Tim Berners-Lee on creating the web: 'I never expected all these cats'

British computer scientist was answering questions on Reddit
  • @jjvincent

Tim Berners-Lee celebrated the 25th birthday of the web yesterday (quick note: he invented it) by outlining his plans for an internet ‘Magna Carta’.

However, the computer scientist also found time to chat with the denizens of Reddit, revealing the one thing he never imagined his creation would be used for: “Kittens”.

Beyond this the British computer engineer also revealed some intriguing bits of information about his personal browsing habits, including the fact that at the moment he uses the browser Firefox (though he said he also loaded up Safari, Opera and Chrome “a reasonable amount”) and that while he had never posted a picture of his cat online, he had put up one of his dog.

More serious topics were also up for discussion, and although Berners-Lee wouldn’t give a definite answer when asked whether he thought ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden was a “hero or villain” he did say that he thought Snowden “should be protected” and that “we should have ways of protecting people like him.”

“We can try to design perfect systems of government, and they will never be perfect, and when they fail, then the whistleblower may be all that saves society,” he told Reddit.

When asked if he felt a little like Robert Oppenheimer – one of the primary engineers working on the Manhattan Project – Berners-Lee was equanimous:

“No, not really. The web is a -- primarily neutral -- tool for humanity. When you look at humanity you see the good and the bad, the wonderful and the awful. A powerful tool can be used for good or ill. Things which are really bad are illegal on the web as they are off it. On balance, communication is good think I think: much of the badness comes from misunderstanding.”

Berners-Lee also addressed criticism for his perceived hypocrisy in calling for a more open web, but also supporting digital rights management (DRM) to be built in to HTML5, allowing manufacturers all sorts of methods of limiting how you view content online – from stopping you copy and pasting text, to monitoring what you do with saved files outside the browser.

“I agree DRM is a pain in many ways, and should only be used for very "high value" streams,” said Berners-Lee, noting that he thought that current copyright laws were “seriously broken”, but saying that there wasn’t space to have a “very long complicated discussion” in the Q&A.

Click here to see the Q&A in full

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