The internet and its future

July 16, 2021
by Mark Ollig

During the last year and a half, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in people using the internet platform for work and attending school.

This month, the number of users on the internet will reach 5 billion. Currently, 7.6 billion people are living on Earth.

With more of the world’s population embracing the future of work and learning using the internet, who is best to predict its future than one of its founding fathers?

Vint Cerf is the co-designer of the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) supporting the internet architecture.

In 1973, Cerf and his colleague, Robert Kahn, developed the essential TCP/IP communication protocols, which are at the heart of the internet we use today.

Both are known as “founding fathers of the internet.”

Cerf began his work at the United States Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), playing a pivotal role in developing internet and internet-related data-packet technologies.

Asked how he and Kahn established the internet’s TCP/IP protocols, Cerf said, “In 1970‚ there was a single telephone company in the United States called AT&T, and its technology was called circuit switching. That was all any telecom engineer worried about.”

In deference to Cerf, I would point out that in 1970 there were more than 1,500 independent telephone companies in the United States, including the Winsted Telephone Company, where this columnist worked.

But, I digress.

Instead of telephone circuit switching, Cerf and Kahn decided on a different switching platform to use for various computer operating systems.

Working together during the early 1970s in the US government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), Cerf and Kahn developed and tested whether computers could interconnect through a packet-switching medium.

“We were struggling to make sure that the protocols are as robust as possible. We went through several implementations of them, until finally, we started implementing them on as many different operating systems as we could,” Cerf said during a 2012 Internet Hall of Fame interview.

Jan. 1, 1983, the internet as we know it began.

The internet remained a text-based command-line network for the next 10 years, although ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange)-based end-user character encoded programs were available.

By 1991, the Gopher protocol, developed at the University of Minnesota, provided a file-like hierarchical text menu arrangement to search through collections of files stored on computer servers connected to the internet.

The internet took on a dramatic role change in 1993, when it became the supporting framework for a software overlay program called the World Wide Web, which Tim Berners-Lee created.

Last month, journalist and founding editor of Wired Italy, Riccardo Luna, talked withCerf.

When Luna asked how the internet could be better, Cerf replied, “We should look at things in historical perspective. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell certainly did not think about smartphones when he invented the telephone. And to access the internet 30 years ago you needed a telephone connection. Now, Elon Musk is trying to connect the remote areas of the world via satellite. In short, technologies change.”

Was Cerf surprised the internet did not crash with so many users of its network during the COVID19 pandemic?

“No,” Cerf replied. “Since 1983, the system has grown 10 million times. Technology has adapted to demand. What we do [today] with video streaming, a few years ago was unthinkable.”

Asked if the internet will “return to normality” since the pandemic has eased, Cerf said, “The first thing I imagine is that internet access will increase even more, because everyone has understood its importance. I am thinking of remote working, remote teaching, and of medical examinations. The second is that there will be an increasing involvement of space agencies to build an internet that brings the connection everywhere.”

When asked what should happen after we reach 5 billion users on the internet, Cerf responded, “We have to close the gap with others, bringing the connection everywhere. It is already happening, with satellite and with 5G, but the matter will become economic. Not everyone will be able to afford it. And then there is a functional gap regarding the language, which finds information or people with motor, sight, and hearing disorders who struggle with applications not designed for them, as well. We must work to ensure that no one is excluded.”

What are Cerf’s thoughts about the future of the internet?

“The future is built by those who are dissatisfied, we have always evolved because someone is dissatisfied with the way things are. So, I invite everyone to be a little dissatisfied,” Cerf surmised.

“A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication,” a paper published in May 1974, by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, is located on the Princeton University website and can be read here: https://bit.ly/3xv1syZ.

While surfing the internet, aka the information superhighway, stop by my weblog at https://bitscolumn.blogspot.com.

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