Editor's Note: Mark Fischetti wrote the following article in 2000, shortly after completing the co-authored book, Weaving the Web, with Tim Berners-Lee.
It is a cool morning in April 1999, and 1,500 computer scientists, university faculty, and industry CEOs are streaming into a vast fieldhouse at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, outside Boston. They grab coffee and seat themselves for a keynote speech that will cap the 35th anniversary celebration of M.I.T.'s Laboratory for Computer Science, the fount of so many creations that have driven the computer revolution.
From a makeshift stage, lab director Michael Dertouzos calls out, "We've had a great party! Now the man you've been waiting for: Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web." The crowd hushes and arches forward, for they know the name but not the man. Out from the shadows strides a sprightly 43-year-old Briton, smiling beneath a short crop of blond hair.
The large audience is excited, anticipating a breathless account of how the Web came to be. But they don't get it. Berners-Lee steps to the podium and delivers a sobering warning: The Web is not done. In fact, he says in measured words, it could self-destruct if the immense forces now buffeting it are not coordinated. Patents could prevent users from moving freely around the Web, killing the universal access to information the world now enjoys. Proprietary products could fragment the one big Web into smaller, rival webs, making it impossible to link information globally.
Furthermore, the crusader says, now in inspiring tones, he has a much grander vision. If advanced properly, the Web could powerfully bind people across geographic, ethnic, economic and political bounds, leading to a society in which cooperation, rather than conflict, is the agent of change. But it will require much more work.
The crowd is a bit bewildered. They wanted to revel in a finished Web. But its parent is telling them the Web is only in adolescence, and an unruly one at that. It needs concerted guidance if it is to reach its full potential.
Berners-Lee reverently walks to the steps at the left side of the stage. Suddenly, Dertouzos bounds up the stairs and puts a body-block on him, effective since Dertouzos is a robust 6-foot-4 and Berners-Lee a trim 5-foot-10. Berners-Lee stands paralyzed in disbelief. Bob Metcalfe, himself a computing pioneer and founder of 3Com Corp., appears at a microphone at stage right. He announces that 3Com has committed $2 million to fund the 3Com Founder's Chair, the first chair at M.I.T. for a researcher rather than a professor. Berners-Lee will be the first to hold it.
Several 3Com board members carry forward a black mahogany chair and place it front and center before the crowd. Berners-Lee, with a blush of embarrassment, walks toward the chair. He circles it slowly, silently, peering at it like a curious mime inspecting an odd, fallen object. He gingerly sits down. Still silent, Berners-Lee looks up at the audience with wide-open eyes, throws his arms wide, and loudly proclaims, "It's a chair!" The place erupts with glee. In two minutes Berners-Lee has leapt from the deadly serious to the deadpan. His mischievous antic is meant to convey, in his wry way, that even when honored one shouldn't take oneself too seriously.
Berners-Lee leaves the stage happy and talkative. He shakes hands with well-wishers. Yet he has an anxious eye toward the exit. He wants to get back to the World Wide Web Consortium at the lab, a group of 55 staffers who coordinate 345 member companies and government bodies from around the world, ranging from Microsoft to the Department of Defense. It is there, as director, that Berners-Lee brings his personal vision to bear on recommended technical standards to improve the Web. Important issues are being resolved, and today there is contention. Throughout the Web's wild growth, Berners-Lee has been the one constant, the one anchor in a storm of activity.
Tim Berners-Lee has remained unknown to the public because he has never gotten rich or famous from the Web. He likes money just fine, but is driven by his larger dream. Every dot.com millionaire, every person who's found a nugget of information searching the Web, owes a debt to Berners-Lee, but he's not looking to collect or be lionized. "I'm happy to let others play the role of royalty," the ego-free inventor says. "Just as long as they don't try to control the Web."
Berners-Lee is the son of two computing pioneers who were part of a Manchester University team that developed the first commercial electronic computer, sold by Ferranti Ltd. At their London dinner table, father and mother showed the joy of solving mathematical problems to young Tim. He built his own mock computer out of cardboard boxes. When coming home from high school one day, he found his father writing a speech on how computers, eventually, might make intuitive connections the way the human brain does. The challenge stayed rooted in Berners-Lee's own brain.
