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The Grill: Google's Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf on the Hot Seat

Google's chief Internet evangelist talks about the sorry state of online security, his hopes for deep space communication and using IT to find saffron in the wilderness

July 30, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Vint Cerf is the co-designer with Robert Kahn of the TCP/IP protocols and the basic architecture of the Internet. In 2005, he and Kahn received the highest civilian honor bestowed in the U.S., the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As one of the founding fathers of the Internet, what about your creation makes you most proud? It's the commercialization of the network that has given it its greatest character. Otherwise, it would be academic and military.

The commercial incarnation didn't really happen until 1989, which makes the Internet 18 years old. It's had an awkward [adolescence]. It still isn't quite clear how it's going to fit into the world. It's boundaryless in many respects, so both good things and bad things manifest. I'm very impressed by the quantity and quality of content on the Net, [but] there's some pretty bad content as well.

Steve Mills
Name: Vinton G. Cerf
Title: Vice president and chief Internet evangelist
Company: Google Inc.
Location: Herndon, Va.
Favorite nonwork pastime: Reading
Most interesting thing people don't know about him: "I used to play the cello. I was invited to attend a master class led by Pau Casals. I was 15."
Philosophy in a nutshell: "You can learn something from everyone; optimism is better than pessimism; most people rise to your level of expectation."
Favorite vice: Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream.
Dream dinner table guests: "Bill and Hillary Clinton; Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute and his wife; geneticist Richard Dawkins, one of the most outspoken Darwinists in our contemporary period; and of course, Sigrid [Cerf's wife]."

How do you use the Internet? My personal use of the Internet is heavily oriented toward finding information, and I'm just astonished by the information available.

I was on vacation driving around in Utah and Arizona in remote places. We were planning to prepare some paella and needed saffron. We were out in the middle of nowhere, but I was picking up a good, strong signal on my BlackBerry. I went online and got a list of stores. We called using the mobile [phone]. Five minutes after going online and finding a store and phoning, I bought $13 worth of saffron. I thought, "By God! I can't believe what we just did!"

How has the Internet affected mobility and vice versa? If you know you'll have access wherever you go, you change some of your habits. I'm an avid laptop user, and I just spent two weeks without my laptop. I've certainly not been without a computer for that [length of] time [before]. I had only my BlackBerry, and I survived.

I'm beginning to think that some of the stories in Star Trek about these giant galactic databases containing millions of years of knowledge were sort of on the dim threshold of how to take advantage of information in machine-processable form. But there's a big technical issue that has me worried.

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