The inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering was awarded to the godfathers of Internet

Queen's engineering prize laureate calls for web freedom

The World Wide Web should be protected from governments and corporations seeking to gain control over it, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said.

Speaking during the inaugural ceremony in the Buckingham Palace yesterday, where he and three other winners received The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Berners-Lee said it was a desire to create a universal space what pushed the godfathers of Internet forward.

"When you make something universal...it can be used for good things or nasty things...we just have to make sure it's not undercut by any large companies or governments trying to use it and get total control," he responded when asked to comment on recent revelations about governments’ abusing control over his brainchild - the World Wide Web.

Berners-Lee, Robert Kahn, Vint Cerf and Louis Pouzin were jointly awarded the inaugural £1 m Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for their pioneering work developing Internet, a network of interconnected computer systems and interlinked web pages that has revolutionised communication.

In 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed an information management system and later the same year he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet.

Vint Cerf together with Robert Kahn devised the Internet protocol back in the 1970s, which allows everything from emails to real-time video to be shared over the network.

Marc Andreseen, who was not present at the ceremony, is the godfather of Mosaic, the very first popular browser.

The last of the rewarded five, French engineer Louis Pouzin, was a major influence on Kahn’s and Cerf’s work. He invented the datagram and designed an early packet communication network CYCLADES.

At the ceremony, the Queen praised engineering as a noble profession seeking solutions to practical problems and commented on the importance of Internet in the everyday life in the 21 Century.

"The Internet and the World Wide Web have brought the world and its people together in ways we could not have imagined 60, or even 30, years ago. And so, I have great pleasure in giving my name to this Priz,." the monarch said.

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, set up in 2011, is designed to reward and celebrate individuals contributing to ground-breaking innovations in engineering that has benefited the whole of humanity.

Lord Broers, chair of the award's 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 Brown of Madingley, chair of trustees for the prize, hopes the winners will inspire young people to pursue a career in engineering. "Engineering is one of the highest paid professions in the UK but figures show that nine out of 10 students give up maths and science at school at the age of 16. This has created a severe shortage of engineers, a problem which a number of global businesses are keen to address," he said.

The severe shortage of qualified engineers has been recently scrutinized in a study of the Royal Academy of Engineering, which stated the lack of technically educated and qualified people might adversely affect UK’s economy as companies struggle to find qualified stuff in many crucial sectors.

However, Lord Browne of Madingley believes the UK knows how to tackle the issue.  "UK universities offer world-class engineering courses, with the capacity to accept many more students. Engineering is experiencing a renaissance in public life, and the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is playing an important role in this."

Leaders of three main political parties – David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband also attended the ceremony. The foundation of the award in 2011 was supported across the political spectrum.  

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