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Only a handful of engineering marvels have changed the world as dramatically and remarkably as the invention of the Internet and the World Wide Web. This Monday (March 18), five Internet pioneers -- Marc Andreessen, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn, and Louis Pouzin -- were named winners of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in London. The five winners will share the honor and the one million pound prize. The new U.K.-based award aims to be a "Nobel Prize" for engineering.
Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development, is a member of the selection committee, and we spoke with him about the Prize.
Q: What is it about the Internet and the World Wide Web that make them such remarkable engineering achievements?
A: The Internet and the web have become the foundation for the global information and communications revolution. They have transformed communication and created a new generation of industries. Nearly one in three people worldwide use these fundamental innovations. They have changed the way people interact with each other and conduct business. The Internet and the web have dramatically changed governance by improving transparency, accountability and communication between leaders and followers. The innovations are fundamentally expanding education opportunities through easy online access to educational content.
Q: Can you imagine a world without the Internet and the World Wide Web?
A: A world without the Internet and the web can be imagined but as history or fiction. It is the world of the 1950s in which communication was limited and information was one of the most expensive resources, especially in poor regions of the world. It is a world, fortunately, humanity will never return to because the impacts of the innovations are irreversible.
Q: What will be the next great engineering achievement(s)?
A: There are already several other unfolding and converging engineering achievements. Mobile communication, for example, is converging with the Internet and the web to deliver new benefits to humanity in areas such as education and health. The field of bioengineering will have significant impacts of human wellbeing in the coming years. Engineering advances in solar energy and new lighting technologies are transforming the way energy is generated and consumed. Many of the engineering achievements of the future are likely to focus on improving the health of human beings and of the environment.
Q: Why is this such a significant award??
A: This is the first major engineering prize that is backed by a sovereign state. The fact that the Queen of England has lent her name to a global engineering prize is a clear recognition of the urgency to raise awareness and inspire young people to consider engineering as source of solutions of the world’s most pressing challenges. The prize will do for engineering what the Nobel prize has historically done for the sciences. But unlike the Nobel prize which focuses on rewarding individuals, the Queen Elizabeth Prize honors teams of engineers. This is a true reflection of how discovery and invention is done today. For this reason the prize will also change perceptions by focusing collaboration as a force in discovery, invention and deployment. More importantly, the prize is concerned with benefits to humanity and highlights the significant role that engineers have played in defining civilization as we experience it.
Professor Calestous Juma
"The Internet and the web have become the foundation for the global information and communications revolution. They have transformed communication and created a new generation of industries. Nearly one in three people worldwide use these fundamental innovations. They have changed the way people interact with each other and conduct business."