The science of the Web

  • TECH
  • Monday, 30 Jan 2017

Work in progress: Hall believes that the key to building a better Web lies in anticipating what people would and wouldn’t do with it, without compromising their safety. — SAMUEL ONG/The Star

There is a long way to go when it comes to building the World Wide Web.

ACCORDING to Prof Dame Wendy Hall, the World Wide Web is a major live experiment on humanity.

“The Web is a social machine created by us who put the content on it, which is neither natural nor engineered. It tells so much about human behaviour especially in relation to technology,” said Hall during a talk organised by the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

A professor of computer science at the University of Southampton in Britain, Hall is claimed as one of the first computer scientists to undertake serious research in multimedia and hypermedia.

Over the years, Hall has worked closely with Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, particularly on Web Science, a study on the Web and its impact on society and technology.

Hall’s current research includes applications of the Semantic Web and exploring interfaces between social, life and physical sciences.

“It is not until someone uses the Web do they understand just how much they need it, or how powerful it is,” she said.

The professor believes that the key to building a better Web lies in anticipating what people would and wouldn’t do with it, without compromising their safety – a topic which Hall admits was overlooked in the initial years.

“What we probably didn’t foresee was the danger we were exposing the people to, in particular children and other vulnerable individuals,” she said.

“As the Web grows bigger and becomes a political tool, it becomes a tool for criminals as well. When we were building the Web, we were so excited about connecting people everywhere that we didn’t think about that side of issues.”

Hall believes that it is crucial to understand the Web now more than we did before, as the ever evolving complex communication system has become a part of our critical infrastructure.

It has also become something that many of us are very dependent on.

“Education is the key. To loosely quote American scientist Carl Sagan, we have designed a world that is dependent on science and technology and yet our education doesn’t encourage people to go into science and technology. We need to encourage the kids today to do science and math in school.”

As for the future of the Web, Hall believes that we have only touched the tip of the iceberg.

“The Web has only been around for 25 years, and it will be more intelligent with the increasing growth of artificial intelligence. In 25 years, what we do now will seem very primitive then,” she said.

Although the Web may already seem pervasive, Hall said that it will be much more pervasive and ubiquitous than it is today in the future.

“There is a long way to go and you have seen nothing yet. It’s perhaps another reason why more people should do computer science,” she said.

“Everyone needs to have some sort of digital literacy.

“They don’t all have to be programmers but everyone should be digitally literate.”

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