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Rushes Sequences - Tim Berners-Lee interview - Ghana (Video)

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 13:31 UK time, Monday, 26 October 2009

Tim Berners-Lee is best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He travelled to Ghana with the Digital Revolution programme one team and presenter Aleks Krotoski to see the online advances being made in Ghana, and the ways in which the Ghanaian people are utilising the connections the web provides. During this visit, Tim discussed his past and the adventures in tech at CERN that led him to create the web.

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Transcript:
(Please note that this transcript is the 'raw data' text we receive from a transcription company. It is a tool commonly used in production to facilitate editing and review the content. We publish it for users in that same spirit, rather than it standing as a 'perfect' representation of the content.)

Tim So its 1976 I'm coming to the end of my career at Oxford learning physics - I really don't know anybody who's done physics at a PhD level so I don't have a role model to go and do physics itself but meanwhile I'd been playing with computers a little bit.  I'd made myself a computer terminal o' during the 3 years and I just started making er a a computer because the microprocessor chip just became available - 6800 - I bought one of the early 6800s put it onto a board - soldered it myself.  So that's really exciting.  The neat thing about my generation I think that nobody else really was luckily enough to get in on was the fact that when I was this big then I would go er wind er magnet - well wind electromagnets make relays out of them and nails in the primary school playground.  And then later on when really I was approaching the limits of what you could make with electromagnets and relays and er and bells and things - transistors became available really cheaply when you went down the Tottenham Court Road to er to the sort of the junk electronic shops - you could buy transistors which some of which worked some of which didn't and then we'd test them and then make transistor circuits.  So then as I was in secondary school my friends and I made trans' transistor sockets and we made them more and more complicated er including some that would sort of flip flop that would store bits of information and so on so we're getting to the point where we're we're starting to make more complicated logic circuits and just as that was happening you could get these little logic circuits - these chips which would have several gates or flip flops to mem' to memorise information in in a chip.  So that just as we'd figured out how to make a gate out of transistors then you could buy the gates and then we started making more and more complicated logic circuits and I made - using those chips I made the computer terminal ca' which would display characters on the screen.  And we're getting to the point now I really pretty much would know how to make a computer out of lolly chips but it would involve a huge - putting together a huge very very er complicated logic board but even though I knew how to do it then suddenly all that comes in a chip two inches long.  So every time we'd gone - it was although we'd gone through er sort of kindergarten and each stage of learning how to make more and more complicated things they'd suddenly get delivered on a plate - you know now you know how to make one here's one we've already made sort of in the oven - had it done before er now you can go onto the next level.  So then there I was coming out of university with my own home made computer with a pretty good understanding of how you build a microprocessor system and programming it from scratch.  And there weren't many people like that so I went into the electronics industry where people were taking racks of equipment and replacing it with a single card which had a microprocessor which was doing everything that this rack of equipment did.  And so I would know how to design the card to pretend to be the rack of equipment and how to .................. programme microprocessor it to do the same thing as that did.  And that was a lot of fun er you know I had er a few microprocessors at work and a microprocessor at home and so it was erm it was a new world er full of er you know full of excitement and fu' and exciting because it was manageable and you could buy these things to make a home computer system yourself.  And now you can do what previously had been done by main trains in in labs or in computer centres - you could actually do it yourself.  So it was a very exciting time and I'm glad I didn't miss it.

Aleks How did that inform what you were doing at CERN?

Tim Well so that was 1976 the next - over the next four years ........................ and became a consultant in erm hardware and software.  An' er 1980 I just went over as a consultant because they needed people to programme a system quickly because they were late and so they they they hired 20 people over six months and I just went over as sort of just er sort of like sort of hiring cowboys for the you know for the season and we just rewrite programme er and left trying to figure out how everything worked.  And tha' so that was getting .............................. little bit of providing a programme called enquire ............ everything in order to figure out how all the various bits of certain cases go cos I was parachuted in with everybo' with these other programmers.  Er we all had to work out which what was connected to what and I had that programme for writing ............  Erm then I suppose I just - so then I realised that CERN was a really interesting environment so then several years later I decided to go there because I wanted to go to a different country - wanted to go to somewhere which was pretty er which was fun - there were people er just - where the coffee table discussions with crazy ideas you know were er were just great - er sitting there outside not to mention looking at the Monte Blanc er on a good day and er and chatting with bright people all the different nationalities about ways of designing different machines that had not been built before - that was that was pretty er enticing proposition.

Aleks Well indeed not just not just the machines that didn't exist before but systems that didn't exist before.  Can you talk about why you invented the web?

Tim I invented the web just because I needed it really because it was so frustrating that it didn't exist.  There are er - there I was - I was at CERN exciting environment - people coming from different countries - people coming from different universities working for different people and because they didn't all work for the same company they weren't all told to buy the same software and buy the same computer so they came with different sorts of computer different sorts of software so their documentation was all in different systems.  So when I wanted to do my job I'd have to build a programme that would make this talk to that and I'd have to go and find out how this worked and find out how that worked and then how the infrastructure worked - this would all be on different computers.  So it'd be a question of going to one person and interviewing them more or less er just like you're interviewing me - how does it work why did you make it - what other things does it depend on - what else should I know - are there any questions I haven't asked er which I really should have asked.  And then writing all that down and then going to somebody else and the place to do it in fact was the coffee area where people would come by and erm you could grab people out of the flow and say oh yes if you're using this then you'll have to learn how to use this too so you need to to to talk to Jean Pierre - Jean Pierre you know so that environment was all very well but when you joined it you spend a lot of time getting up to speed and when you left you had an obligation to leave er sort of instructions on how to use the thing you'd made.  A lot of the people I was working with I'd get help from people who were may be students - they'd come for the summer or something - you don't want them spending 3 months getting up to speed and then go.  So the idea of the web as being a place where we could just have all this stuff available in such a way as I could make a link when somebody says oh if you use this you're going to need - I'd use that too - ok that is a random abstract association - that's somebody bringing up from their brain oh yeah those two these two things are connected.  So really valuable - I always felt to be able to keep that - put that into the computer even though this system runs on one sort of computer - this system runs on a completely different sort of computer - there's different types of system.  So at CERN before the web they would be systems you'd have to connect to completely separately - you wouldn't be able to really bring up the information from one thing at the same time as the other - you'd have to bring up information from one and write it on the back of an envelope and then go to the other system and may be type it back in.  So that was pre web but there was lots and lots of information on discs but there was - the information was there - there were all these documentation systems and if you realised that it would just take a little programme running on each to turn them into the web - to make it so that even though the documents stayed on that documentation system they actually also appeared on the web and even though they say there was self help system they also appeared in the web and then you could link them together.  That was clearly going to be such a ............ er it was er worth putting a bit of time in.

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