Berners-Lee Urges Data Spectrum Focus for Web

When the inventor of the World Wide Web has something to say about the Internet, AI and data, it's worth a listen.

Recently, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, sat down with Fujitsu Global Chief Technology Officer Vivek Mahajan to talk about some key issues he feels the Internet is facing today.

The pair covered a variety of topics, including online privacy, sustainability, AI, and his thoughts on the future for his creation.

During the interview, held at the Fujitsu ActivateNow Technology Summit, Sir Berners-Lee stated his belief that the web should be for anything and anyone, and not limited to one particular system or network.

He went on to talk about some of the social problems exacerbated by the web, chiefly the issues with misinformation in the political world as seen with events like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal.

When online privacy was brought up, Sir Berners-Lee stated his belief that peoples’ data was being used in inappropriate ways and that the average citizen has no way to see their data used in the way they want. He went on to advocate for “Solid Pods”.

Pods are essentially personalised data servers using the Solid specification to allow users to store their own data in the server and control who has access to that data.

Whether it’s these Pods or another innovation, new methods to manage our data privacy are desperately needed. Facebook was sued in the UK just last week for the way it has harvested and exploited its users’ data.

Looking toward the future, Sir Berners-Lee advocated for transparency and a focus on the “data spectrum”. The data spectrum isn’t a new technology; it’s a way of looking at data. In this model, data, much like gender, exists on a spectrum, with Open on one side and Closed on another.

Open data, as an example, would be something accessible by anyone with an Internet connection, such as open-licence media. Closed data would have its access restricted to only one or two users.

He also envisioned a world where AI works for the consumer who purchased it, instead of the company who created it. In his future, AI would not exploit the user’s data and milk them for everything they give to the technology.

How likely this is uncertain. The global AI market is speculated by some to be valued at $60 billion (£44 billion) by 2025, and it’s rare for corporations like the ones selling AI to the masses to let a silly little thing like ethics change their profit-focused course.

A more ethical future for AI will require convincing these companies such a change would be to their shareholders’ benefit.

When asked for advice on how to build this future, Sir Berners-Lee talked about adding another layer, the “solid” layer to the Internet protocol as a major step for innovation.

However, he stressed that any new Internet technology should be respectful to users above all else.

Zephin Livingston
Zephin Livingston
Zephin Livingston is a content writer for eWeek, eWeek UK, IT Business Edge, and SoftwarePundit with years of experience in multiple fields including cybersecurity, tech, cultural criticism and media literacy. They're currently based out of Seattle.

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