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Internet Pioneers Share 1.5 million Queen Elizabeth Engineering Prize

2013-7-21
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth presented her first ever Prize for Engineering, doing a ceremony in late June at Buckingham Palace. Some hope the new award will become the engineering equivalent of the Nobel Prize for scientific achievement.

The award includes a prize of one million British pounds, or about $1.5 million. It was presented to five men who invented the Internet and developed the ways one third of the world's population uses it.

Americans Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, and Frenchman Louis Pouzin invented the Internet's basic protocols.  They shared the award with Britain's Tim Berners-Lee, who created the Worldwide Web and American Marc Andreesen, who invented the first web browsing software.

The morning after they received the award, three of the winners spoke to hundreds of students from London schools.

Robert Kahn said the Internet is so much a part of people's lives, they don't really think about it.

"To me, it's all about the protocols for making things work together - to link together networks, computers, application programs - which a lot of people didn't think was a particularly good idea when we first started out on it. But it's turned out to be pretty impactful worldwide."

Many of the students carry devices much more powerful than the computers the men used to develop the Internet. They were joined by students in Swaziland who took part in the event by way of the Internet.

Vinton Cerf, partner with Robert Kahn in developing the TCP/IP protocol that makes Internet traffic possible. He is now a vice president of Google.

"The significance is not the winning. The significance is the existence of the prize at all, especially with Her Majesty's name attached to it. It elevates engineering to the same level of visibility and recognition as the Nobel Prizes."

Both men say their satisfaction comes from the wide use of the Internet and the fact that their basic technical architecture is still a main part of it.

But they noted the privacy and security issues the Internet has created, these issues raised concern most recently with news about U.S. government surveillance programs designed to fight terrorism.

 (Cerf:) "We are still in the middle of this rapid evolution of the Internet and its applications. And we are going to have to learn, as a society, which things are acceptable and which things are not, what we should prohibit, and what things we should punish people for doing."

(Kahn:) "Those are not tensions that are just easily resolved - check the box and proceed this way or that way. They require constant attention, especially in democratic societies."

Robert Kahn says technologies have always had "plusses and minuses," he says the Internet is no different. But he also says that even after 40 years, there is no foreseeable end to the demand for the technology that he and his co-winners developed.

And that's the Technology Report from VOA Learning English.