It is commonly held that the World Wide Web (WWW) was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 while working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. At around this time, Tim was a fellow in the computer department at CERN which at the time, was facing a huge problem; that of organizing the large quantity of data that CERN was generating from the various research projects. Other than the research data, CERN was at that time grappling with the reality that the upcoming Large Hardron Collider (LHC) was going to generate even more data which was estimated to be around 15 petabytes per annum. This was a lot of data and a way to organize and store this data had to be found. The computer science team at CERN was tasked with coming up with a way to organize this data.
The plan to have a more powerful particle accelerator came with its own challenges, biggest of which is a section of the scientific community feared that the LHC would be a black hole generator. The effect of black holes wasn’t fully understood and it was believed that the formation of a black hole would spell doom for the universe. Not to go into details, but in summary, it was believed that a black hole would lower the Higgs field energy, as a result, the elementary particle interaction with the Higgs field would lead to every object on earth losing its mass, this loss of mass according to Einsteins equations, would have led to the generation of intense radiation to wipe out the entire universe within a split second. So from the onset there was opposition to the construction of the LHC.
To CERN, there was a public relations war to be fought to prove to the skeptics that the LHC would not generate any black holes and spell doom for mankind, and if it did, they were unstable enough to be of any consequence to the universe. In this PR war, CERN got a renown scientist by the name of Prof. Steven Hawking on its side, Hawking said that even if a black hole were to be generated by the LHC, it would be unstable as it would lose most of its mass within the first few seconds after creation. This he said would happen through Hawking radiation which would cause the black hole to lose mass and cease to exist. The radiation of the black hole would be so strong that even light emitted from this black hole would have mass (yes, light can have mass), it is this release of mass through the radiation that would cause the black hole to cease to exist. The public and skeptical scientists would have none of that.
To some, in a bid to pacify the public, CERN decided to release the WWW architecture royalty free to the world as a tool to organize data in a computer network. At that time, CERN was the largest Internet node in Europe at a time when the Internet was mostly a research collaboration tool between the scientific community. CERN had the option to charge royalties on this new innovation to place hypertext on a computer network to fund its operations. Remember, CERN is one of the few bodies in the world that carries out pure science research, that is research that is simply aimed at us understanding the world we live in, this research cannot be directly monetized (like applied science research in a pharmaceutical lab for example). CERN therefore had every reason to charge royalties on the WWW but they decided it was better to release it to the public for free. This set the Internet on an exponential growth path to what it is today. The Internet would not be where it is today were it not for the WWW and its open and royalty free architecture. Did CERN do this to divert attention from the possible existential risks involved in their research?Whatever the case, this seems to have worked beyond anyones imagination.
Subsequent research results from the LHC have led to the proving of several fundamental theories that have greatly enhanced our understanding of the universe; the latest of these is the proof of the existence of the Higgs Boson. So far no black holes have been generated probably because the LHC isn’t running on full power in any of the tests it does. Should it run at full power, will we be too distracted by memes and cat videos on the WWW to notice the end of the world?