How did the Internet come into being and for what purpose? What were the early problems that led to its development? What were the fundamental concepts that allowed it to evolve over time into what it is today, a technology that impacts every aspect of our lives?
Nomad Futurist is honored to feature Dr. Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the Internet. Cerf played a key role in leading the development of Internet and Internet-related data packet and security technologies. This is an opportunity to hear the fascinating story of the inception of the Internet directly from the co-designer of its key protocols and architecture.
Cerf’s exposure to computers reflected a mix of hands-on experience as well as a deep academic background at UCLA and Stanford where he focused on data transmission. This led to his work with Bob Kahn, one of the architects of ARPANET, funded by the U.S. Defense Department. He describes how Kahn invited him to help solve for the challenge of developing a uniform delivery system for different types of network technologies and how their collaboration led to the development of TCP/IP, the fundamental communication protocols at the heart of the Internet. He explains that he got drawn into the field inexorably, “Once the internet design work got started, it has been central in my career ever since.”
Cerf, who is currently VP, Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, recounts his journey and the evolution of the system that allowed the development of a universal communications network where data can be transferred independently of the routing technologies deployed or the ultimate end user applications.
“This extensibility, this willingness to let people invent new things and fit them into the architecture that was not so rigid that it would reject that was really powerful.”
He talks about his tremendous good fortune to have been at the right place at the right time. And even the good fortune to not have “known” everything.
“Sometimes this idea of incompleteness and deliberate ignorance is sometimes your friend when you want to build something whose certainty is uncertain and whose design is open.”
Cerf speaks eloquently about the past, present trends, and the future to come including a discussion of quantum computing and the establishment of internet nodes throughout the solar system. He also mentions astrophysics, microbiology, neural interfaces, IoT and better programming environments as areas needing deeper exploration.
When asked if he could have anticipated what the Internet would become, he cites the World Wide Web and the birth of search engines as important developments that had not been foreseen.
“It’s been 50 years… so this whole thing in some ways has been a personal experience for me. It’s something I have lived through day by day watching it grow… we didn’t imagine everything. But we did know that what we were doing had powerful enabling potential.”
Cerf’s key advice for the young:
“Take risks early so you have plenty of time to recover from a mistake… It’s often the case that a foiled scientific experiment teaches you more than a successful one does…and don’t be afraid to break out of conventional thinking…Much of what we discover turns out to be something that doesn’t look like it’s possible or gets rejected by the mainstream.”
Widely known as a “Father of the Internet,” Dr. Vinton G. Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. He contributes to global policy development and continued spread of the Internet. Since 2005, Cerf has served as Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. In this role, he is responsible for identifying new enabling technologies to support the development of advanced, Internet-based products and services. He has served in executive positions at MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and on the faculty of Stanford University.
Cerf also served from 2000-2007 as Chairman of the Board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an organization he helped form. Cerf served as founding president of the Internet Society (ISOC) from 1992-1995.
Cerf is a recipient of numerous awards and commendations in connection with his work on the Internet, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the ACM Turing Award, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and 29 honorary degrees. In December 1994, People magazine identified Cerf as one of that year’s “25 Most Intriguing People.”
His personal interests include fine wine, gourmet cooking and science fiction. Cerf and his wife, Sigrid, were married in 1966 and have two sons, David and Bennett.