for his long-term and consistent articulation of the potential value of the Internet to American citizens and industry and, indeed, to the rest of the world.

When the fathers of the Internet verify his help, it is real. So please give credit where credit is due.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Warning on America and Science Denial

Redglass Pictures teamed up with Neil deGrasse Tyson to produce a 4-minute film that communicates something that I have been feeling for awhile. Tyson calls this “maybe the most important words he has ever spoken”. The film covers the recent rise of science denial in this country.

“That’s not the country I remember growing up in. Not that we didn’t have challenges… But I don’t remember anytime where people were standing in denial of what science was.”

Indeed, Neil. I too watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. I was one of the first to actually use the Internet, then the World Wide Web. I used cell phones when they were so novel that people would stare at me using one discreetly in Wal-Mart.

“This is science, it’s not something to toy with! It’s not something to say “I choose not to believe E=mc², you don’t have that option!” …it is true whether or not you believe in it, and the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with… how to solve the problems that face us.”

Once had a friend – he is still a great, smart friend – that when I brought up a conversation from some 10 years or so earlier, I asked him if he still believed that global warming was a hoax. His reply was, “No, but it shouldn’t be a religion either.” I’ve thought about that remark a lot, and it reminds me of this Carl Sagan idea:

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.

My friend is right in a way. I believe that religion builds policies, procedures, and systems around spirituality, but not in a scientific method sort of way.

Religion doesn’t establish or even create morals, it establishes trusts. Throughout history and various cultures, these trusts between others in the tribe have moved civilizations forward, and sometimes backward. Two steps forward, one back.

It’s time to accept science spiritually. We have bigger things to do.