Vint Cerf Talks Up Future of the Internet
The Internet has come a long way in 30 years, but it is still very much in its infancy. Vint Cerf, Google Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, who in a former life was one of the principle minds behind what we know as the Internet today, is looking far beyond just the next thirty years. He’s thinking about the next thousand years.
“Ninety-five percent of the universe is stuff we don’t understand,” Cerf told WebProNews anchor Abby Prince Johnson in an exclusive 20-minute interview. “The Internet is like that.”
That gives Google, with the stated mission of organizing the world’s information—a mission Cerf reiterates is one “we really believe in”—a formidable task. Google CEO Eric Schmidt once estimated such a task would take about 300 years to complete.
How’s that for a long-term strategy?
Cerf says the immediate future of the Internet involves mobile advancements. “Everyone, I hope, will have this information window on their hip.” The mobile sector isn’t without its challenges, the least of which is, as Cerf put it, “keyboards suitable for people three inches tall.”
The biggest challenge facing the Internet, mobile or otherwise, is keeping the network open, and Cerf called on the Obama Administration to remain true to its commitment to creating “an equal opportunity network” in order to foster more innovation. Cerf says this innovation will be made possible via an open and readily accessible network. “Innovation on the network in part is a consequence of the freedom to try things out.”
Cerf is a vocal supporter of Network Neutrality, and in 2008 posted a YouTube video announcing his endorsement of Barack Obama because of the candidate’s pledge to take a stand against telecommunication giants like AT&T and Sprint seeking to profit by creating controlled “walled garden” networks similar to their wireless phone networks.
Opportunities will also increase as broadband speed increases and as the cost of technology goes down. Cerf notes that he bought two terabytes of disk memory last year, which would have cost him $200 million in 1979. He envisions, in the not too distant future, home devices interacting with each other thanks to higher broadband speeds and lower cost technology.
“It won’t seem strange (to kids growing up around it) to interact with the refrigerator, even remotely,” he said.
But there are much bigger concerns that lie far, far off in the future. In a thousand years, will computers still be able to understand all this information we humans worked so hard to archive? All of today’s documentation—essays, articles, spreadsheets, media in general—are created with today’s software.
“If that software should no longer be supported, you and I may have a vast quantity of bits we have stored that we don’t know how to interpret anymore. They’re just rotten bits. The big worry I have is that as time goes on, as we accumulate more digital information, if we don’t preserve the ability to interpret the bits, they won’t be useful anymore. One big scary possibility is that over a period of a thousand years, all of the accumulated digital information that we’ve stored away somewhere will no longer be understandable to our descendants. Historians, of course, will wonder what went on the early 21st Century if they don’t know how to interpret a 1997 PowerPoint file.”
Cerf says there are good economic reasons companies choose not to support software anymore, but something will need to be done so that once software is no longer supported, we will be able to preserve the information created with that software.