I hear ‘the Father of the Internet’

For those of us steeped in Internet matters, the wonderfully named Vint Cerf is a mystical figure. He is universally known as “the Father of the Internet” because – together with Bob Kahn – he published “A Protocol For Packet Network Internetworking” in 1974 which was the technical basis then and now for the Internet. Earlier this week. for the first time, I had the opportunity to hear Vint Cerf – now aged 68 and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google – speak at the second annual Nominet Policy Forum, a really excellent event  which I attended as a member of Nominet’s Policy Stakeholder Committee.

He began with some key dates: he started work on the Internet protocol in 1973; the Net was ‘turned on’ in 1983; the Net ‘became public’ in 1993; and today in Kansas City Google is building an edge to edge 1 gigabit per second network.

He ran through some major forthcoming Internet changes:

  • Address space runout IPv4->IPv6 – 6 June 2012
  • Generic Top Level Domain expansion
  • Domain Name System security DNSsec
  • Strong(er) authentication, integrity
  • New certificate regimes (ICANN working group called DANE)
  • Internet of Things such as Smart Grid
  • Internet enabled devices such as fridges and light bulbs

Expanding on the last point, he told us about the sensor systems he has for all the rooms in his house including his famous well-stocked wine cellar.

He went on to list further Internet trends:

  • All media carried in IP packets
  • Increased collaboration in all contexts
  • Increased information sharing
  • Online Digital Publication – all forms
  • Potential Bit Rot Hazard – affecting all media such as photos
  • Need for revision of IPR concepts – Net a giant copying machine
  • Google’s self-driving cars – all cars interconnected
  • Goggle Mars and Moon and Oceans and Sky

He moved on to look at what he called “grand challenges”:

  • Coping with Bit Rot
  • Deep linking indexing structured data
  • Semantic indexing
  • Real time language translation
  • Collaboration with a synthetic intellect – conversations with computer
  • Protection from harm for individuals and organisations

Finally he talked of something he dubbed the “Interplanetary Internet”:

  • Cannot use ICP/IP
  • Software running now on space station
  • Every future satellite will be connected
  • Next stop nearest star Alpha Centauri A

In the Q&A, he was asked about the Arab Spring and the role of the Net in these uprisings.He showed himself to be very realistic about the impact of the Net in these revolutions.  He insisted that the technology was secondary to brave protestors and noted sanguinely that the outcome of the uprisings in different countries had been very variable. He warned against legislative and policy efforts to prevent anonymity on the Net and reminded his audience that “the USA was born in anonymous rebellion”. He argued: “I want the Net be safe and trusted” – but warned that many of the solutions proposed are too blunt.

Vint Cerf is a charismatic character – soft-spoken and funny with immense insight. This is a man who can go to bed at night knowing that literally he has changed the world.


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