“The most important thing we can do is learn how to learn — and also to want to learn.”
— Vint Cerf
It is quite difficult, or perhaps impossible, to overstate the impact that the internet has had on society as a whole — especially when its full impact has not been completely realized yet. Advancements such as machine learning, completely virtual economies, and the rise of automation are only a few examples of how the internet only continues to change life as we know it. Tetra Defense recognizes Vint Cerf for his role as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” as well as its co-architect. He is credited with creating it, advocating for its safety and accessibility, and continuing to guide its ethical use as Google’s current VP and Chief Internet Evangelist.
The Road to the Internet
Before he earned his religious-esque title of “Internet Evangelist,” he was a scholar at Stanford and UCLA earning degrees in mathematics and eventually a doctorate in computer science. While at UCLA, Cerf became involved with two important acronyms: ARPANET (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) as part of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency). As described by Cerf himself, DARPA’s goal in the early 1970s was to figure out a way to connect several universities together to compile their research on artificial intelligence and computer science, primarily for Federal Defense use. According to Cerf, these universities were hopeful that this research agreement would provide them with state-of-the-art, individualized, frequently updated technology valued at millions of dollars. In reality, DARPA responded to these universities with something along the lines of, “We’re going to build a network, and you’re going to share.”
While this decision (seemingly based only on budget constraints) wasn’t met with enthusiasm by participating universities, the shared network was built, and was referred to as ARPANET. This network was the first of its kind as it had distributed control, email capabilities, and thanks to Vint Cerf in particular, had end-to-end data communication via dedicated phone lines. This seemingly inconsequential decision to create a shared network (as opposed to constantly updating the technology of 12 universities) is truly what provided a foundation for the internet.
Shortly after the creation of ARPANET, Vint Cerf and his colleague Robert Kahn began refining their work on behalf of the US Department of Defense. The theory was that this network could be implemented in Command and Control services to yield a better use of Defense resources. The problem at the time, however, was that tanks, airplanes, and other Defense equipment could not be bound by the physical cables used to access the original ARPANET. This was essentially the “inter-net” problem: How would a network transition from dedicated telephone lines to satellite connections, and how would those satellites exchange packets of varying information, varying sizes, and varying lag times? By the end of 1974, Vint Cerf contributed detailed specifications called Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to the project, and after squashing the bugs and ironing out the kinks, TCP/IP was put in place to transfer data in real time. A recognizable “internet” was first turned on in January of 1983.
Becoming the Internet Evangelist
“[Since ARPANET], we actually had some appreciation for what this technology could do, and we used it for a lot of the applications that we still use today,” Cerf adds in his 2018 interview with USC Price. As a founder of the internet as a whole, Cerf has since earned numerous accolades for his work including the A.M. Turing Award, National Inventors Internet Hall of Fame, several honorary degrees, and many others. His current role as VP and Chief Internet Evangelist with Google is an apt name for his long-standing work.
The word, “evangelism,” most often used in a religious context, applies to Cerf as a way of acknowledging his contributions to a wide-spread technological feat, his efforts to standardize it, and guide it through the many changes that users and market demands. According to Google, “[Vint Cerf] contributes to global policy development and continued spread of the Internet.”
Some of the global policies we admire here at Tetra include the organization of the internet through the non-profit ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which coordinates IP addresses and domain names primarily. Its governance is worldwide within five regional registries, and its control is in the hands of a multi-national stakeholder community, the goal being “[to achieve] an even more democratic framework so that the internet can remain free and open.”
Security and Education
In the same breath, Vint Cerf encourages the ethical creation and security of new tech to come. With his valuable foresight, he encourages new software developers and major organizations to stay cognizant of their role in producing safe tools for everyone to use: “This is an inescapable element of our future that [creators] need to take responsibility for… For the things that others rely on.” Whether or not this insight comes from his background in National Defense, he correctly sees the importance of keeping safety and security front-of-mind in any new development — advice that our team takes to heart.
Finally, Vint Cerf is an advocate for life-long learning, and embraces digital learning across all domains. By Cerf’s reasoning, as technology advances in the coming decades, it will simply not be possible to become complacent; “We will all be confronted with having to learn new things.” While learning new skills and adapting to new environments takes hard work, Cerf inspires our team to continue learning, innovating, and educating today.