Vint Cerf: Actually, the Internet’s going to be just fine


(Music) (Applause) Some time ago, a man named Bob Metcalfe invented the Ethernet, in 1973, about a mile and a half from where I was working at Stanford, working on the Internet. And a few years later, Bob announced that the Internet was going to experience a gigalapse, and he published an article on the subject. And it didn’t happen. And, to his credit, he took his newspaper article, ran it in a blender, and ate it on the stage. (Laughter) After first checking to see if the ink might be toxic or not. June Cohen: (Laughs) Vint Cerf: Now, it’s absolutely true that the Internet is getting bigger and bigger, and more and more ubiquitous. It’s going to be in just about every appliance we can think of. The question is, does that mean it’s all going to collapse? I don’t think so. But I am willing to accept the proposition that we should think about that. Already there are changes being made to the Internet to make it more resilient, to make it more resistant to some of the problems that you see in the headlines every day. This is not a static system. This thing is still evolving, Even though the design was done 40 years ago, it has evolved over that period of time, and it continues to change. That’s the one thing that makes this network so unusual, it wasn’t designed to do any thing in particular. And that’s why it’s been able to do almost anything we can think of to program. So I’m ready for Plan B, if Danny has a specific idea, but I have the feeling that by making it more and more ubiquitous, it’s going to be pretty hard to shut it down. When you look at all the things that happen, the various and sundry attacks, which really do happen, the malware that floats through the network, and everything else, aren’t you amazed that it still works? I mean, look, if you know too much about something it’s always astonishing that it works at all. Every time I get a web page that comes up, I’m sitting here thinking “Holy Crap, it actually worked.” (Laughter) And, you know, when you know all the things that have to happen, you think “Ha! That’s impossible.” So, it has been stunningly resilient. It has grown by a factor of a million or more, since it was first turned on in 1983, but something new could come along. I’ll give you a good example. There was this thing called the telephone network. It was invented around 1876. Today, the telephone network is turning into the Internet, because all the voice is being run over IP, and everything else. So that means you can build a big thing, and that doesn’t mean something else won’t come along. So it may not be Plan B to preserve the Internet, it may be Plan C to invent something new. Actually I believe it would be prudent to do two things. One of them we’ve already started doing, this is called “clean sheet.” The question is, what if we started over and redesigned the network, what would we do differently? I know one thing I would do, I’d pick 128-bit address space instead of 32 — JC: Who wouldn’t?
VC: — so we wouldn’t have to go through the IPv6 transition. And I’d also work hard on more security. But, nonetheless, I think that the clean sheet phenomenon, the clean sheet exercise, lets you do two things. It lets you see what would you do differently, what would it look like, and then you can ask, well, can I retrofit any of those ideas into the existing network? That’s happening. The second thing, I think, is to ask the question, what could I do to create a communication environment that’s even better than the Internet? I don’t know what the answer is, although it might turn out to be quantum communication, which the physicists tell us is not possible, but then, they told us a lot of things are not possible, so, who knows? In 10 years’ time maybe we will see something different. Right now, I think we’ll manage okay.

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