Five men behind the invention of the world wide web – Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Marc Andreessen, Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn and Louis Pouzin – have been awarded the £1m Queen Elizabeth prize.
The new prize recognises fundamentally important inventions in the field of engineering.
Engineers do not have a Nobel Prize, the highest award for achievement in science and the arts, so the Queen Elizabeth Prize was devised to ensure that engineers receive recognition for their game-changing work.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a Briton behind the invention of the internet, or World Wide Web, told the BBC “I am honoured to receive this accolade and humbled to share it with them.” During his live feed to the reporter, the internet connection failed in an ironic twist, but few would claim the wrong men had received the right award.
Lord Browne, ex-CEO of oil giant BP and an engineer, presented the award and said that today more than one third of people globally use the internet daily.
According to the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), the prize is necessary because there is a perception that attitudes to engineering are outdated.
“If people think of it at all, they tend to associate engineering with heavy industry and civil infrastructure,” the academy says on its website.
Sir Tim endorsed this view, saying: “I want the web to inspire and empower new generations of engineers – boys and, especially, girls – who will build, in turn, their own platforms, to improve our global society,” he said.
Co-inventor of the internet, American Vincent Cerf, told the BBC: “This is like waking up from an exciting dream and discovering “the geeks are winning!””.
Many organisations are working to transform the image of engineering and manufacturing from a hangover image of 1950s and 1960s, heavy industrialised Britain, to that of a clean, dynamic, problem-solving profession who are as comfortable operating a mouse as a lathe or forging press.
Stephen Tetlow MBE, Chief Executive of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “Today’s winners demonstrate engineering is not a profession about dirty work in dingy factories but about making things that improve the world in which we live.
“The Internet and world wide web have revolutionised the way we live today, and I’d like to congratulate Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Louis Pouzin, Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen.
“The success of these individuals shows the huge opportunities of a career in engineering. Their success will help inspire the problem-solving engineers of tomorrow.”