Wisdom from the Father of the Internet - Vint Cerf


In October, Startup Grind DC had the utmost honor to host Dr. Vint Cerf who is also widely known as the "Father of the Internet".  The former DARPA scientist worked on data packet technologies which led to the internet as we know it. His led internet architecting at Verizon for eleven years and and spent fourteen years with NASA taking the internet to space. Vint serves as an evangelist for our October host and Startup Grind sponsor, Google. There he continues to push the bounds of the internet as we know it, into unconnected communities and new iterations in the internet of things.


Vint defied the portrait of a geeky scientist: Tall, and impeccably dressed, he took over the stage at our fireside chat, lobbing a joke at Brian. “You shouldn’t clap before people speak – you don’t know what they’re going to say yet.”


The Primordial Internet and the Cabana Hotel


Vint’s life story didn’t let us down there: Growing up in San Fernando in the Valley, his high school boasts Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, Steve Crawford, Jon Postel, who managed the domain name system, and Richard Carp who wrote the first implementation of TCP. It may have been fate that brought Vint just across the hill to UCLA’s campus, where the first node of the internet was being developed. There at only 17 he wrote his first piece of program, a transcendental equation, on a Bendex.


Brian fast-forwarded us to 1973 at the Hyatt Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto with Bob Con and the beginning of TCP/IP. Why the Cabana Hotel? “When you’re on a government salary, you have to choose hotels you can afford”, explained Vince. Armed with a pencil, the two had sat down to write the design for publication.


Model for the Internet: The United States Postal Service


“Aha is not quite the right notion here,” said Vince. Like any great inventors they had spent months working on the design. Like many other entrepreneurial teams, Bob and Vince had worked together previously to successfully design “archinet” in Washington, DC, a packet-switching pre-internet model that allowed for a homogenous network with heterogenous computers. Any brand of computer could host archinet, effectually democratizing internet access from its very birth.


Explaining TCP/IP protocol’s evolution very simply, he said, “no network knew how to refer to any other network, because they didn’t know there were other networks. We needed addresses.” The second problem was connecting the networks to be able to send info packets. “Since the networks didn’t know they were connected, we had to put a box in between them to be able to talk to both nets.” The “box” worked to receive info packets, unpack, repack and “ship” them to their final destination. “Simplicity was our friend,” summarized Vince.


Google Self-Driving Cars and What’s Next for the Internet


Of the internet of things, Vint sees infinite possibilities. “I think we are going to be surrounded by smart devices. There’s something really magic, to be able to assume, that any device you have that has some programmability in it could be part of a communications network, and could communicate with any other random, programmable device. When you assume that’s the norm, you have almost no limit to the kinds of ideas you can come up with.”


Asked about the “future”, Vint responded, “I’m not better at anyone else at predicting the future, but I will say this ‘Smart City’ idea is a real grabber for me”. He gave the common examples of avoiding traffic congesting, controlling resources like water and electricity based on supply and demand, and looking at waste and disposable resources. “This notion of being able to track behavior and consumption – and feed that back – this is the one thing we lack in our lives, the ability to understand the impact of what we’re doing.”


On a more specific note, Brian had to ask, what’s up with the Google’s self-driving car? “There are all kinds of potential things, including cars being to adapt to what’s going on with traffic, etc.,” said Vint. However, he also quipped, “Our new cars have not accelerator, steering wheel or break. The reason is, we discovered people are not very unreliable…You’re in the backseat sleeping, or watching a movie, and [the car would alert you] ‘take over now!’ And you wouldn’t do a very good job. So we’ve concluded we really have to make the cars to everything – and they have to do it all the time.”