More than 30 years ago, Vint Cerf and colleague Robert Kahn - performing research sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - created the core standards that allow computers across the globe to link together.
The two men developed the transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) suite, a stack of networking protocols that forms the Internet's foundation. Ultimately their work revolutionized how citizens, businesses and governments use and share information.
Today Cerf is vice president and chief Internet evangelist of Google, where part of his job is to identify new Internet applications and technologies. In addition, Cerf is chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) a nonprofit organization that coordinates Internet domain names and IP addresses globally.
Cerf spoke with Government Technology at Google's Washington, D.C., offices. During the hour-long conversation, Cerf discussed numerous issues that will shape the Internet's future, including Net neutrality, municipal wireless projects and mobile connectivity.
GT: A quote from you says that 99 percent of all Internet applications haven't been conceived of yet. Why do you say that?
Cerf: The basis for my speculation is to look at the rate at which new ideas are coming along on the Net, either within the Web context or elsewhere. There is an increasing number of people with capability and interest in building applications on the Net. You can predict even now, with only 1 billion users on the Net, that as we move toward the next decade of the 21st century, maybe we'll have 5 billion users - that's a factor of five right there. And some of these things are not linear in terms of the rate at which inventions happen. Every time somebody invents something that's successful or comes up with a new standard, it creates another platform on top of which invention can happen. So this thing is a positive feedback loop.
GT: What will the Internet look like in the future?
Cerf: We can already see some very clear trends, and I think the clarity of my vision probably doesn't go more than five or six years out. One thing for sure is that an increasing amount of applications will be available on mobile devices. Second, the speeds at which you can access the Net will increase over time, both in the wireless and the wired world. Third, more and more devices are going to be Internet-enabled, which means they can be managed through the network. You can imagine exchanging all your remotes to control your entertainment equipment with one single mobile, which interacts with them through the Internet, which means it could be anywhere. You don't have to be at home in the living room or entertainment room controlling the device directly with an infrared signal. Instead you're talking through the network to those devices, and of course strong authentication keeps the 15-year-old next door from reprogramming your entertainment system.
Another thing we'll see is an increasing amount of sensor-type systems being part of the Internet, so their information is accessible that way. It could be buildings or automobiles that are instrumented. Devices we carry around might be capable of detecting hazardous materials in the air. They may even be capable of detecting humidity, temperature and other very basic things. But the result of collecting all of that information is a micro-view of climates or weather, making our weather prediction even more precise because of the data we get.
Beyond that, it's a little hard to say, except for an effort to expand the Internet's operation so it can work across the solar system. That's part of an application I have been working on with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and more generally with NASA. It is