|Our evolving digital world
|Vinton G. Cerf
|Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist
Vinton G. Cerf is Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. He is better known as one of the ‘Fathers of the Internet’. Mr Cerf was the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet while at the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Cerf is the former Senior Vice President of Technology Strategy and ex-senior Vice President of Architecture and Technology at MCI. In December 1997, President Clinton presented the US National Medal of Technology to Mr Cerf and his colleague, Robert E. Kahn, for founding and developing the Internet. Messrs Kahn and Cerf were also awarded the ACM Alan M. Turing award, sometimes called the ‘Nobel Prize of Computer Science’, in 2004 for their work on the Internet protocols. In November 2005, President George Bush awarded Messrs Cerf and Kahn the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their work. The medal is the highest civilian award given by the United States to its citizens. Vinton G. Cerf serves as Chairman of the Board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, and was the founding President and later Chairman of the Board of the Internet Society. Mr Cerf is honorary Chairman of the IPv6 Forum, was a member of the US Presidential Information Technology Advisory Committee, PITAC, and serves on several national, state and industry committees focused on cyber-security. Mr Cerf sits on the Board of Directors for the Endowment for Excellence in Education, Avanex Corporation and the ClearSight Systems Corporation. He is First Vice President and Treasurer of the National Science & Technology Medals Foundation, a Fellow of the IEEE, ACM, and American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Engineering Consortium, the Computer History Museum, the Annenberg Center for Communications at USC and the National Academy of Engineering. Vinton G. Cerf was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in May 2006.
The growth of the Internet, of the digital services we depend upon, will soon force us to migrate to the next version of the Internet protocol, IPv6, and to new network and storage technologies. Our dependence upon the Internet makes us vulnerable to attack, so new guarantees of network security and privacy are of great importance. In addition, as old software and hardware is replaced by new, ways will have to be found to guarantee the usability of historical data.
Digital technology has changed our contemporary world. New, high-density storage media allow all forms of content (books, magazines, music, videos, movies, software and virtually anything that can be represented digitally) to be stored, shipped and exchanged physically and, increasingly, electronically. Programmable digital devices do everything from defrosting dinner and opening doors to answering the phone and organizing our calendars. Nicholas Negroponte’s speculative book, Being Digital ,painted a compelling picture of the world in which many of us are now living or will live in the not very distant future. The telecommunications world has not been immune to this revolution. Mobile telephones have become general-purpose instruments for all manner of digital presentations and interactions and the traditional world of international telephone services has itself been turned on its head by the rapid expansion of the Internet and its broadband instantiations. The robustness and security of the Internet will climb in importance as we rely increasingly on it and its services. Improving the resilience and resistance to attack of key infrastructure, such as the Domain Name System and the routing system, will be major focal points for near-term Internet development. Introducing DNSSEC (security for the Domain Name System) and digital signing of address space assigned by the Regional Internet Registries will assume much higher priority. The ability to filter out packets with falsified source addresses will be equally important since many denial-of-service attacks make use of the network’s own resources to leverage the attack. We can readily anticipate that our dependence on digital objects and engines will only increase in the years ahead. These systems are often notoriously vulnerable to various kinds of failures and subject to a variety of attacks. The computer science community is challenged to devise solutions to these problems. The information we seek so readily on the World Wide Web may vary in quality from completely useless or even damaging to stunningly valuable. It is our problem to determine which, although the search engines do their best to draw the most relevant to our attention. It seems inevitable that the netizens of the world will look for improvements in identifying the authenticity of the sources of online information, and assurances that it has not been modified since its incarnation on the net. As we accumulate more information online, we may encounter a kind of ‘information decay’ in which digital objects become less and less interpretable owing to the age of the software that created it. I imagine surfing whatever the WWW has become in the year 3000 and finding a 1997 PowerPoint © file that my then-current Windows 3000 Office system no longer knows how to interpret. Worse yet, even if I had a copy of the source code of PowerPoint 1997, or an executable, it isn’t clear whether my then current hardware and operating system knows how to execute it. It would appear that we will need to find ways to retain historical applications and perhaps even their associated operating systems so as to make feasible interpreting of older material on the Web. This raises a host of intellectual property questions that will almost certainly need to be considered. In the decade ahead, strong efforts will be made to introduce better authenticity and integrity-preserving mechanisms into the Internet at many layers of the system. Moreover, it is expected that privacy will continue to be an important concern for users of the Internet. These concerns will create important ethical dilemmas for companies that naturally collect personal information about Internet users in the normal course of their operation. For example, a courier service may need to know your home address and phone number to assure that packages end up where intended, but in the interest of personal privacy, they may choose to keep this information from the public and divulge it only under proper legal demand. By the same token, filtering out spam and virus-laden email will quickly become a required service, if it is not already so, in many parts of the Internet. As more devices become part of the Internet (think of the 2.5 billion mobiles already in operation), we will need to move to a new, bigger, Internet address space, IPv6. With its 128 bits of address space (about 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses), there will be ample address space for the foreseeable future. It will be a non-trivial exercise, a difficult job, to bring IPv6 online in parallel with the present IPv4 system, and it is not too early to get started. Efforts in Japan and China have begun blazing trails towards this important new plateau. With home, car and office appliances all online, and rich sensor networks as part of the netscape, it is easy to predict that people will be looking for online services to manage these devices and systems no matter where they happen to be. It is clear that programmable mobiles have the potential to become general-purpose ‘controllers’ that allow us to interact, possibly indirectly through online services, with the many devices that service us from moment to moment. Another evident trend is that users are gaining a great deal of autonomy and control over the traditional mass media that, heretofore, have had the upper hand in deciding what we will see, hear and read – and when we can do that. The Internet itself has shown us that users enjoy deciding for themselves what will capture their attention, including advertising. Putting users in charge is a huge shift for the information industry in general. It will be an especially hard change for the advertising industry, which has had to find ways to attract user attention when it can no longer interrupt the programme and force users to watch or listen to advertisements. As we become more able to cope with huge quantities of information, scientific and otherwise, our appetites for organizing and mining it will increase. We have already seen the salient benefits of shared scientific databases, such as the online human genome archives. The idea that all the world’s knowledge could be discoverable not just by humans but by programmes acting on their behalf at speeds well beyond the superhuman, is simply one of the most galvanizing of the 21st Century themes. That much of this information may lead to medical understanding and breakthroughs adds to the excitement. As we move from genetics to epigenetics and the proteome, our understanding of ourselves and the universe around us will deepen and the texture will increase in precision and refinement. What a gift to be a part of this period in the evolution of our civilization. As we turn to survey our path into the future ten years from now, it is almost certain that we will be in awe of the distance we have covered and even more stunned to find how much farther we may potentially go!