Review: Dr. Vint Cerf on Reinventing the Internet

On Monday, May 13, DC ACM hosted Dr. Vint Cerf, who gave the presentation “Reinventing the Internet”, at Google DC.  Dr. Cerf is the co-designer of TCP/IP protocols and has served as the Vice President of Google since 2005. In 1994, Dr. Cerf was listed in People magazine as one of the year’s “25 Most Intriguing People”. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the U.S. National Medal of Technology, the Alan M. Turing Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dr. Cerf also serves as President of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Dr. Cerf began his presentation by displaying global Internet statistics from 2012. As of last year, there were approximately 6.5 billion mobile devices and 1.5 billion PCs worldwide. Approximately 2.4 billion users worldwide are connected to the Internet, with the highest penetration rate among continents coming from North America (78.6% of the population is connected to the internet). Dr. Cerf also noted recent changes to the Internet such as the new Internet protocol (IPv6), internationalized domain names, domain name system security (DNSSEC), digitally signed address registration (RPKI), and sensor names.

The crux of the presentation centered around Dr. Cerf’s proposition that in the near future virtually every electronic device will become Internet enabled. Houses, apartments, and condos will become the central hub for connecting a plethora of Internet enabled devices. Dr. Cerf demonstrated that this theory is already becoming a demonstrable reality and provided examples of laptops embedded in surfboards, as well as Internet enabled pictures frames. The central housing unit that will manage these interconnected Internet enabled devices will be thought of as futuristic “Smart Homes.”

Dr. Cerf’s idea of Smart Homes raises a number of architectural and operational questions. For example, will there be multiple controllers or a single controller for the network? Will networks be wireless, wired, or mixed? How will devices interact with one another? Whatever the method, it is important that the network is controlled by responsible parties and that devices are suited for environmental conditions and able to interact with one another.

Other issues arise with respect to configuration and management. How will IP addresses be assigned and managed? How will auto-discovery and display capabilities be handled? Can web tools be used for configuration? What information should be available and how will data be controlled to prevent hijacking and accidental joining? A final set of challenges with Internet enabled devices connecting and sharing information across Smart Home networks relates to scaling issues, Border Gateway Protocol for OpenFlow networks, addressing, certificates/certification, trusted computing modules, inter-cloud protocols, and maintaining delay and disruption tolerant networking. The fundamental challenge seems to be finding the best way to promote diversity between devices while also maintaining uniformity.

Dr. Cerf then reverted back to recent changes to the Internet. Advances in Smart Grid technology for example include the formation of a Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) and a Smart Energy Profile which can be used for configuration, control, reporting, safety and security purposes. Micro Grids enhance the distribution of generated electrical power so as not to be focused in single areas, thus avoiding meltdowns. Telecommunication governance bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA), and the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) have helped to address international issues of privacy and security. Peripheral international issues include assessing the legal meaning and weight of digital signatures, making decisions on intellectual property, and addressing the preservation of data and software. Dr. Cerf cited a previous World Conference on Information Technology event as the single biggest schism point in international governmental communication regarding IT. As a result of the conference, fifty-five countries, including the United States, withdrew their support and participation.

Dr. Cerf closed the presentation by shifting away from the short-term future to examine long-term possibilities, particularly the idea of an Interplanetary Internet. To begin, Dr. Cerf made it clear that we are already operating in an international interplanetary network, albeit with varying levels of success. The primary question now goes as follows: what can we do to provide better networking to spacefaring nations 25 years from now? In 1998, the U.S. landed a small rover on Mars. In 2004, two rovers landed on Mars but failed to transmit data back to Earth due to overheating. DARPA 100YSS is a long-term space engagement riddled with significant network challenges related to propulsion, navigation, and signal detection. To be sure, there is much work to be done and significant room for improvement in the realm of interplanetary connectivity.

Open communication is critical to technological innovation. HTML allowed people to share ideas and help one another solve problems. It is important that walls of communication are brought down to allow creativity and efficiency to flourish. I look forward to the day in which this approach is brought to bear on our everyday devices, to the extent that a person can check an app from a cellphone at work to make sure that the lights were turned off at home, run a dishwater a loved one may have forgotten to start before heading out that morning, or monitor the temperature of his or her household while on vacation with the press of a button. The internet still has a lot of growing up to do.