After obtaining a physics degree, and several stints as a software engineer, in 1984 Berners-Lee took a programming job at CERN, the mammoth high-energy physics lab in Geneva that straddles the Franco-Swiss border. It was difficult for him to keep track of CERN's 5,000 scientists from far-flung countries, their interrelated projects, and their incompatible computers. So in his spare time he wrote experimental programs to help him remember the connections. He learned about hypertext, a programming scheme that allows readers to jump between documents on a computer. He also learned about the Internet, a vast matrix of telephone and networking wires that linked computers. It had become popular among academics and researchers for sending e-mail, but was difficult for non-computer experts to use.
By 1990 Berners-Lee had a fully formed vision: "Suppose all the information stored on computers everywhere were linked," he thought. "All the bits of information in every computer at CERN, and on the planet, would be available to me and to anyone else. There would be a single, global information space," a natural resource like air and water. The task left to him was to marry hypertext and the Internet.
That task took only three months to realize. By Christmas 1990, Berners-Lee, with help from colleague Robert Cailliau and intern Nicola Pellow, had a rough version of a Web page, a Web server (a computer program that holds Web pages), and a Web browser (a program to find and view pages). He devised three protocols for creating, addressing, and sending Web pages. Together, they provided a simple, visual way to link computer documents of any format using hypertext over the Internet.
Berners-Lee and Cailliau spent the next three years parsing their time between evangelizing the newborn Web and improving the actual software for it. Berners-Lee asked CERN to release his source-code—all the original software—so that anyone could create their own Web pages and browsers, and use the Web, without having to obtain rights or pay fees. He didn't want the Web to be his, but everyone's. And it was the only way enthusiasts the world over could help develop the Web in grassroots fashion. Physics researchers, hypertext programmers, and Internet aficionados dove in.
As the commercial world got involved Berners-Lee could no longer oversee the Web as a personal project. He left CERN and joined M.I.T.'s Laboratory for Computer Science to start the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which would bring together company, university and government developers so that all their Web creations would be compatible. The humanist wanted to assure that the Web would remain a public medium for everyone from rabbis to rappers, that no one company would commandeer it for proprietary purposes. Today the Web is revolutionizing not just commerce, but the definition of society itself. People with common hobbies, illnesses, professions, or political bents can instantly form communities with no regard to physical boundaries, wealth, education, or time zones. One person's simple invention really can change the world.
I was to first meet Berners-Lee one morning late in 1997 at the consortium in Cambridge to discuss writing a book about the creation and future of the Web. I'm waiting in an interior hallway that is quiet as a library. Cramped offices along the wall are cluttered with computers glowing under dim ceiling lights, piles of software journals, electronic gadgets and bicycle parts. In each bungalow two or three staffers sit back-to-back, speaking softly as they write code. There's nothing really glamorous here, which is part of the point. The Web is for everyman, and is developed on garden-variety computers. The brilliance lies in creating simplicity. The Web consists of a few basic building blocks, a few fundamental philosophies, and Berners-Lee's insistence that improvements be usable with ease.
The calm is broken when Berners-Lee bursts into the hall from the stairwell. He sports a worn green polo shirt, khaki pants and a wireless telephone headset. He's talking energetically, waving his hands, finishing a conversation he started while riding his bike to work, a 12-mile jaunt along a paved-over train track. He laughs at a comment from the other end as I follow him into his office.
The office is utilitarian, with a standard-issue desk and a table with two huge monitors on it, side by side. Numerous windows are open on the screens: one with his calendar; one with the W3C Web site; one streaming out lines of text being typed in an online chat between staff members scattered around the U.S. and Europe. There are no pictures of the inventor's wife or children—on purpose, so visiting journalists can't write comments about them.
"Ah yes, the book," he says in his clipped English accent. He races between disparate thoughts at break-neck speed. All the while, his mind's eye keeps a wayward glance at the screens, wondering, "Has this already been described? Is there information out there about it?" With every point he swivels in his chair toward the screens and calls out Web addresses that I should examine for background. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. "There is absolutely nothing linear about his thoughts," I fret. "And a book must be linear from the first word to the last."
