While some of those ideas are not exactly new, but rather debunked ideas sometimes from decades ago, Cerf said the passion and drive of his younger colleagues in a way keeps him going.
“I have to remind myself there’s probably a reason it didn’t work [back then],” Cerf said. “I’ve been forced to rethink a lot of ideas. I consider it to be a very invigorating challenge.”
Eileen Cahill – vice president of professional development for Stemme, a Georgetown student organization that partnered to host the event – said she particularly enjoyed hearing Cerf talk about the younger generation of scientists and innovators.
“He said when he was first starting in developing the Internet, they created something where it could grow, but they didn’t plan on it growing,” Cahill said. “I think that’s important for us to realize is that whatever we’re working toward might not be realized immediately, and it’s a long-term goal. There is so much to discover, and our fearlessness helps us in an incredible way.”
But Cerf’s job today isn’t just rethinking ideas that might have been rejected 25 years ago due to a lack of technology. As the Internet has grown, so too has a new range of issues, such as cyber security, ethical concerns, privacy, market competition, and more.
With new advancements in technology, individuals, experienced scientists, and industry leaders have all speculated about the potential dangers with artificial intelligence. But Cerf said he’s not “terribly worried about the scary things,” such as robots taking over the world. Rather, he’s more concerned about problems with software that we rely on – such as devices in our homes, offices, or cars – and with privacy.
Georgetown Provost Robert Groves, Vint Cerf, and NSTMF Chairman Jim Rathmann at NSTMF’s AEW Event on March 27th, 2017
“It feels to me like privacy has been eroding pretty dramatically over the last 100 years or so,” he said, mentioning, for example, that people now have the ability to take photographs of other people on their phones and share them without the other party ever knowing or giving permission. “I think we’re still struggling right now with the right kinds of social mores to go along with the technology we’ve invented.”
In some ways, the Internet was intended to be open and functioning without too many barriers, he said.
“The Internet was designed with the idea that anything can talk to anything,” Cerf said. “We liked the idea of anything communicating with anything else. At the time we did the design, we also assumed any device on the network could refuse to communicate with someone else. You didn’t have to communicate, you just had the possibility.”
But as time has gone on, people have tried to put limits on the openness of the Internet. At the same time, social media has exploded across the globe, and the volume of content available on the Internet is “well beyond anything in human history,” Cerf said.
“No country has ever been faced with that situation before,” he added.
“From my point of view, all the mechanisms in the world to try to deal with this … won’t successfully filter according to someone’s idea.”