SuperComm The Internet has gotten to Vint Cerf and done so in an uncomfortable way.
You can't blame the famed co-developer of the TCP/IP protocol for loving the Internet. Cerf, however, appears to have crossed from having a healthy interest in IP technology to developing a damaging techno-utopian style lust, if an evening speech at today's SuperComm event can serve as a Cerfian mental barometer.
Cerf began his SuperComm speech in a solid fashion. He described some basic premises behind IP and told the small - say 40 people - crowd how the Internet has shaken up communications standards. The US government currently has different sets of rules for TV and radio, cable and telephony. The Internet can handle all these types of information flow via a single mechanism. So the US government should go ahead and revise the way it regulates these various services.
"I've been having this debate with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) for most of the last two years," he said.
Pretty normal stuff.
But that was basically where our comprehension of Cerf's speech came to an end. Actually, the specific end came right after this statement.
"One of the things that has astounded me is the proliferation of devices appearing on the Internet," Cerf said.
The IP crusader then launched into a lengthy, as in nauseating, description of all the surprising things that now connect to the Internet. There are Net-connected refrigerators, Net-connected cars, Net-connected picture frames and even Net-connected phones. But the one example that really got the SuperComm crowd going was a Net-connected surfboard, you know, so you can "surf while you surf." Big laughs.
For a minute, we wondered if the speech was not being held in a fancy time machine - one outfitted with wine, plush chairs and butlers. Didn't we all get this same speech back in 2000? Over and over again?
Well, no, we were not in a time machine, but Cerf suggested we should be. He asked the audience to think about the problems a 2004 person would have in a 1954 world.
"If you went back to 1954, we might all break our noses in the first week waiting for doors to open," he said.
Cerf went on to say we would all wait for hours for automatic faucets to spray out water and for toilets to flush themselves.
Just to prove Cerf wrong, your reporter went to the nearest door and pushed it open, with his bare hands, then charged to the bathroom, flushed the toilet and washed his hands. The latencies that these analog devices showed were surprisingly low.
When we returned things had not improved. Cerf was talking about a food company having troubles putting RFID tags in chickens, and how some student might push for a grant to improve the process. Cerf suggested some Senator might get wind of said grant and complain about funding networked chickens.
"I would say, 'Senator, this is not stupid at all,'" Cerf said, flexing his muscle.
Then he went on to outfitting wine bottles with RFID-strapped corks, so that wine drinkers would know everywhere their bottles had been. Cerf has taken a personal interest in this proposition and hopes to submit the work to the Nobel Prize committee.
We're not making this up.
The last trip through Cerf's IP-soaked mind went into outer space. Yet again. It's a vision he's been outlining since 1998: along with JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Cerf has designed the Interplanetary Internet Protocol. Come 2009, scientists hope to have an IIP-ready orbiter making its way around Mars so that we can end the decade with the "two-planet Internet in operation."
And with that, as if it were needed, Cerf confirmed the obvious journey he has taken into outer space, making him the second pundit in recent weeks to be spotted off planet.
Come back, Vint! We miss you. ®
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