Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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NBN a ‘brilliant foundation’, says Berners-Lee

Published 29 January 2013 13:56, Updated 31 January 2013 00:07

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NBN a ‘brilliant foundation’, says Berners-Lee

People able to use computers should try their hand at using them to innovate and solve problems, Tim Berners-Lee tells the launch of the CSIRO’s Digital Productivity and Services Flagshipin Sydney. Photo: Louise Kennerley

The inventor of the worldwide web, Tim Berners-Lee, says the national broadband network is a “brilliant foundation” for Australia but now work has to be done to make sure we make the most of it.

“The fact that you have a piece of fibre optic cable coming out of the wall is only a start,” he says. Berners-Lee is making his first visit to Australia in 15 years.

He spoke in Sydney at the launch of the CSIRO’s $40 million Digital Productivity and Services Flagship research initiative, which is focused on helping the services sector get the full value from the NBN.

The program aims to help improve Australia’s sagging productivity levels and to change from being a resource focused nation to a country that delivers more efficient and innovative “digitally enhanced” services.

The flagship will bring together researchers from different disciplines to address the problem of labour productivity. Flagship director Ian Oppermann says productivity has declined from 92 per cent relative to the US in 1998 to 84 per cent in 2010.

“This means Australia’s economic prospects beyond the current resources boom will deteriorate significantly if the decline in our productivity growth is not reversed,” he says.

Berners-Lee says the world is divided three into three groups: those who are geeks and can make computers do different things, those who can use computers, and those who don’t have access to computers.

However, he says the spread of technology through the use of mobile phones – even to the most underprivileged people – will help bring more equality.

He encourages anyone who can program a computer to use it to try new things: “If you can imagine it doing something really different, it is your duty to program the computer and fix it. We don’t have enough innovation.”

What people can do is only limited by their imagination, he says, “So go for it.”

Berners-Lee spoke about how he initially developed the web as a way to get documentation systems to “talk” to each other when his colleagues were using different devices and software.

Twenty years after he wrote the first proposals to develop his idea, a nod and a wink from his boss allowed him to test his program on a high-end computer, the NeXTcube, he had been hankering to buy.

“Nobody had a mandate to get me to design the web,” he says, but like the managers who give their people a set time every week to work on a pet project (in companies such as 3M and Google), Berners-Lee’s boss gave him some freedom to pursue his brilliant idea.

Berners-Lee is an advocate of a more open web and says much of the concern about privacy is misplaced.

He says people who are worried about their medical information and personal details being tracked should also think about the usefulness of having that information available if they are involved in an accident interstate.

There are measures that can be put in place to safeguard access to people’s social media activity before they reach the age of 16, he says.

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