Dr. Vint Cerf’s “Grand Experiment”

He is considered one of the true “Fathers of the Internet” – a pioneer in the world of technology. Dr. Vint Cerf was on the original team that helped build the Internet and send the first email message. Dr. Cerf was a critical player in working on what is called packet network interconnection protocols — TCP/IP. Dr. Cerf spoke with me at our pop up studio in Gateway, Colorado, during our first summer of Curiosity Retreats. He focused on those very early days of the Internet:

“And in the earliest stages when Bob Kahn and I were wrestling with this question, “How do we get these different kinds of packet switch nets to communicate with each other and make it operate in such a way that any computer at the edge could talk to any other computer on any other network and wouldn’t have to know exactly how that worked. They didn’t have to know, how were the packets being routed to multiple networks. They didn’t have to worry about, what kind of transmission facility was being used.”

As Dr. Cerf looked back on his team’s amazing creation that has transformed and connected the world as we know it, there is still a sense of awe and wonderment:

“Grand experiment is a beautiful way to describe all this. It’s a grand, global collaboration of people who figured out how to build a piece of internet, found somebody to connect to and let the system grow in a very organic way, and then invent new applications for it—which just gets to the heart one of the features of internet and its philosophy—and that’s openness. It’s the willingness to let people try anything out that they want to.”

But Dr. Cerf is the first to admit, it’s not all good. He told me there is a dark side to the Internet that it has been very hard to control:

“We still have this fundamental, basic problem. Software has bugs, and we don’t know how to write bug-free software. And until we can write bug-free software, we will always have potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited by other people.”

Yet, the birth of the Internet has now revolutionized communication, e-commerce and so many other parts of our world — that all began decades ago with a simple email message between two distant computers in California!

Richard Sergay
Chief Curator
CuriosityStream

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