We nonetheless persist. Nine months into the work we meet at his home office to plot how the many Web programs could evolve to fulfill his vision, an exercise he has never completed. I arrive at his house expecting something unusual and find it in the driveway—a 13-year-old Volkswagen Rabbit with a green canoe on top. Otherwise, the house is typical, middle-class suburban Boston. Berners-Lee appears in the doorway in his faded green polo shirt, this time with khaki shorts. We walk upstairs to a narrow, second-floor porch perched over the street. Heat rises from a half-dozen computers strewn around the room, buried in documents, books, and clutter.
At one end, two large screens that mirror those at W3C sit on an old door that serves as an impromptu table, held up by file cabinets and an occasional table leg. "My brother-in-law is a builder and he says that's probably not safe," Berners-Lee notes, but he hasn't bothered to change it in the four years he's lived in the States. A high-speed connection to the W3C Web servers remains on 24 hours a day. With an extended arm he sweeps away the rubble alongside the screens.
He soon grows frustrated trying to explain his ideas in words. He admits he can no longer write straight text; he writes in hypertext, highlighting key words and making links to Web pages about them. That way he doesn't get bogged down in details and can keep bouncing ahead. Some observers have accused him of having Attention Deficit Disorder, or simply of being a geek, but he's neither. His mind just works this way.
Exasperated, Berners-Lee finally says, "I have to draw this out." He looks hurriedly around the room for a sheet of paper large enough. His eyes sparkle when he sees a giant map of the world taped to the house wall. He pulls it down, turns it over, and begins scribbling circles and filling them with technical acronyms. His speech quickens. With each mental leap he draws an arrow connecting different circles. He feeds me Web addresses. Two hours later every inch of the poster, three feet on a side, is covered in scrawls.
Berners-Lee is pleased. He pulls out his digital camera, takes a picture of the mess, plugs the camera into his computer, and stores the image there. He acknowledges a paranoia about losing any random note or half-formed thought. He is forever taking digital pictures of people for his electronic scrapbook. But then he adds, "If we were publishing this book on the Web, we could just show the diagram, put in hypertext links that explain the circles, and be done." If he is ever impatient, it is with people who resist new ways of conveying information.
During my drive home it strikes me that Berners-Lee had just mapped out a grand evolution of the Web. The canvas of intellectual spaghetti, now folded in the briefcase beside me, was a tour de force. How could he make such large leaps in thinking while simultaneously burrowing into technical minutia?
One answer comes from Robert Cailliau, the compatriot who helped create the Web. "Tim has a special brain with lots of cross-links," Cailliau says. "So if you can't find something on the Web, it's because the Web is like Tim's mind!"
Peggie Rimmer, Berners-Lee's one-time boss at CERN, says, "When Tim really got carried away he would start one sentence and finish it with another sentence he hadn't quite started. This would leave a room full of Italians, Greeks and Swedes sort of stunned. We would hold up pieces of paper that read 'Slow Down.' Tim really created the Web as a way for him to sort out his own thinking. The trick was that he no longer needed to remember anything in particular, just that it was in that web somewhere, and with the right tools he could dive back in and find it."
Armed with this great discovery, I later press Berners-Lee during a phone call to agree that the way the Web works is unique to the way he thinks. With patience he says, "Perhaps. But isn't that the way we all think? We all follow many unconscious paths at once. Maybe that's why the Web has become so popular. Finally, there is a computer network that operates the way our brains do."
By the summer of 1999 the book is finished. It will hit the stores in September. In the past few months numerous W3C working groups, made up of representatives from member organizations, have been busily drafting recommended extensions of Web software. Because W3C members pay up to $50,000 annually to be part of the proceedings, the activity is closed to outsiders. Yet Berners-Lee also wants to convey that the consortium is not some hidden hand that directs the Web, but a collaboration of a diverse community. The staff decides to let me observe one of its technical review meetings.
The meeting is to be held in a small, converted classroom at W3C. It is lined with whiteboards and markers—the modern equivalent of blackboards and chalk. Seven staff members settle around a large, white table at the center. Several are in their twenties, the rest thirties and forties. Clockwise, there's Berners-Lee; Janet Daly, head of public relations; Joseph Reagle, an analyst with blond-streaked black hair and goatee; Marja-Riitta Koivunen, a visiting engineer from the Helsinki Telephone Corp.; Eric Prud'hommeaux, a programmer with a string pony-tail; Ralph Swick, a black-bearded engineer who today will also act as scribe; and Daniel LaLiberte, a French-Canadian computer architect in jeans.
