I am the son of mathematicians. My mother and father were part of the team that programmed the world's first commercial, stored-program computer, the Manchester University 'Mark I,' which was sold by Ferranti Ltd. in the early 1950s. The were full of excitement over the idea that, in principle, a person could program a computer to do most anything. They also knew, however, that computers were good at logical organizing and processing, but not random associations. A computer typically keeps information in rigid hierarchies and matrices, whereas the human mind has the special ability to link random bits of data. When I smell coffee, strong and stale, I may find myself again in a small room over a corner coffeehouse in Oxford. My brain makes a link, and instantly transports me there.
One day when I came home from high school, I found my father working on a speech for Basil de Ferranti. He was reading books on the brain, looking for clues about how to make a computer intuitive, able to complete connections as the brain did. We discussed the point; then my father went on to his speech and I went on to my homework. But the idea stayed with me that computers could become much more powerful if they could be programmed to link otherwise unconnected information.
This challenge stayed on my mind throughout my studies at Queen's College at Oxford University, where I graduated in 1976 with a degree in physics. It remained in the background when I built my own computer with an early microprocessor, an old television, and a soldering iron, as well as during the few years I spent as a software engineer with Plessey Telecommunications and with D.G. Nash Ltd.
Then, in 1980, 1 took a brief software consulting job with CERN the famous European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva. That's where I wrote Enquire, my first weblike program. I wrote it in my spare time and for my personal use, and for no loftier reason than to help me remember the connections among the various people, computers, and projects at the lab. Still, the larger vision had taken firm root in my consciousness.
Excerpted from Weaving The Web by Tim Berners-Lee. (c)Tim Berners-Lee 1999. Published by permission of the publisher, HarperCollins.
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