The future of the Web as seen by its creator
- — 12 July, 2007 14:15
But with this full connection between personal data, companies' data and government data, don't you think the first concern people will have is around the issue of privacy?
Yes. And I have that concern, too! An important aspect of Semantic Web technology is called provenance -- where the data comes from and what it can be used for. Our research group at MIT is developing systems to show what allowed uses the information is for, so you can keep check on where it comes from, what it stands for, and make sure that it won't be used in any different way. We call this capability "information accountability."
In order to define preferences on how personal data can be used, an individual has to have some technology skills; but that's not the case of the largest part of the world's population, is it?
First of all, when you use the Semantic Web for personal data, you're not putting it out on the Web. You have a personal Web for your data about your life on your computer, and you use it to navigate locally. You are not putting it on the open Internet. There are a lot of tools like Quicken or Microsoft Money where the bank systems come down the Net in a secure channel and they are supposed to work locally. You're not using Web technology; you're not going over the Internet. You don't put your personal data files on the Internet. We're talking about allowing you to combine -- on your desktop - personal information to which you have rights -- enterprise information to which you also have rights, and public information in a very rich view of the world.
Well, you said that for people to be able to handle data they need a lot of skill. Sometimes this is true but, for example, to use a calendar, you are creating data, right? When you create an address book, you are creating data. So these things have user interfaces which allow you to make things and never have a data problem, unless you are using an incompatible program. We are working at the moment to make this technology available to those who want it to do enterprise documents. We do not yet have Semantic Web technology available which is that easily usable by grandparents and children. That is true. That is something which we are developing at MIT. We have a team working exactly on that, making programs to allow people, normal people, to read and write and process their data.
When the Semantic Web achieves its full potential, will it start a second Internet boom?
Well, in a way it's already starting, but I don't think the Web has reached its full potential yet, and it's been around for almost sixteen years now. The Semantic Web is going to take off particularly when we see people using it for data processing, when we see people using it in more and more things, adding personal data, adding files to government data. But I think it will take many years, because so much will be done on top of it.
What is Net neutrality? What's your position on it?
Net neutrality is the fact that when I pay money to connect to the Internet and you pay money to connect to the Internet, then we can communicate, no matter who we are. What's very exciting at the moment is that video is happening on the Web. YouTube gets a lot of attention, because they are delivering video over the Web.
Now suppose I'm in Massachusetts and I want to find a Brazilian movie. I go to the Internet to find my favorite independent movie and filmmaker. But then the cable company in Massachusetts blocks the transmission and says, "No, we won't let you do this, because we sell movies. So, yes, we do the Internet but on the other hand we will stop you from seeing Internet movies. We want to be able to control which movies you buy."
We've seen cable companies trying to prevent using the Internet for Internet phones. I am concerned about this, and am working, with many other committed people, to keep it from happening. I think it's very important to keep an open Internet for whoever you are. This is called Net neutrality. It's very important to preserve Net neutrality for the future.
In 2003, several governments proposed an international administration of the Internet, mirroring the set-up of the likes of the United Nations or the European Union. Do you think that Washington will ever allow that to happen?
I think that slowly the Internet will get more bureaucracy. I think it's inevitable. It's important to allow people in different countries, developing countries, to develop their use of the Internet as quickly as possible. But the administration of something so big will never be controlled by a unique bureaucracy. I don't know what form that bureaucracy will take, since there is a lot of politics involved. But I would say it's very important that it should be government free and without censoring the people who use it.