Tim Berners-Lee named FT ‘Boldness in Business’ Person of the Year

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, EECS professor and CSAIL researcher, is best known for inventing the World Wide Web in Photo: Henry Thomas

Adam Conner-Simons | CSAIL

The week that his invention of the World Wide Web turned 30, MIT professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has been named the Financial Times’ Person of the Year in their special “Boldness in Business” issue.

Berners-Lee was honored for his new startup inrupt, which emerged out of work at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) developing the open-data platform Solid.

Solid aims to give users ownership over their data by building decentralized social applications.

“Right now we really have the worst of all worlds, in which people not only cannot control their data, but also can’t really use it, because it’s spread across a number of different silo-ed websites,” says Berners-Lee. “Our goal is to ‘re-decentralize the web’ and develop a web architecture that gives users more control over the information they provide to applications.”

Solid has produced some 50,000 so-called personal online data stores (PODs) that are being experimented on by thousands of developers across more than 25 countries. His company is also collaborating with partners like UK’s National Health Service to explore growing the scale of Solid, and intends to launch a user product by the end of the year.

In the FT article, Berners-Lee acknowledges the challenges of breaking through with a new paradigm in a climate where companies have vested interests in maintaining their data ecosystem. But he retains a healthy optimism that recent concerns about data privacy have created more momentum for a project like this.

“It is rocket science. It is tricky. Things can blow up on you,” Berners-Lee told FT. “But we know how to fire rockets into the sky. We should be able to build constructive social networks.”

Besides his responsibilities at CSAIL, Berners-Lee is director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which develops web standards, specifications, and tool, as well as director of the World Wide Web Foundation, which does advocacy related to “a free and open web for everyone.”

He is the 3Com Founders Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT as well as a recipient of the Association for Computing Machinery’s A.M. Turing Award, often described as “the Nobel Prize of computing,” for inventing the web and developing the protocols that spurred its global use.

“Tim’s contributions to computer science have fundamentally transformed the world, and his more recent work with inrupt is poised to do the same,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus. “All of us at the lab — and MIT more broadly — are so very proud of him and excited to see how his efforts will continue to impact the way that people use and share data.”

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