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Interview to Vinton G. Cerf.

by Roberto V. Zicari on July 27, 2009

Together with Marco Dettweiler, I had the pleasure to interview Vinton G. Cerf. You can read the interview below. Hope you find it interesting.

Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. Widely known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. In December 1997, President Clinton presented the U.S. National Medal of Technology to Cerf and his partner, Robert E. Kahn, for founding and developing the Internet. In November 2005, Vinton Cerf and Kahn were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush for their contributions to the creation of the Internet. Cerf was a leading contender to be designated the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer by President Barack Obama.

Questions (Marco Dettweiler- FAZ.NET, Roberto V. Zicari- ODBMS.ORG)

Q1. The Future of the Internet.
Mr. Cerf, the Internet was created in the 70s, and it now serves as the infrastructure for the World Wide Web, which was created later in the early 90s. The introduction of the Web has changed the way Internet was used dramatically and at the same time opened up the Internet to all kinds of commercial/social possibilities, which were not possible before.

– Why did it take so long before the Web was invented?

Vinton G. Cerf: It should be remembered that Douglas Engelbart led the invention of the oNLine System (NLS) at SRI International in the mid-late 1960s and early 1970s. This system, while running only on one computer, was accessible through the ARPANET and later the Internet. It had hypertext notions and pointing and clicking of a mouse (also invented by Engelbart). This was a popular system used by the ARPANET community. There were other experiments such as Gopher at University of Minnesota, the Wide Area Information System (WAIS), ARCHIE and VERONICA, to name a few. Most of these were text based. Tim Berners-Lee developed his WWW idea around 1989 while at CERN but the big explosion came when Marc Andreesen implemented a version of WWW called Mosaic (a graphical interface browser for the WWW). He went on to develop Netscape Navigator as a founder of Netscape Communications. In some ways, these inventions had to wait until powerful desk and laptops became available and the bandwidths of access to the Internet exceeded the slower world of dial-up Internet. Moreover, the general public did not see much of this until the 1994 debut of Netscape Communications. Sometimes things can only happen when conditions are ripe for them to happen.

– What are the weak and strong points of the Web?

Vinton G. Cerf: Perhaps the strongest point has been its flexibility and highly distributed nature.
Anyone can create content, in virtually any language, and share it with the world. It has opened up an avenue for voices that might never otherwise have been heard. It has evolved in dramatic ways to include software that can move from server to client, re-purposing the client’s functions (e.g. through Java and JavaScript). Of course, it has permitted all forms of media (text, sound, imagery, video) to be intermingled in a rich tapestry. On the other side, it can be vulnerable to viruses, worms, trojan horses. It can be used to harm others through fraud, misinformation, stalking, libel, cyber-bullying and so on. It contains an enormous amount of information that would be impossible to navigate, but for search engines and hyperlinks that help to find paths to information of interest. We need to make much more secure the web browsers and web servers to protect against harmful software (“badware” or “malware”) that steals computer cycles and turns machines into “zombies” that form “botnet” armies. Some malware can infect machines in such a way that private information such as account numbers, passwords and other personal data can be revealed and abused.

– What is in your opinion, the next evolution/revolution for the Web/Internet?

Vinton G. Cerf: It is already happening. Mobiles have become an increasingly integral part of the Web/Internet.
They will become sensor devices that help us detect hazards or capture our daily travels and then warn us if we have been anywhere that might have been hazardous to our health. More appliances will become Internet-enabled, allowing them to be controlled through the Internet. We will use this capability to manage our entertainment systems, to control our use of energy, to increase the efficiency and security of homes and office buildings. We will instrument our cars and capture data to help us maintain their operation. We will make more and more use of the Web to collaborate in real time using all forms of media. We will enhance our ability to communicate even when we speak different languages and need to work together in groups. Of course, I am also very excited by the prospect of extending the Internet to operate across the solar system by augmenting its protocols with a new suite and overcome the inherent delays and disruption of inter-planetary communication. These innovations will help to support extended exploration of our solar system through robotic and manned missions.

– What are the most important challenges we will face in the future in your opinion?

Vinton G. Cerf: Security, privacy, and authentication of the users and systems of the Internet. Preservation of digital information and the software that is needed to interpret it. Operation of the Internet at increasingly large scale with more users, termination points and devices. Operation of the Internet with an increasing number of mobile components.

Q2. The resources on the Internet are not unlimited.
In next years there will be likely problems with IP-Adresses. By 2011 you predicted that all IP-Addresses will be taken. With no new IP-addresses available, no new users can be added to the Web. There is a consensus that we need to change to ipv6 with 128 Bit.

– Do you agree?

Vinton G. Cerf: Yes, absolutely.

– And if yes, how fast should the industry do this?

