Special Report – An Evening With Vint Cerf

The Father of the Internet talks about where it’s all going.

By Elaine Morris Palmer

as seen in Digitrends daily online June 12, 2000

Where’s it all going? We ask that everyday while we nervously watch the Nasdaq roller coaster and the VC back out of IPO promises. If you ask Vint Cerf, Father of the Internet, and co-designer of TCP/IP protocol (the computer language that gave birth to the whole thing) he’ll tell you that the Internet will permeate absolutely every aspect of our lives. But then, Vint’s going interplanetary – as in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Interplanetary Network Project for the commercialization of outer space – so what did you expect?

Not your typical (whatever that is) computer science engineer / visionary / inventor / rocket scientist Vint Cerf is a tall, slim, handsome, silver-haired gentleman, nattily dressed in a beautifully tailored three-piece suit – complete with pocket square.  The honored guest speaker at last night’s Los Angeles Chapter Internet Society gathering, this highly personable, upbeat, funny, entirely approachable man, with a handful of others, throughout the mid-1970’s, invented what is known today as  the IP version 4 protocol.  He entertained and amazed us for about 45 minutes on the future of Internet Technology and probably of all of our lives. Oral history being made. In plain English.

Now that’s cool.

Vint (we’re on a first name basis now that  he’s autographed my Program) led by letting us all know that the Internet is running out of space. Perhaps you’ve seen the email recently circulating saying, “congratulations, you’ve reached the last page of the Internet.” Well, it’s no joke.  Because the always-on network requires an increasing number of IP addresses. By the year 2006, there will be 900 million devices on the Internet and we’ll be close to the limit of what IP version 4 can handle. But no need start downloading all those email love letters for posterity, Vint and his team have already invented v6. Once v6 runs out of addresses, Vint figures he’ll be dead and it’ll be somebody else’s problem.

When  interplanetary data rate changes are your daily fare, the challenges of Internet Protocol conversion, somewhat like changing airplane engines mid-flight, may not be daunting but they are, nevertheless, vital. For Vint and his minions, the pesky problem is faster packet switching. After all, everybody knows, “delay is the enemy of a good social interaction”. For us down here on earth,  the more byte-sized predicaments are real time voice translation, especially for the disabled, guidelines for full accessibility, reducing capital and monthly costs and establishing a legal framework in which we can feasibly solve global disputes.

And then there’s that ever-penetrating problem of privacy. As Cerf explains it the real issue is not encryption, but rather what organizations do with the private information they collect.  He believes that we owe it to our customers to say what we’re doing with the data sitting in their operating systems. But security, is after all, inconvenient. The easiest systems to use aren’t the secure ones. He urges us to develop the public key infrastructure. Until then, Cerf advises, implementation by legislators may simply be out of reach.

When asked if he envisions us each huddled, isolated in front of our 15” computer screens cut off from all human social interaction, Vint Cerf replies that he sees the

Internet as a connecting, not an isolating medium.   “If you want to know the future of the

Internet, ask a 7 year old,” says Vint. They’ll decide what the new applications will be and they’ll invent them. The email message he gets most often from these kids, besides requests for overnight term paper delivery, is “It’s our network. Don’t screw it up.”