The staffers plug their laptops into a little black box on the table. It connects to a large monitor at one corner. In the middle is an ultra-modern speakerphone that will pick up everyone's voices and deliver those of people joining from offsite. And offsite they are: One by one they dial in from Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; the INRIA lab in Grenoble, France, that is W3C's European host; and W3C's base at Keio University in Japan. It's 9:00 a.m. here, 3:00 p.m. in Grenoble, and 10:00 p.m. the night before at Keio.
Reagle will run this meeting, since it relates to his area. Main points are already listed on the Web, and they appear on the big screen, which Swick is controlling via his keyboard. Berners-Lee and the others also have a small window open on their laptops showing IRC (Internet Relay Chat) a private, typed chat line. As it often does, W3C has souped up this tool for its own purposes, in part to test how far it can push current technology. Each time a participant speaks, Swick types their name and summarizes their comment, which appears in the IRC window of staffers in Cambridge and abroad who have dialed into it over the Internet. That way, they can monitor what's happening, and type in their two cents. Many staffers keep various IRC channels open all day in their offices, to track proceedings taking place worldwide.
"Joseph, it's Danny," a voice cracks in over the speakerphone. "Could you explain the changes in the semantics document?" After several minutes of fast-paced technical discussions the extant group gets stuck. Berners-Lee, who has been quiet, rallies the troops. "We have to work through this rat hole," he encourages. He streaks through a dizzying array of technical points, gesturing excitedly, his eyes glistening and his tone exuberant. Swick can't keep up and simply stops typing. The others, experts themselves, listen in rapt silence to the master. The speakerphone is quiet too. After a contemplative pause, Swick says, "That’s exactly it, isn't it?" Berners-Lee answers with a spirited, "Voila!"
The discussion moves on. One staffer from Europe suggests an unusual technical idea. Berners-Lee stiffens, leans toward the speakerphone, and in a stern voice says, "But that is a philosophical difference." He parses his lips, "Shkkkkkkkk!," emitting a harsh noise like that of a loud, scrambled TV picture. The message: The Web's underpinnings are not up for discussion.
The group takes up a new topic. Berners-Lee, again inspired by the technical, stalks around the room looking for markers. He starts scribbling circles and arrows on the whiteboard. Swick, alarmed, hauls out a pressure-sensitive tablet and begins trying to re-create Berners-Lee's scrawls so they will appear on the extant members' screens. "Tim's drawing on the whiteboard," Reagle announces to the speakerphone participants, with a hint of admonition. "Oh, sorry," Berners-Lee says, realizing they can't see what he's doing.
But he continues, first in black, then red. "You know I can't do color," Swick appeals. "Sorry," Berners-Lee replies without stopping. LaLiberte says, "Hey, Janet, why don't you take a picture of it?" She points her laptop, which has a digital-camera lens embedded in its frame, at the whiteboard and presses a key. It beeps. She enters an address for the image, then sends it to the Web site for the others to see.
And so the meeting goes. The staffers question and argue collegially. Berners-Lee, quiet for stretches, lights into animated passions when technical points need clearing up, and corrects when fundamentals are in danger of being violated. Otherwise, he redirects the disciples when needed with his throaty wheezes and whistles. After two hours the powwow is over. The staffers unplug their laptops and trickle out. Reagle will slightly redirect the working group. Berners-Lee and I head back to his office.
Janet Daly soon appears outside his door and announces that the popular National Public Radio program "Fresh Air" has just come on, which today features a half-hour conversation with Berners-Lee. But he doesn't tune in because we're talking, and that would be a rude self-indulgence.
For an individual who has been ranked alongside Johann Gutenberg and Thomas Edison, Berners-Lee remains remarkably humble. Some of that is cultural, says CERN's Peggie Rimmer, herself from England. "It's a very British sort of attitude. Tim doesn't see himself as a big, fanciful chap. He finds it embarrassing to boast." He also shows respect for everyone. "There's nobody too little or too big to merit a different approach," Rimmer says.
Berners-Lee's even-handedness may arise from a compelling ability to keep life in perspective. He works at home two half-days a week in part to be closer to his family. He's careful to protect his privacy. He won't talk to journalists about his personal life. All he will say is, "Work is work. Home is home."