Vinton G. Cerf: They need to begin to implement IPv6 in parallel with IPv4. Companies like Google need to implement services with both protocols (and Google has done so), so that users who have only IPv6 addresses will be able to reach services as easily as those with the older IPv4 addresses. ISPs should begin implementing and offering IPv6 service and should
work to interconnect themselves using IPv6 as richly and densely as they have interconnected with IPv4.

– Is there any consequences for the users and companies using the Web?

Vinton G. Cerf: Yes, if we do not have widespread implementation of IPv6, then the Internet may become fragmented into IPv4 and IPv6 islands that are not linked.

– And if yes, which ones?
– Do you foresee any further problems in the future?

Vinton G. Cerf: I think the major problems are increasing the security and resilience of the Internet, coping with mobility, implementation of IPv6, implementation of non-Latin character sets in the Domain Name System, and just coping with the operation of a vastly larger Internet than in the past.

Q3. How much rules and regulation needs the Web/Internet?
– Should the creation of content on the Web/Internet be regulated?

Vinton G. Cerf: I think this is an extremely delicate question. None of us likes spam. We don’t like viruses and worms and trojan horses. Child pornography is universally condemned. On the other hand, censorship can be abused as a political weapon. It can be used to undermine democratic principles and freedom of expression. Perhaps the best analogy is the abuse of the road system by drinking and driving. In most modern societies, this is considered socially unacceptable and if drunken dri
vers are caught there are consequences. We don’t stop building vehicles to use the roads and we don’t stop building roads, but we do warn drivers about the consequences of violating the “rules of the road.” Perhaps the Internet needs to be treated in a similar fashion. We may not be able to stop all abuses a priori, but we can agree to enforce rules if violators are caught.

– Why?
– In Germany, the Government is trying to forbid the use of specific Web sites with illegal contents, such as child pornography. What is your position on this? And what would be a solution to this problem in your opinion?

Vinton G. Cerf: The essential issue here has to do with enforcement as well as the preservation of “speech” that should be protected and permitted. In the United States this right is built into our Constitution in the form of the First Amendment. On the other hand, not all speech is protected. Theft, fraud, child pornography and the propagation of malware is illegal and violators are prosecuted. For the most part, the Internet Service Providers and Application Service Providers are
not expected to be enforcers, although the Digital Millennium Copyright Act does require that online servers take down (remove) content that has been identified as illegal. Because the Internet is so distributed and accessible, operators of its services are often dependent on its users to signal the discovery of inappropriate information. Many application service providers and Internet service providers have provisions in their terms of service that allow them to remove abusive content or to terminate service contracts for abuse of these terms. The focus of law enforcement should be on the violators
who abuse the Internet’s services, not on the providers of its infrastructure, in my estimation.

Q4. Web and copyright.
– What is your position with respect to the problem of copyright infringements on the Web?

Vinton G. Cerf: The problem in part is that the Web works by copying. The browser copies a file from a web server and then interprets it for presentation. Copyright has historically worked by controlling the distribution of fixations of works in physical form (books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, newspapers, video cassettes, LP records and so on). In some countries, “fair use” permits copying of small amounts of information for academic, pedagogical or journalistic purposes. Personal copies
may be made for backup in many cases. Digital information is easily copied and distributed and that poses a problem for traditional copyright. It is also worth noting that while creators of information are implicitly its owners under the Berne Convention, many creators want to share this information in more flexible ways than traditional copyright allows.
The Creative Commons and “copyleft” ideas are examples of attempts to broaden the options for intellectual property
creators and owners. I believe that we will need to construct new intellectual property regimes to take into account the properties of the Internet. It will take some creative thinking among technologists and legislators to discover alternatives to the present and rather antiquated copyright concepts that are not working well in the Internet universe.

– For example, Google is currently scanning millions of books for a digital Online-Full-Text-Search. Classical publishing companies do not like this, as they say this is a copyright infringement. What is your position on this?

Vinton G. Cerf: I believe that there is benefit to the publishers to have their works indexed so that they can be discovered by users of the World Wide Web.
I don’t think there is any debate about works that have entered the public domain. Nor is there debate about books still in print and covered by copyright (Google has agreements with such publishers as to indexing of these works and display of small snippets of them). The debate revolves around books that are no longer in print but possibly still under copyright. It is sometimes very hard to determine the rights holders of these works. Google and others are looking for some way to make these works known to the users of the World Wide Web.
This is not the same as releasing the full content of such works. Indexing helps people find works of interest after which they may need to purchase the works from bookstores, find them in their own libraries or public libraries, borrow from friends, and so on. If there were an agreeable regime for making such works more accessible, it would benefit everyone interested in their contents. It is the fashioning of an acceptable regime that is at the center of most debate, as I understand it.

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