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Five engineers who created the Internet and the World Wide Web have been announced as the winners of the inaugural £1 million Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.
Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Louis Pouzin, Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessens’ innovations have revolutionised the way we communicate and enabled the development of whole new industries. Today a third of the world’s population use the Internet and it is estimated to carry around 330 Petabytes of data per year, enough to transfer every character ever written in every book ever published twenty times over.
HRH The Princess Royal and Lord Browne of Madingley announced the winners at the Royal Academy of Engineering, which administers the prize.
The art of engineering lies in the efficient combination of technologies to deliver the most meaningful results for society. The international team of judges for the Prize considered that these five outstanding engineers epitomise this approach in the way that they designed and built the Internet and the Web.
The Internet built on, but significantly extended, the work done on the ARPAnet in the 1960s. Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and Louis Pouzin made seminal contributions to the design and protocols that together make up the fundamental architecture at the heart of the Internet.
The Internet as a networking infrastructure connects billions of computers together globally. It was Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web – an information-sharing model that is built on top of the Internet – that allows us to use it in the way we do today. The Web vastly extended the use of the Internet beyond email and file transfer. Marc Andreessen wrote the Mosaic browser that made the Web accessible to everyone and triggered a huge number of applications unimagined by the early network pioneers.
The technical prowess of this group of engineers is equalled by their foresight and generosity in sharing their work freely and without restriction. This approach allowed the Internet and the Web to be adopted rapidly around the world and to grow organically thanks to open and universal standards.
Speaking as one of the international panel of judges Buro Happold’s CEO Paul Westbury CBE said that picking a winner had been very difficult despite the obvious impact of the internet. “There is so much to celebrate that it was so hard to know what would float to the top. However the many technologies that made up the internet was one of the reasons the winners were chosen as bringing technology together to create a product is what engineering is all about.”
He added that, “Engineering as an industry has been too inward looking for too long. We need to spend time talking about what we do as well as solving complex problems. Engineers are so successful about making the world work that everybody has forgotten about what we’re doing.”
The winners will return to London in June for the formal presentation of the prize by Her Majesty The Queen.