Rimmer, as much a friend as a former superior, understands his motivation. "Tim feels strongly that every member of his family should get their due attention. How can his kids grow up to become themselves, if the focus is always on Tim, 'the guy who invented the Web?' He wants to enjoy time with them in social environments that are as ordinary as they can be."
This extends to his wife as well. They met in an amateur drama society in Geneva. She now runs her own consulting company and coordinates plays. Berners-Lee doesn't act in her productions, because the spotlight might turn to him. "It's much more helpful if I babysit," he says.
Cailliau says Berners-Lee wants everyone around him to be happy. "When he moved to Switzerland he built cardboard boxes to keep the cat warm. But I wonder how long he can keep this up. It causes stress. He has more and more people looking to him for decisions. Sometimes a director has to wield the knife."
Ironically, the few industry people who are critical of W3C claim that Berners-Lee is a king who holds an iron hand over his puppet regime. But his subjects disagree. At lunch one day at W3C, sans Berners-Lee, Charles McCathie-Neville, a tall, red-bearded Aussie; Hugo Haas, a slight Frenchman; and Hidetaka Ohto, a visiting researcher from Panasonic in Japan, all say there's no feeling that their director uses his authority arbitrarily. "Most times he doesn't use it at all," McCathie-Neville says. "Even when there is a strong disagreement, he makes sure every view has been considered, like a good CEO."
"The question is," Berners-Lee acknowledges that afternoon, "could I by whim pervert the course of justice? No, because there would be an outcry. I have to put my ideas into the process like anyone else. I write hypertext pages on our site called 'design issues' where I express my thoughts. If one succeeds, fine, otherwise members will tell me it's stupid."
Most often, the community embraces his ideas. LaLiberte, the French-Canadian, says, "There is an aura about him, because what he writes about technical matters is potent. He can dig down to a level most others can't reach."
Perhaps Berners-Lee plays more of a King Arthur role, sitting at the Round Table with the best technicians who also hold the right social ideals. An appropriate analogy? "Hmm," he ponders. "The Knights were all male, weren't they?" His comic leap is his way of saying all this conjecture is a bit silly.
When the book comes out in September, Berners-Lee is back to his evangelizing role. Commercial forces are stronger than ever, and a two-week book publicity tour offers an opportunity to remind everyone that the principles of the Web must be upheld, or it will cease to exist.
The tour will make him more of a public figure, however, a dubious honor. By the first week the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and others have written articles. Mostly, the media is fascinated that Berners-Lee has not become rich from his creation. They seize on the same quote from the book that conveys his testy attitude about a world obsessed with money: "What is maddening," Berners-Lee writes, "is the terrible notion that a person's value depends on how important and financially successful they are, and that that is measured in the form of money. This suggests disrespect for the researchers across the globe developing ideas for the next leaps in science and technology. To use net worth as a criterion by which to judge people is to set our children's sights on cash rather than on things that will actually make them happy."
Children are never far from his mind. One of the tour stops is a summit meeting of 75 CEOs at Harvard Business School. There are a few idle minutes before the speakers' panel is to begin, so Berners-Lee dutifully engages in small talk with business leaders. But he lights up when he and sociotechnology author Sherry Turkle stumble onto the popular Harry Potter book series for children. The two parents launch into a lively discussion of how their kids are interpreting the books. The moderator, growing impatient, interrupts to say the panel really must begin. Berners-Lee would happily have continued, even if it ate into his own presentation time. "Important" business issues didn't strike him as more important than novel ways to spark childrens' imaginations. But further delay would be disrespectful of the other panelists, so he acquiesces.
In level tones, Berners-Lee tells the high-powered business audience that it is in their interest to help make sure a rival Web never arises, because then the world's information will no longer exist in one place. Also, all people should have access to the Web, or we will miss brilliant ideas (and potential markets). And no company or government should control information on the Web in any way, because the true potential for improving society stems from people's freedom to interact.
Achieving his vision is what drives Berners-Lee. "I designed the Web for a social effect—to help people work together," he writes in Weaving the Web. "The ultimate goal is to support and improve our Web-like existence in the world. We clump into families, associations and companies, and connect between such groups. If we can produce a structure in the Web that allows us to work together harmoniously, then I can imagine a metamorphosis of society." Further advances would create a Web where the intuition of people and the reasoning of machines coexist in a powerful mixture. People could engage in a new kind of computer-mediated creativity, which might give rise to the global brain that has been the ultimate grail of computing since it began. Society could advance "with cooperation rather than conflict" as its basic mechanism.
