Vint Cerf, vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google regulatory, on the internet and its technical evolution

15 May 2012 Author: EIFonline

Vint Cerf opened his talk at the EIF Dinner Debate on 15 May by comparing the internet to a teenager going through an awkward period. He spoke to the notion of internet governance, saying that it encompasses more than just government regulation.

He sketched out a biography of the internet from roughly 1971 to present. He mentioned that there are only about 2.3 billion people on the internet at present, that many are presently excluded but that more would gain access soon via their mobile devices.

He then went on to list all the reasons why he sees 2012 as being the most significant year to date for the internet in terms of technical evolution. For example, the introduction of new generic TLDs, the growing embrace of DNSSEC, and the permanent enabling of IPv6 by a great many providers as part of this year's IPv6 Day (08 June).

Vint spoke about the bit-rot problem (ie, the difficulty of ensuring that our digital cultural artifacts are accessible to future generations.) Unlike a piece of vellum which we can read centuries or perhaps even millenia later, an document saved on an 8" floppy disc in the 1980s may be totally inaccessible without the ability to run whatever application was originally used to create that data. This is a important problem we're still quite far from having a technological answer to but which we urgently need to start thinking about.

The internet is becoming increasingly important to us all, Vint acknowledged, noting the need to make it more trustworthy for it's users. But, he said, we should be careful in trying to regulate it not to damage the very freedoms that made it the innovation space it is today. He posed a balance between freedom from harm and permission to freely publish and access information and innovate. Vint compared the creation of the internet to the laying of a roadway. Those who lay a road cannot lay claim to what people build beside it or drive on top of it. Neither, he noted, could early pioneers (such as himself) claim credit to the fruits of their creation. "We got lucky," he said, "We didn't have some overarching vision where this was going. We were just trying to solve particular technical problems."

Vint closed by saying that there clearly are malevolent people on the Internet who mean to harm us and we have to cope with them. He said there are just three possibilities to deal with this type of bad behaviour: technical countermeasures, our legal systems, and via moral suasion. He noted that his ideas about freedom stem from his American experience, that he knows not everyone shares that perspective, but reiterated that it was an environment of openness that made the internet and we mustn't destroy that spirit as we try to protect the internet.

Vint Cerf's talk was billed as being primarily about the rollout of IPv6 but it covered a much wider range of topics in the end. Although the question and answer session is unfortunately not available as part of this recording, it was quite lively. This was Vint Cerf's second EIF appearance. If you weren't able to attend, do try to make it the next time.

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