Internet Pioneer to Chart Web's Next Leap

Tim Berners-Lee, the non-Al Gore inventor of the World Wide Web, is teaming up with Web science expert Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton, Highfield, in the United Kingdom to create the Institute of Web Science, an organization dedicated to helping the United Kingdom extract maximum benefit from the arrival of Web 3.0. The project was kick started today with £30 million ($45 million) from the U.K. government.

Web 3.0, or the "semantic web" as Berners-Lee prefers to call it, is based on the idea that computers will not only be able to retrieve information from the World Wide Web but to understand it as well, or at least to put information in context, thus ensuring that the results of a search are most likely to be the ones you want.

Computer scientist Michael Foreman of the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom says this ability to put information in context has the potential to help scientists all over the world work together on a project. "At present," he says, "the amount of new data produced in the world is doubling roughly every 18 months—approximately the rate at which our computational power is increasing or even slightly faster." Individual scientists can often be pursuing a research project, he explains, without being aware of how it relates to a larger picture. Computers, he believes, might in the future be able to help pull the disparate strands together. Take research into modeling diseases and climate. "These are huge systems generating masses of data, and you have to understand these systems if you want to make your interventions more efficient," says Foreman. He sees the biggest short-term challenge of developing Web 3.0 as getting all the data in particular fields online in a similar format so that computers can mine the data and identify patterns.

The U.K. government has already been involved in projects to create linked data sets for several areas of British research, including plastic electronics, radio-frequency identification, regenerative medicine, and advanced composite materials. In addition, Shadbolt has collaborated with information engineer Mike Brady of the University of Oxford in a pilot study into the use of semantic computing to coordinate cancer treatment across different disciplines.