Vinton Cerf probably needs no real introduction, having been a codesigner of the basic architecture of the Internet and of the TCP/IP protocol that makes the Internet possible. He is even known as a "father of the Internet." Cerf appeared at an IEEE event in Silicon Valley last night to celebrate the 40th anniversary of DARPAnet, a forerunner to the Internet, and the 125th anniversary of IEEE itself. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill spoke with Cerf about a variety of Internet topics, including government legislation that could give the president greater authority over the Internet. Cerf also discussed his career with the now world-changing Internet.
InfoWorld: When you participated in development of Internet technologies, did you think the Internet would ever materialize into what it's become today?
Cerf: The honest short answer, of course, is no, but the honest longer answer is we did know -- Bob Metcalfe and I, anyway -- knew in 1973 that we had an incredibly powerful technology here. We'd already had a lot of experience with Doug Engelbart's work at SRI and a lot of other things that we don't have time to go into, so we both knew that whatever it is that was going to happen, we had very powerful stuff. Then the question was would it be something that could be rolled out to the rest of the world? We didn't know for sure but when we worked on it, we decided not to patent, not to copyright, not to control, but to share everything we knew about the Internet design to the general public all around the world. What's amazing is that it was a Defense Department project and we were in the middle of the Cold War. In spite of all that, we made all of this completely available to everybody and the only reason it was possible is nobody paid any attention to us.
InfoWorld: Legislation has been proposed that would give the government power to take control over private networks on the Internet in the event of an emergency. Do you think the government has too much control over the Internet? [Editor's note: The bill in question recently has been revised, appearing to tone down language pertinent to presidential powers.]
Cerf: This is the Snowe-Rockefeller [legislation]. It was one of the proposed legislative steps. You understand the motivation behind it. It's people concerned about the dependency we have on the Net and the potential for that dependency to be very brittle. But the idea that the president would turn off pieces of the Internet is not sensible. On the other hand, focusing attention on the need to make the network more robust, more reliable, more resistant to various forms of either attack or infection is a really good thing to be attentive to. So to the degree that legislation draws attention to the things that we should be doing to protect this resource, it's a good thing. I don't think the president should try to turn off the Internet, and I don't think that he has any interest in trying to do that.
[ Cerf continues to push for migrations to IPv6. See InfoWorld's report. ]