Vint Cerf, the co-creator of tech that makes the internet work, worries about hacking, fake news, autonomous software, and perishable digital history.
I’m squeezed into a side corridor at the elegant Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco during the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) annual conference in June. Sitting across from me is Vinton Cerf, whose moniker, “Father of the internet,” might as well be part of his legal name. In his signature style, Cerf wears a three-piece suit with pocket handkerchief, his white beard and hair closely cropped. Despite his raft of awards (including the ACM’s Turing Prize in 2004 and the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2005), and position as chief internet evangelist at Google, Cerf is disarming, modest, and often funny.
Cerf doesn’t demur the title Father of the Internet, but he emphasizes that he co-parented with others–especially Robert Kahn, with whom he has shared major awards. In the mid-’70s, Cerf and Kahn crafted TCP/IP, which became the internet addressing system that ensures a data packet created anywhere in the world gets to a computer, smartphone, robot, smart car, drone, or connected thermostat anywhere else in the world—although many of the gadgets now on the net weren’t even glimmers in a futurist’s eye at the time. “Bob and I didn’t know what applications would be feasible,” says Cerf.