Jay Premack
Communications

Coffee Break with Vint Cerf

The co-father of the internet chats about an internet for the animal kingdom, improving security online, and the emerging technologies he is most looking forward to.

Following "An Evening With Vint Cerf," we asked the co-father of the internet your questions. 

You mentioned you were working on the internet for the animal kingdom, what is that about?

This is the Interspecies Internet. In truth, the Internet part is just to provide a communication channel between species that might otherwise not encounter a face/face engagement. Among the participants are people who are working with great apes, chimpanzees, dolphins, that show serious signs of ability to communicate. While there has been a fair amount of experience with human/non-human interaction, the notion of facilitating (experimenting with?) communication between non-human species is intriguing. The effort is still in early stages. 

What is your take on the idea that the internet is "rewiring our brains"? Do you worry about increasing cultural distraction, attention degradation, etc.?

I know only a little about this effect, but I have the impression that too early interaction with screens and games has a measurable effect on brain neural development and processing (based on PET  and fMRI scans). Whether this effect is negative or not isn't entirely clear to me but the fact that it is detectable raises questions in my mind that should have answers.

What are your views about the data layers of the internet where most of today’s mischief take place - be it identify theft, cyber-bullying, or digital deceit in our last election cycle? How might technologists and government improve ways to minimize the damaging aspects of global internet use and maximize its vast economic, social, and political potential? 

These problems manifest at many levels in the internet architecture. In many cases, the problems arise at the application level (phishing, social engineering, false account creation using stolen credentials, etc). There are, however, ample attack vectors at lower layers using a variety of tools including some from the intelligence community that have been released by inside attackers. Your last question is the $100M question (inflation since the 1960s $64,000 question). Part of the answer is better education for users to take action to protect their privacy and interests. We also need liability for negligent software, improved software production environments, and more use of cryptographic protections including two-factor authentication and end/end encryption, encryption of stored data, etc. 

What keeps you motivated?

The potential to get the rest of the world up and running on the internet, contributing to its contents and protecting its users. 

Which emerging technologies are you most excited about?

Quantum computing; Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning; Interplanetary Internet protocols; intra- and inter-cellular communication models; CRISPR-CAS9; self-driving cars....