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Vint Cerf and Charlie Rose 2008-06-16

Posted by lukethelibrarian in Librarysphere.

Since we do have real live Internet here at SLA, I’m going to try “liveblogging” the opening session’s feature: Charlie Rose interviewing Dr Vint Cerf. This post should progressively develop as the session goes along…

CR [to audience]: You guys are my heroes, I should be here listening to you. In my profession we depend on good information. I just didn’t know you had an association…

CR [to Vint Cerf]: Take us back to the beginning, give us a sense… of the role that you played, that ARPANET played…

VC: ARPA founded when Sputnik launched and shook up the administration. ARPA created to put us in space but also in computer science, how to do military command & control in nuclear situation… [mobile was an essential component almost from the beginning] because military command & control had to work for mobile & satellite communication as well as wireline. It took Bob & I about 6 months to develop the basic idea, a couple of years to roll out to academics, and then another 25 years for it to become what it is today.

CR: And Al Gore did what? [laughter]

VC: We love to laugh about that, but … while he was a senator, he helped to get the World Science Network … then sponsored legislation to allow commercial traffic to traverse governmental network, which is what opened up the possibilities to the world beyond just academics, so he did have a very important role [applause]

VC: As Google’s “Internet evangelist” I have only converted 1.3 billion people, I have 5+ more billion to go.

CR: He’s not kidding, that’s his ambition.

VC: I’d like to hope by 2010, we can double the number of people on the internet to 3 billion

CR: Because of the prevalence of mobile devices…

VC: Exactly… We have a long ways to go, but the physics are with us, so I’m feeling very positive about everyone on the face of the planet having access to the Internet within about 10 years.

CR: So the mobile phone is the platform.

VC: Well, new platforms don’t supplant the previous platform

CR: Talk to us about the values that underlie Internet development.

VC: Such a perceptive question. The Internet design was intentionally *completely* open — remember this is at the heart of the Cold War, but we were allowed to share our protocols with everyone. Over 30 years this openness has created an incredible cornucopia of applications. Nobody has to get “permission” to try something out…

CR: Where are we going with new developments, with social networking?

VC: I tried SL once. Tried to fly, ended up just jumping up & down. A very buxom avatar came up to me… she said “are you staring at me?” I said “yes” and … she flew away [laughter] Classic geek…geek-orthodox

CR: That’s his religion after all…

CR: Digitizing of libraries, where are we on that?

VC: Google has tried to help with digitization and OCR, but we have so far to go… as time goes on more will be born digital… we need to stop thinking of digital objects as analogous to physical things — digital objects are very complex things. You don’t get the value of a spreadsheet just by looking at it visually. As these complex digital objects proliferate, I’m very very worried about where it’s taking us. These digital objects require specific software to be understandable – what happens when that software is no longer supported, when it goes away? I call it the “bit rot” problem.

CR: Can Google help with that?

VC: Google can try, but many software companies need to consider looking for web-based/online implementations, esp. of software that is no longer supported, that will allow these digital objects to continue to be usable.

VC: Some people say information is power. Baloney. Information-*sharing* is power.

CR: And information *discovery* is power.

CR: When we look at the future, will we see the Internet go beyond our planetary system?

VC: I certainly hope so, because my colleagues at JPL and I have been working for over 10 years to make it so. We now have the protocols — Delay & Disruption Tolerant Networking Protocols — next year we’ll test them on board the International Space Station, and then we will make it available to every nation that is traveling to space.

CR: What are the implications?

VC: You’re already seeing them. When we talk about reprogramming satellites to handle transmission of signals from planetary rovers (like Phoenix) back to earth, we’re talking about “store-and-forward” messaging, just like what the Internet is based on.

CR: What’s the danger of cyberterrorism?

VC: Certainly there’s a risk, but it’s not just terrorism. All the pieces of our infrastructure have vulnerabilities — we need to be plugging those holes more and more, because we’re depending on this infrastructure more and more. There’s work to be done at every level — down to the browsers on our own machines.

CR: How can we combat spam?

VC: In part by the processes I’m talking about

CR: What is the Internet Café project?

VC: This is a project of mine… my colleagues and I want to put Internet in places where there is no power. We want to enable solar-powered access points that reach the Internet via wireless/satellite technologies. It reaches two goals: it’s a point of access to information, and it’s a source of revenue for an entrepreneur.

CR: In this project of expanding internet access to 6.5 billion people, what about censorship?

VC: I don’t think you can stop information from its flow from one person to another…

CR: Will it be a democratizing agent?

VC: I hope so, but we must acknowledge the commercial factors that can interfere in that.

CR: How will search change?

VC: We need to go beyond the simple matching of text to true understanding of the semantics behind the content.

CR: A semantic web?

VC: Yes, that’s what Tim and others have been working on.

CR: Natural user interface and voice recognition, where’s that headed?

VC: Voice recognition is progressing well, but a challenge is understanding natural discourse instead of just expected phrases. Google made an important breakthrough in translating natural discourse last week — on the BLEU scale of accuracy of translating natural discourse it surpassed the 0.5 threshold which represents the point at which a knowledgeable translator can do cleanup without necessarily referring back to the original recording.

CR: Artificial intelligence?

VC: As soon as you can make it work, it’s not really artificial anymore. To understand us, an intelligence must actually live in the world with us and be able to perceive/sense to some extent as we do.

CR: Will the US continue to dominate Internet development?

VC: Many countries were involved in the original development of the Internet — the idea that it was created by the US is a myth. Will the US continue to provide leadership? I believe so —

CR: What makes you optimistic about the Internet and what do you fear?

VC: Optimism: if the Internet continues to remain as open as it has the last 30 years, the possibilities are endless — software is a boundless frontier. My fear is that it will not remain open due to commercial or other interests.

CR: Today’s New York Times looks at a possible threat to that…

VC: Some Internet providers are thinking about making you pay by the number of bits transferred, not by the speed — that’s a big mistake. When we go on the Internet we don’t know what we will find, so we need to structure pricing so that we pay for the possibility, the rate, of data transfer, instead of for the actual bits, which would cause people to curtail their internet use because of fears of out-of-control bills.

CR: What’s the next big idea?

VC: Dealing with mobiles because there are so many…

CR: …and because they have such small screens?

VC: Here’s my Blackberry, it has a screen the size of a 1928 television and a keyboard for people three inches tall. The key is, however, that when a mobile device is connected to the network, and the other devices around it — projectors, audiovisual equipment, and so on — they are able to merge their capabilities with those other network-connected devices, to become something else.

Stephen Abram: [Thanks & acknowledges both]…. In a world with 6.5 billion internet users, who’s going to help them use those technologies to connect to the people and knowledge they need? Bricks & clicks are important, but it’s our *tricks* [as librarians] that help to connect people through these technologies.



1. vint cerf - 2008-06-16

This is a remarkably high fidelity rendition of our discussion at SLA. Thanks so much for taking the trouble to provide it! And thanks to all the SLA members who help everyday to make information more accessible and useful!

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