Vinton Cerf – The past, present and future of the Internet

Last night I had the privilege to see Dr. Vinton Cerf* interviewed as part of the California Academy of Sciences “Conversations on Science” series. If you’re unaware of who Dr. Vinton Cerf is, let me put it succinctly: he’s widely known as a “Father of the Internet”. Without getting too technical, he and a couple of others, invented the language that made it possible for computers to talk to each other – known as TCP/IP. And while inventing it was important, he and his group also made released it for anyone to use. That was critical for wide adoption and becoming the de facto standard. He is why we are so technologically advanced today, and why the United States of America started and is succeeding in the Digital Revolution.

Are you sensing how awe-struck and reverential I am towards this human? Good, because I am even more so now after seeing him speak.

The talk only lasted about an hour, and so there wasn’t a lot of time to delve deeply into each topic. I found myself wishing I could get some one-on-one time with Dr. Cerf, and let a conversation with no boundaries ensue. Especially when he mentioned how much into wine he is…

It was fascinating to hear him talk about the early days, where the genesis of what would become the Internet was being developed. It reminded me how critical it is to have a government that is funding research on such a grand scale with various universities and institutions in a cooperative manner. The Internet wasn’t something that a team of 10-12 people huddled in a room came up with. One of the points Dr. Cerf made was how massive the cooperation had to be, and also how long it took for the Internet to “come alive”. To give you an idea: the beginnings were conceived and developed starting in 1973, and didn’t really go live until 1983-ish. And then the World Wide Web** wasn’t invented until almost 1993.

Dr. Cerf also made some good points about our lives today, and how the technology benefits and/or detracts from them. He is an optimist, and said while we have a ways to go with ensuring not only authentication and privacy, but also backups to technologies, and that our lives are indeed better today. The largest problem he thinks is coming is how we manage the massive scale of devices that we will have. For instance, it’s not that far fetched to think we would have 100 devices in our homes that are interconnected in some way. How does one manage all of those, especially after a move? He talked about his home, and how he has temperature sensors throughout the house and in his wine cellar. This spurred his thoughts on how, after a time of data gathering, he could start to see how one could determine if a room was occupied based on the temperature. He then elaborated on that and said how this information would be tremendously beneficial to emergency crews in the case of a fire or burglary – as much as it would be bad if such information were in the wrong hands. Great points.

Dr. Cerf also had some inspiring words for the future. He sees biological sciences and biotech as the “next big thing”. He mentioned a project that Google is doing where they have a contact lens that can detect your blood glucose levels. This was something that is an alternative to a diabetic having to prick their finger 4-5 times a day. You could see the excitement in Dr. Cerf about the future, and it was contagious. It made me wonder what he left out from mentioning – as his current position is Chief Internet Evangelist at Google.

All in all, the evening was great. Humanity has truly benefited from Dr. Cerf, and it sounds like we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

*Dr. Cerf’s Google Profile Page

**The World Wide Web and the Internet are not one in the same. WWW is a tool that utilizes the Internet to work. A distinction that is lost on younger generations today.

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