Five engineers who created the Internet and the World Wide Web have together won the inaugural £1 million Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for their innovations, which have revolutionised the way we communicate and enabled the development of whole new industries. Today a third of the world’s population use the Internet and it is estimated to carry around 330 Petabytes of data per year, enough to transfer every character ever written in every book ever published 20 times over.

Engineers Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Louis Pouzin, Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen were today announced as the winners by Lord Browne of Madingley in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal at the Royal Academy of Engineering, which administers the prize. The winners will come to London in June for the formal presentation of the prize by Her Majesty The Queen.

The art of engineering lies in the efficient combination of technologies to deliver the most meaningful results for society. The international team of judges for the Prize consider that these five outstanding engineers epitomise this approach in the way that they designed and built the Internet and the Web.

Lord Broers, Chair of the Judging Panel for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, says: "Engineering is, by its very nature, a collaborative activity and the emergence of the Internet and the Web involved many teams of people all over the world. However, these five visionary engineers, never before honoured together as a group, led the key developments that shaped the Internet and Web as a coherent system and brought them into public use.

"We had originally planned to award this prize to a team of up to three people. It became apparent during our deliberations that we would have to exceed this limit for such an exceptional group of engineers."

The Internet built on, but significantly extended, the work done on the ARPAnet in the 1960s. Bob Kahn, Vint Cerf and Louis Pouzin made seminal contributions to the design and protocols that together make up the fundamental architecture at the heart of the Internet.

The Internet as a networking infrastructure connects billions of computers together globally. It was Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web – an information-sharing model that is built on top of the Internet – that allows us to use it in the way we do today. The Web vastly extended the use of the Internet beyond email and file transfer. Marc Andreessen wrote the Mosaic browser that made the Web accessible to everyone and triggered a huge number of applications unimagined by the early network pioneers.

The technical prowess of this group of engineers is equalled by their foresight and generosity in sharing their work freely and without restriction. This approach allowed the Internet and the Web to be adopted rapidly around the world and to grow organically thanks to open and universal standards.

Additionally, over the past 30 years, they have served as technical and political stewards of the Internet and the Web as it has grown from its experimental phase to hosting over 50 billion pages of information today.

Prime Minister, the Rt Hon David Cameron MP, said: "It makes me proud that the UK is host to this international prize - the impact of engineering is global and so is the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.  Engineering is about growth and progress for both the economy and society - bringing vast improvements in people's lives. The Internet and the Web are prime examples of this - engineering innovations that have enabled new industries, a huge number of jobs and enabled the world and its people to access education and knowledge as never before"

Support for the Internet and the Web during the nomination process was given by:

Bill Gates, Philanthropist and former CEO of Microsoft: “It would be difficult to point to any significant human endeavour that has not been touched profoundly through the invention and deployment of the Internet. We are living today in only the beginning of the transformations that will come through this enabling technology.

“My principal work since leaving Microsoft has been focused on issues of global health and development as well as on education. The Internet allows us to monitor progress in global health that would be impossible otherwise. It enables faster and more meaningful collaboration among researchers and scientists. It provides access to markets for individuals in the rural developing world. Increasingly, it offers to any student with a connection, access to the best instruction on earth, and entry to a world of information that would have been beyond anyone’s imagination just two generations ago. These technologies promote understanding and awareness. They are the enemy of repression and tyranny. And even though their extension to the poor world has far to go, they are critical to expanding well-being of the poor of our world.”

Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon.com: “By ‘flattening the world’ through ubiquitous communication and information flow, the Internet has brought us closer together, increased global understanding, amplified freedom of speech, and served as a strong tonic to totalitarian regimes. It has contributed significantly to economic empowerment in all parts of the world, through disintermediation, specialization, collaboration, and access to markets. One must look to items such as the printing press or widespread electrification to find technologies approaching the Internet's global societal impact.”

Al Gore, 45th Vice President of the United States and environmental activist: “Now, for the first time in human history, internet-connected citizens have at their fingertips the sum total of almost all available knowledge of the human experience. Moreover, information has empowered citizens across the globe to challenge and solve some of the world’s greatest issues. The development of the internet has, and will continue, to bring about transformational change for mankind.”

Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Head of the School of Electronic and Computer Science at the University of Southampton: “The World Wide Web has impacted every aspect of our lives – the way we communicate with each other, the way we work, the way we socialise, the way we shop, the way we find information – enabling us to do things that were impossible before the digital revolution.”

Quotes from the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering team:

Lord Browne, Chair of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation: "Engineering underpins economies, it gives commercial application to scientific discoveries, and it affects every aspect of our daily lives. By laying the foundations for the Internet and the World Wide Web, the five winners have done an extraordinary service for humanity. I am delighted that the Prize can honour the endeavour of these engineers, and make the story of their world-changing innovation known to the public."

Professor Brian Cox, University of Manchester and Judge for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering: “The Internet and the World Wide Web are prime examples of how engineering enables discovery, generates wealth and changes the world. We could not have imagined, even 20 years ago, having access to so much information. Knowledge is power, and these engineering innovations have empowered over 2 billion people worldwide – and this number is increasing every single day. That is what I call a global benefit to humankind”.

Anji Hunter, Director of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering: “Engineers are often the unsung heroes whose innovations have made phenomenal contributions to society. We need more skilled engineers to solve the world’s most pressing problems, which requires not only excellent education and inspirational role models, but more attention focused on highlighting the wonders of modern engineering, wherever they may be. This is what the Queen Elizabeth for Engineering is doing”.

Dr Dan Mote, President Elect of the US National Academy of Engineering and Judge for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering: “The Cold War direction of the world for security and commercial purposes was based on advantages gained by controlling access to information and innovation. In the 1990s, controlling access to information became no longer possible, except in increasingly limited circumstances, because of the Internet, the Web and search engines. The defensive Cold War direction collapsed.

By 2000, the 21st Century direction of the world emerged as gaining temporary advantage by accelerating the creation and use of information and innovation through global partnerships. This offensive 21st Century direction, and virtually everything that happens within it, is fundamentally the result of the Internet, the Web and search engines”.

View video of the Queen Elizabeth Prize announcement
View footage of the winners and their innovation

Notes for editors

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a £1million global engineering prize designed to reward and celebrate the individuals responsible for a ground-breaking innovation in engineering that has been of global benefit to humanity. Her Majesty the Queen will present the specially designed trophy at the award ceremony held at Buckingham Palace on 25 June 2013. For more information please visit:  http://www.qeprize.org

The QEPrize is run by an independent trust, called the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation. The Foundation is chaired by Lord Browne of Madingley, whose fellow trustees are Sir John Parker, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering; Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society; and Ms Mala Gaonkar, Managing Director of Lone Pine Capital. Professor Sir John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, is an adviser to the Foundation.

Founding donors to the Foundation include BAE Systems, BG Group, BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Jaguar Land Rover, National Grid, Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, Sony, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Steel Europe and Toshiba.

The winners of the prize were selected by an eminent panel of judges from across the world and worked from information in the nominations, comments from referees and any addition required to establish which nomination most fully met the prize criteria. The judging panel for the inaugural cycle comprises: Professor Frances Arnold, Lord Alec Broers (Chair), Professor Brian Cox, Madam Deng Nan, Professor Lynn Gladden, Diane Greene, Professor John Hennessy, Professor Dr Dr h.c. Reinhard Hüttl, Professor Calestous Juma, Professor Hiroshi Komiyama, Dr Dan Mote, Narayana Murthy, Dr Nathan Myhrvold, Professor Choon Fong Shih and Paul Westbury.