INTERVIEW: Google vice president Vinton Cerf
Considered one of the “fathers of the internet”, Cerf talks to Metro about our online behavior, internet governance and the biggest technological threats facing users worldwide.
Always very well dressed with his suit and tie – which seems odd since he works at Google, known for their laidback corporate culture – Vinton Cerf, vice-president of the search engine giant, works to promote the continued expansion of the internet, open and readily available access, especially in parts of the world that do not have access or for whom the cost is still a barrier.
A fan of history, biographies, science fiction and the odd mystery novel, Cerf told Metro that we should observe even more caution on the world wide web, given the increasing likeliness of hacking. On the other side, we can expect more and more useful innovations pretty soon, like the facilities of “artificial intelligence”.
You’re a very important name in the tech universe and you continue working on it. How is your job today?
Google is exploring many different ways to provide access to the Internet through mobile and fixed radio, optical fiber, digital satellite, high altitude balloons, drones, repurposing of TV White Space and WiFi among many others. I really like it since I am part of Google’s Research program and, as such, I am looking for new ways to use and implement the Internet.I work with many other organizations to explore new computing and communication technologies.
But you have other occupations...
Yes! Google also allows me to accept outside activity with the academic and research community. I served a two- year term as President of the Association for Computing Machinery, as Chairman of the Board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and as a member of the U.S. National Science Board that oversees the U.S. National Science Foundation.
And how do you feel being considered a “father of the internet”?
I am only one of the fathers of the Internet. My partner, Robert E. Kahn, started this research project at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1972. He involved me in the program in the spring of 1973. Many, many others have contribute to the evolution and development of the Internet. I consider myself fortunate to have been partof the effort from its earliest stages.
Describe how it was like to create it? – In the early stages we were focusing on the use of packet switching and computer communication for military command and control and to create a collaborative researchenvironment where sharing of resources was the norm. As the Internet evolved, the World Wide Web emerged about the end of 1991, nearly 20 years after the first papers describing the Internet were published.
The WWW was one of the fastest growing applications, in part thanks to the protocols and the standards associated with the creation of web pages. Please note that the WWW is NOT the Internet and vice versa. The WWW rides on top of the Internet. There are applications beyond the World Wide Web although they are often triggered by web-based actions. Streaming video is a good example: often initiated by a web interaction, the stream comes via protocols in addition to the WWW’s http.
Why has the Internet grown so rapidly?
The basic protocols were given away without restrictions in 1974. Bob Kahnand I believed that the best way to get the Internet built was to encourage anyone interested to implement and use the Internet in however they wished. [Inventor of the WWW] Tim Berners-Lee continued this practice in giving way the specifications of the World Wide Web and making the source code of web pages visible so webmasters could learn from each other. There were and are few barriers toentry of new services or applications making use of the Internet. This permissionless innovation lies that the heart of the Internet’s appeal and success.
And why has it become so important for us today?
I think the best way to under- stand this is to recognize the massive number of applications on mobiles, web sites devoted to every topic under the sun, the facilitation of e-commerce, access to government and private sector services... the list is long and growing. Humans are quick to adapt anything that seems to make life easier (fire, wheel, spear, bow and arrow).
What’s the good and bad of spending time online?
I find the World Wide Web and Google’s search engine indispensable as a tool for learning and discovery. I am online many hours in the day and I prefer to work while I am online for ready accessto timely information. I have learned that it takes some effort to determine whether information found on the Internet is accurate – this is the challenge of ready access to so much information: the need to apply critical thinking to distinguish good from bad quality. There is also the threat of malware, hackers, infected web sites and botnets. There remains much to do to improve technology to increase security and to refine user behaviors to produce a safer environment for everyone.
If you could help creating the web nowadays, would you change something on it?
Increased security, resistance to various malware attacks, attention to safety, strong authentication, more privacy.
We’ve achieved a lot with the advent of this technol- ogy, but there are some users who have come off badly from it: those individu- als who are addicted to and dependent on the Internet...
Like any infrastructure, it can be a problem to be overly dependent on it – like the power grid or the road sys- tem. Nonetheless, I think the Internet has delivered a great deal that would otherwise never have been available any other way.
Do you think the Internet is still growing? Are we getting to the limit of it or we’re far away from it?
There is still plenty of room for growth if we implement IPv6 everywhere.
What is your opinion on all the hacking and privacy invasion reported nowadays. How should people deal with all this? Do you think it will get worse?
Yes, it can get worse. We need to change user behavior to be more conscious of good security practices, be careful with documents, use digital signatures to authenticate and validate the integrityof the information in the Internet.
Do you agree with the statement that the Internet is a “land without law”?
No, I think many real world laws apply as well to the users of the Internet. We can probably improve the legal framework for internet use, as well as establishing agreements on international use of the Internet and access to its contents.
What do you look forward to in the future of the Internet?
Higher speeds, better and more affordable access, more mobile usage, increased safety and robustness, increasing variety of applications, extension to use in space for exploration, the coming Internet of Things, Smart cities, personal sensor systems (“quantified self ”), instrumented buildings for security, environmental controls and management of resources. The Internet will make use of increasing amounts of software we might think of as “artificial intelligence”– assisting us and conversing with us a humans do. And that is just the beginning!