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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 09:39 GMT
Web inventor fears for the future
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is concerned about the future of the web

The British developer of the world wide web says he is worried about the way it could be used to spread misinformation and "undemocratic forces".

The web has transformed the way many people work, play and do business.

But Sir Tim Berners-Lee told BBC News he feared that, if the way the internet is used is left to develop unchecked, "bad things" could happen.

He wants to set up a web science research project to study the social implications of the web's development.

If we don't have the ability to understand the web as it's now emerging, we will end up with things that are very bad
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

The changes experienced to date because of the web are just the start of a more radical transformation of society, he said.

But Sir Tim is concerned about the way it could end up being used.

He told the BBC: "If we don't have the ability to understand the web as it's now emerging, we will end up with things that are very bad.

"Certain undemocratic things could emerge and misinformation will start spreading over the web.

"Studying these forces and the way they're affected by the underlying technology is one of the things that we think is really important," he said.

Social phenomenon

He insisted his new web science research initiative would be more than just computer science.

When you look at university courses, web science isn't there - it seems to fall through the cracks
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

He said he wanted to attract researchers from a range of disciplines to study it as a social as well as technological phenomenon.

Sir Tim added that he hoped it would create a new science for studying the web, which he believes would lead to newer and more exciting systems.

"All kinds of disciplines are going to have to converge. People with all kinds of skills are going to have to work together to build a new web which is going to be even better," he said.

He also said employers were now beginning to complain that there were not enough people who fully understood the web.

"There aren't any courses at the moment and it hasn't really been brought together.

"We're hearing complaints from companies when they need people that really understand the medium from both the technological and social side.

"When you look at university courses, web science isn't there - it seems to fall through the cracks.

"So we'd like to put it on the curriculum so that there are a lot more people who understand this."

Social challenges

The US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southampton, UK, will launch the long-term research collaboration that will have a direct influence on the future development of the world wide web.

Because the internet is such a free medium people tend to have a horror of controlling the information flows
Gail, Seoul

The Web Science Research Initiative will chart out a research agenda aimed at understanding the scientific, technical and social challenges underlying the growth of the web.

Of particular interest is the growing volume of information on the web that documents more and more aspects of human activity and knowledge.

The project will examine how we access this information and assess its reliability.

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