‘After negotiating a maze of passageways Berners-Lee delivers me at the door of Noam Chomsky’


MIT in Second Life

From The Guardian:

Before my tour of MIT ends I am given a taste of what this astonishing abundance of riches means in practice. In the space of half an hour I enjoy the company – in the flesh and spacially – of three of the towering figures of the modern age.

I begin by dragging Tim Berners-Lee away from his computer screen to talk to me about how he ended up here. The Briton who invented the world wide web is part of the global brain drain to MIT. He created the web by linking hypertext with the internet in 1989 while he was at Cern in Geneva, but then felt he had no option but to cross the Atlantic. “There were a couple of reasons I had to come – one was because the web spread much faster in America than it did in Europe and the other was because there was no MIT over there.”

What is it about MIT that Europe could not offer him?

“It’s not just another university, it has this pre-eminent reputation and that in turn sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy: as soon as it becomes seen as the cool place to go for technology, then people will head there as I did. Even though I spend my time with my head buried in the details of web technology, or travelling the world, the nice thing is that when I do walk the corridors I bump into people who are working in other fields that are fascinating, and that keeps me intellectually alive.”

Berners-Lee offers to take me to my next appointment, and in so doing makes his point about MIT’s self-fulfilling prophecy even more eloquently. We walk along the squiggly corridors of MIT’s Stata Centre, which was designed by Frank Gehry. It is a classic Gehry structure, formed from undulating polished steel and tumbling blocks of brushed aluminium that reminds Berners-Lee, he tells me, of the higgledy-piggledy Italian village one of his relatives grew up in. After negotiating a maze of passageways Berners-Lee delivers me at the door of Noam Chomsky. It sums up this wild place: the inventor of the web leads me through the work of a titan of modern architecture to one of the world’s foremost linguists and anti-war activists.

“The MIT factor: celebrating 150 years of maverick genius”, Ed Pilkington, The Guardian