SubOptic 2019 Day 4 Keynote

Day four of SubOptic 2019 featured a keynote address from Vint Cerf of Google - widely regarded as one of the father's of the internet.SubOptic 2019 Blog
April 11, 2019

According to one of the worlds great authorities on the past, present, and future of the internet, the business of building the digital world still has a long way to go until we’re done.

The final keynote speaker for SubOptic 2019 was Vinton Cerf, vice president and chief internet Evangelist for Google. As Co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the internet, he’s widely known as one of the “fathers of the internet.”

Cerf opened his keynote speech with a short history lesson and a diagram of the First-Three-Network internet created in 1977 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  This was developed into ARPANET, an experimental network which, while limited, still shared packets thousands of miles and spanned over the Atlantic.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) made another groundbreaking step towards today’s internet with the creation of NSFNET, which connected roughly 3,000 research universities in 1986.

“I wanted to emphasize the importance of the role NSF had,” Cerf said.

The NSFNET was decommissioned in 1995, and the physical infrastructure created to support the network, thanks to public funding and private partnerships, became the platform from which the modern internet launched.

Of the many surprises that came with the rise of the internet, Cerf said that the Submarine Telecoms Industry took him off guard.

“What I found very surprising, is the amount of undersea cable,” said Cerf. As time passed and more companies added to the growing, he did not foresee the sheer a demand for undersea cable.

Another surprise, Cerf said, was an industry also supported by subsea cable: mobile telephones.

He recounted a time when he was invited to lunch by a friend and found a Motorola brick waiting at the table.

“What’s that,” he asked.

“A phone,” said his friend.

“Where’s the wires?”

He eventually had a chance to speak with the device’s creator, Martin Cooper.

“How long does the battery last?” he asked.

“About 20 minutes,” Cooper told him.  “But you can’t hold it up longer than that anyway.”

Now of course, most of the world walks around with a cell phone in their pocket and they do far more than simply make calls.  With them, the Internet of Things has reached a new phase in its evolution.

With the internet, new forms of connectivity have arisen, Cerf added, including satellite, Low Earth Orbit Satellite with lower latency, even an LTE enabled stratospheric balloon signal.

“So, there’s more coming,” Cerf said.

And with new challenges, new innovations are made.  Cerf commented on a new protocol, different from TCP/IP, designed for interplanetary communication, like with Mars, where transmission can take 45 minutes.

But with all of these great achievements, there are growing concerns with what Cerf refers to as the “Unfinished Business” of the internet. Chief among them is as greater spans of time pass, what happens to information on older formats?

“I call it the Digital Dark Age.”

How long will it take for data stored in current or older methods to become corrupt?  What happens when we can no longer read ancient code?  What if the information is stored, but no current technology can interface with the storage?  These become concerns as we look towards the future of the internet.

“Just because it’s in digital form doesn’t mean it lasts forever.

Another concern Cerf raised is the rise of autonomous technologies.

“I worry about the devices that are running autonomously… that have a whole lot of software in it that we rely on,” Cerf said.

Software has bugs, so the unfinished business is to create ways to find and repair bugs before they cause catastrophic failure in important systems.

Even so, Cerf ultimately paints the picture of a digital age that leads far into the future and will create even more miracles than Cerf has seen in his wide view of the history of the internet.