Father of Internet predicts bright online future

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Vint Cerf likens computers and the ‘Net to colour television in the 1950s

Gillian Shaw

Vinton Cerf has often been dubbed father of the Internet for his work on the original U.S. defence department project

A dramatic rise in the number of Internet devices coupled with falling prices means the Internet will truly become a worldwide web — with billions more users and a future where nobody need be left offline.

That’s how Vint Cerf, widely regarded as the father of the Internet, sees the future of life online, where the one billion users online today are joined by the billions who aren’t, driven the shrinking cost of accessing the web.

“Remember there are only one billion estimated users on the Net, we still have five-and-a-half billion users to go so there is a lot of work to do — I mean for the Internet community,” said Cerf, chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the California-based non-profit corporation that oversees domain names as well as Net addresses.

“There is a lot to be done to bring it to the rest of the world,” said Cerf, who is in Vancouver this week for an ICANN meeting.

Cerf is a computer scientist who has often been dubbed the father of the Internet for his work on the original U.S. Department of Defence project in 1973 that led to today’s global network. He’s now Google’s chief Internet evangelist — and it’s a role he clearly relishes.

“I’m assuming if I get a promotion it will be to archangel,” Cerf said with a laugh referring to the titles that have been bestowed upon him.

“Google is an interesting place to be. It’s full of energy.”

Cerf said the “25-year-old kids,” as he refers to Google staffers, aren’t stopped by the worry that they can’t make something work — he said they go ahead and do it anyway.

Their work in delivering Google Earth — a mapping and satellite photo software that not only picks out locations but allows the users to zoom in and get a bird’s eye view of the location they are seeking — is among examples Cerf points to in the Internet’s trend towards a future where location-based services, combining with GPS to deliver customized information, become the norm.

Internet devices will proliferate, according to Cerf, leaving the Internet with more devices connected to it than people.

“I can see unlimited applications showing up in this environment,” he said. “Devices at the edge of the Net are typically programmable.

“It creates an endless frontier for all those things that are plugged into the Internet.”

The growth in the Internet, according to Cerf, will come in mobile devices.

“There is already a tidal wave coming in the form of mobiles which historically have not been part of the Internet,” he said. “But a large fraction of them are becoming Internet enabled.

“There is in the order of two billion of those devices in the world. In five years time, more and more will be on the Net. The current devices that are on the Net will be joined by those two billion or more mobiles and then we will see set top boxes, household appliances, automobiles, not only on the Net but participating in GPS.”

The economic divide has put the Internet beyond the reach of many people around the globe but Cerf expects that divide will shrink as the cost of both online devices and Internet service drops.

He likened computers and the Internet to colour television back in the 1950s when a colour TV set represented a substantial chunk of income.

“One of the things in technology is that technologies often start out to be very expensive and if it is a popular thing, we get a production learning curve.” he said, adding that he sees costs, “dropping dramatically,” around the Internet delivery and devices.

The launch of this week’s conference was marred by a lawsuit in the U.S. launched against ICANN in a bid to stop it from allowing VeriSign Inc. to maintain control of the “.com” domain until 2012.

The VeriSign proposal is on the agenda for this week’s discussions and Cerf said the lawsuit won’t interrupt that work.

“This is not the first time we had had a lawsuit launched against ICANN and it is also not the first time one was launched on the first day of a week of hard work,” Cerf said. “In my view it is not going to have any material effect on our ability to get our work done this week.”

Cerf said ICANN’s lawyers will be responding to the suit and the request for a restraining order.

A trade group of Internet businesses, The World of Domain Name Developers Inc., filed a lawsuit in federal court in California Monday challenging ICANN’s proposed settlement with VeriSign.

The VeriSign proposal was expected to be finalized by the end of this year. Cerf said members of the Internet community have been invited to submit their responses to the proposed agreement and meetings scheduled for this week will provide a forum for discussion of any issues and problems they raise.

“I don’t expect to resolve any issues will have been resolved in this meeting,” he said. “I do expect to come away with a very clear sense of what the problems will be.

“The next step will be to see if there are any amendments possible that will satisfy those concerns.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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