The vision implies that Berners-Lee is as much a social architect as a software architect. "I haven't thought too much about creating a specific kind of society," he says, "but we all should be social architects." W3C itself is one testing ground. "The consortium is halfway between corporate America and the Internet culture," he says. "It's a halfway house between total control and total anarchy, which is a reasonable definition of a democratic society."
Since coming to the States, Berners-Lee has gotten involved with Unitarian Universalism, not a church but a convening of people of all faiths who discuss, argue, but always try to be accepting of differences in opinion. Berners-Lee says Unitarian Universalism, CERN, the consortium, and the Web itself share a common theology: "When people work together based on mutual respect toward some greater vision, they find a great freedom. This produces a weird and wonderful machine, which needs care to maintain, but takes advantage of the ingenuity, inspiration and intuition of individuals in a special way. That, from the start, has been my goal for the World Wide Web."
With the book in hand, Berners-Lee and I agree to celebrate. He chooses not some big party, but an afternoon paddle in his canoe. "How about Walden Pond?" he suggests, the retreat where Henry David Thoreau escaped the modernity of 1840s society to reconnect with nature. It seems an appropriate place.
The inventor arrives in a gray Volvo stationwagen, with his 16-foot canoe on top. He puts the boat in the water, and places a waterproof box between the cane seats, which holds his digital camera, tape recorder, note pad, and two bottles of Samuel Adams Summer Ale. He takes the stern. We paddle around the lake, marveling at the water clarity and looking for Thoreau's one-time shack on the banks. He is at ease. His minimalist Web-design philosophy is the same as his minimalist life philosophy: Keep it simple. Indeed, we are not sailing a yacht on Boston Harbor.
We stop along a shaded shore, and sit in the sand for a toast. He takes a picture of us, of the water. Back at W3C, industry titans are calling, yet he's taken time out to be on this pond. He recalls peaceful evenings on the porch of his little slab house skirting the tiny French village of Cessy, basking in the serenity of the shining Lake Geneva below and the quilted pasturelands above. I wonder if he enjoys his life as much now, commuting to citified Cambridge, resisting the press's constant demands for his time, preventing thunderous commercial forces from controlling his medium for the masses, tirelessly trumpeting the Web's greater potential while hashing out the complexities of emerging code.
During his days around Geneva he played the parts of oddball characters in amateur plays, from Marcello, the wacky sidekick in The Music Man, to a crude, buxom woman in a British pantomime of Peter Pan whom audiences would hiss and boo. "It was pretty therapeutic" Berners-Lee says, tugging on his standard polo shirt, but he doesn't act any more. He used to escape to an ancient, rudimentary stone house he purchased along an open stretch of remote hillside in Wales. His parents go there now.
Berners-Lee won't say life was easier then, just different. To relieve some pressures he has moved certain W3C management responsibilities to others. And now that he has the 3Com chair, he says "in principle I can do more research than I have been. Yesterday I spent two hours reading a paper about higher-order mathematical logic, necessary for the Web to advance to the next level, so I can't complain."
Whether or not Berners-Lee is happy with cosmopolitan life is almost immaterial. He manages the Web as a public trust. He has created a situation where he can be with his family despite being who he is. As long as he's protecting and advancing the Web, he's content. There, perhaps, lies the great lesson of his life. "Understand what your passion is and follow it with determination," he says, happily sitting barefoot on the damp, sandy shore of Walden Pond, while his creation storms the globe. "Be optimistic and open-minded, while keeping one eye wide open toward making a positive impact. The rest will take care of itself."
As the sun dips toward the horizon, we become aware that it is getting toward dinnertime. Now Berners-Lee moves us along; he should get home to his kids. Their time with him comes first. The shadows of tall pines stretch across the water as we paddle back to the cars. In some way the Web is like another child. It is certainly not as important to him as his flesh and blood, but he created it, introduced it to the world and now watches it take on its own identity. He wants to guide it to the kind of maturity he originally had envisioned, and this child has a chance to improve society for millions of people. What parent wouldn't be happy?