Internet and web pioneers win £1m engineering prize

18 March 2013
By Edd Gent
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Robert Kahn (centre) and Louis Pouzin (right) were announced as winners of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering by Lord Browne (left)

Robert Kahn (centre) and Louis Pouzin (right) were announced as winners of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering by Lord Browne (left)

The creators of the Internet and the World Wide Web have won the inaugural £1m Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

Engineers Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Louis Pouzin, Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen were today announced as the winners of the award at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal.

The prize is designed to reward and celebrate the individuals responsible for a ground-breaking innovation in engineering that has been of global benefit to humanity. The Queen will present the specially designed trophy at the award ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 25 June.

Lord Broers, chair of the judging panel, said: "Engineering is by its very nature a collaborative activity, and the emergence of the Internet and the Web involved many teams of people all over the world.

“However, these five visionary engineers, never before honoured together as a group, led the key developments that shaped the Internet and Web as a coherent system and brought them into public use.”

Lord Browne, chair of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, announced the winners and said the panel of 16 international judges felt justified in exercising an “exceptional circumstances” clause in the competition rules to allow more than the proscribed three winners due to the enormous impact of their work.

He pointed out that today one-third of the world’s population uses the Internet and it is estimated to carry around 330 petabytes of data per year - enough to transfer every typographical character in every book ever published 20 times over.

Robert Kahn and Louis Pouzin, who made seminal contributions to the protocols that together make up the fundamental architecture of the Internet, appeared at the ceremony in person.

Khan said: “All I can tell you is this has been an incredible journey. We are so delighted and I think I speak on behalf of myself, my co-winners and all those who contributed to the creation of the Internet and Web who are not here today.”

Pouzin said he was grateful for the recognition that the awards were giving to the profession, but said it was important not to forget the teams behind the winners’ successes.

“Engineering is a social role, to get people together and make them work for a goal,” he said. “You don’t do engineering by yourself; that doesn’t exist. You do engineering with a team and our teams are not here. But I had a very good team and frankly without your team you are nothing.”

Vinton Cerf, who worked with Khan to invent the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, appeared by video link for the announcement.

“All of us in this team and all of us participating in the creation of the Internet are extraordinarily grateful that, finally, engineering is taking as visible a place as the Nobel Prize,” said Cerf.

“We have been able to bring teams together and to stimulate the participation of literally millions of people to what you see today. One of the most interesting features of the Internet’s design is it invites people to contribute; it’s an expanding technology.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee agreed, saying he hoped the award would inspire more people to learn to write code and contribute their ideas to the evolution of the Web.

He said: “It’s up to your imagination. That’s the thrill of the part of engineering we call computer science.”

Marc Andreessen, who wrote the widely distributed Mosaic browser that made the Web accessible to everyone while he was a student, was unable to attend the event but sent a message of gratitude in which he vowed to donate his prize money to charitable programmes that promote engineering.

He said: “I firmly believe our field’s best days are still ahead of us and I can’t wait to see what the next generation of engineers will accomplish.”

The award was administered by The Royal Academy of Engineering, and its president, Sir John Parker, said he was excited about the direction engineering was going.

He said: “I believe engineering is entering a new renaissance period. Engineering is being properly recognised for the tremendous difference it makes in our lives.

“The establishment of a prestigious prize like this has long been the wish of many engineers over the years and that wish has now become a reality.”

And the Princess Royal said she hoped the award would help to increase the visibility of engineers and encourage the next generation to follow a career in the profession.

“In some respects engineers are their own worst enemies, they tend to think it’s all self-evident,” she said. “Sadly far too few people seem to recognise how or why it is they can live the life they do.”

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