Internet founders get the first “Nobel Prize for Engineering – the QE
The £1 million Queen Elizabeth Prize is intended as a global engineering equivalent to the Nobel Prize, designed to inspire a younger generation to go into engineering. It is supposed to be given to a team of up to three people, but was given to five people this time recognising the exceptional achievement of the Internet and the fact that it is so collaborative.
Engineering needs teamwork
All the winners praised other people who had helped, as well as each other. “This is not an activity that an individual or a small group did – they all should be recognised in their totality,” said Louis Pouzin, who created the datagram protocol which Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn developed into TCP/IP the fundamental protocol of the Internet. “Without a team, we are nothing.”
Like the Nobel Prize, the QE Prize can only be awarded to a living recipient, Pouzin pointed out in a joke: “Fortunately we are still alive.” He noted that “It is forty years since we did the things for which we are being honoured.”
Robert Kahn also attended the London ceremony in person, which was also graced by the Princess Royal, Princess Anne.
Kahn’s co-worker Vint Cerf joined via a Google hangout, commenting that this award coming from the UK, might give Britain a similar role to that Sweden has with the Nobel Prizes. Cerf praised the collaborative nature of the Internet, saying: “The geeks are winning!”
Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the world wide web, appeared elated and humble – on a much lower-cost video system than Cerf. He chose to point out the value of software, and international collaboration. “If you can code, you can look at a computer and if you can imagine something, that is what it can do,” he said, before saying that the Internet was built in a “spirit of international collaboration”. He concluded: ” Join us, and learn to code!”
Marc Andreessen, whose Mosaic browser brought the web to vast numbers of people and inspired all web browsers since then, acknowledged his partner Eric Bina, who built “the difficult parts” of the Mosaic browser, and said he would donate the prize money to charitable foundations for engineering students, in a prepared statement.
A global award, the QE Prize is sponsored by large organisations including Shell, Siemens and the British National Grid, but the actual prize winners are chosen by a panel of 16 judges, including leading academics.
“The people who are winning this prize are people who have changed the world,” said Steve Holliday, CEO of the National Grid, speaking on the awards webcast, adding that the prize winners should be role models to inspire a new generation of engineers, because his organisation alone needs thousands of them.
“We are putting a huge amount of money behind this, because it underlines the importance of engineering talent,” said Ed Daniels, vice president of Shell “How do we double the amount of energy we produce, and at the same time tackle some of the climate change issues?”
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