Vint Cerf Wants Your Help Re-Imagining The Internet - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IT Life
06:15 AM
Connect Directly

Vint Cerf Wants Your Help Re-Imagining The Internet

Vint Cerf, recognized as one of the fathers of the Internet, is using social media to generate new ideas about how the Web should evolve.

Will Windows 10 Make It To 20? IT Watchers Discuss
Will Windows 10 Make It To 20? IT Watchers Discuss
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Vint Cerf, one of the creators of the Internet, wants your help in re-thinking it for the next generation.

Cerf is starting a public project to solicit ideas on how to evolve the Internet in general, and specifically how to shape it to improve education and address the looming Digital Dark Age.

Given his pedigree, Cerf's project is curiously 19th century. He wants you to write a letter. And he's done so himself, on the mobile messaging network lettrs.

Why a letter? Cerf said in an interview with InformationWeek: "One of the things that has become very apparent to me is that letters in the past, because of the time delay for a letters to get back and forth, caused people to think fairly deeply about what they want to say. And they would couch their arguments to be understood even if [the recipient] wasn't there to ask questions."

He added, "Our modern communications tend to be very brief and rapid and don't involve thinking because we have another 100 emails to get through. The result is a lot of short, terse, not substantive communications."

[ Does anybody really know what time it is? Read NTP's Fate Hinges On Father Time. ]

Cerf has written an open letter (pictured below) in the hopes that people will respond in kind, with a long, thoughtful communication. He then hopes to take the best responses and feature them at Silicon Valley Comic Con, which is the brainchild of Steve Wozniak and Stan Lee and takes place March 18-20, 2016. Cerf will also share the results online, of course.

(Image: Vint Cerf)

(Image: Vint Cerf)

What are Cerf's biggest concerns? He has plenty, but the Digital Dark Age might be his biggest worry. If that phrase is new to you, pay attention here. What Cerf is referring to could well be the biggest problem facing IT in the next decade or two. The Digital Dark Age refers to the idea that much of our most basic communication (not to mention our important records) may not be available to historians (or even ourselves) in the future, because we will no longer have the ability to access the digital media on which it is saved.

Lost History

Cerf cites Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln as a perfect example of what might not be possible for historians of the next generation. Goodwin pieced together letters written by President Lincoln and his cabinet to write a book about how they interacted.

"In the case of Doris Kearns Goodwin, the letters were 140 years old, and I would guess that digital content that was created 10 years ago won't be accessible 10 years from now," said Cerf. "We have the media around, but you may not be able to read it."

Cerf had a much more mundane yet important example. He said he found a CD marked "Cerf Photo Archive 1." He couldn't remember what was on it or what device he had used to make it. He put it in several machines, all of which conveyed the message that the disc was blank. He knew he wouldn't have labelled a blank disk, and finally he found a machine that could read the disk. What would have happened had he waited a little longer to try to find the device to read the disk? Would the photos have been lost forever?

Imagine that scenario for all of our photos, all over the world. And all our videos. And all the records at all the corporations. And even the US government's National Archives. And ... well, you get the picture.

"The National Archives gets tons of information at the end of each administration, and it is getting harder and harder to preserve that because they have to deal with what software it was on, what created it, what it was created on, etc."

We're a generation creating more data and more records of our existence than any other, and yet we may save very little of it in the end. Cerf pointed to projects like Carnegie Mellon's Olive as part of the solution. Olive is working on ways to use old software to make archives more accessible and easy to run.

Even that solution may get complicated. According to Cerf, we need to sort out issues around intellectual property for software no longer in regular use but crucial to preserving data. Cerf also thinks we need to

(Continued on page 2)


David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
1 of 2
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2015 | 1:11:43 PM
Re: History
Cerf is such a brilliant guy, nice to know people like him are thinking about these issues. But part of this transcends digital. Think of drawings on cave walls or old paper documents where the language the information is in nobody speaks anymore. That seems like more of a problem than what type of digital encoding is used.

This makes me think about that recent movie where girl gets a massive dose of this drug that unlocks her brain to operate at full capacity. As she acquires all knowledge that exists, she wants to pass it on to this professor. So she morphs into some kind of biological computer and produces a USB stick containing all this knowledge. As movie ended, I couldn't help thinking I hoped she used the right USB format so he could read it.
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2015 | 8:16:29 AM
The future internet
"Our modern communications tend to be very brief and rapid and don't involve thinking because we have another 100 emails to get through. The result is a lot of short, terse, not substantive communications."


I think what we're seeing is a more conversational internet.  We have daily conversations that are lost to time but those stories are still passed down verbally.  I think that's the direction we're headed, a less formal communication path.  I look at it in the same light as television and radio, the presentations are far less formal the delivery is much more comfortable and conversational but you still have pockets where formality and standards are strictly adhered to.  The internet will be much the same, left on for background noise and occasional checking in when something catches your attention.
User Rank: Ninja
9/10/2015 | 7:19:33 AM
The historical aspect of the web is important. The Web Archive is a great solution and I hope that more MMOs and large scale games are stored somewhere so people can remember them for what they were. The problem is that just as physical media requires physical space, digital media can take up digital space, so someone has to pay for their storage. 

Finding that person is the important part here. We need a digital Library of Alexander. 
<<   <   Page 2 / 2
10 Top Cloud Computing Startups
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  8/3/2020
How Enterprises Can Adopt Video Game Cloud Strategy
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  7/28/2020
Conversational AI Comes of Age
Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary,  8/7/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
2020 State of DevOps Report
2020 State of DevOps Report
Download this report today to learn more about the key tools and technologies being utilized, and how organizations deal with the cultural and process changes that DevOps brings. The report also examines the barriers organizations face, as well as the rewards from DevOps including faster application delivery, higher quality products, and quicker recovery from errors in production.
Current Issue
Special Report: Why Performance Testing is Crucial Today
This special report will help enterprises determine what they should expect from performance testing solutions and how to put them to work most efficiently. Get it today!
Flash Poll