Kahena Interview VI – Vint Cerf
All of us who work in SEO and online marketing have Vint Cerf to thank – for Vint is one of the people who is responsible for the creation of the internet. No internet and god knows what we’d be doing now! In today’s age, going offline for just a matter of moments paralyzes us, but for those old enough to remember, we once lived in a world where there was no offline or online. We swallowed the red pill and things haven’t been the same since. It’s hard to adequately describe Vint’s accomplishments and achievements, because there are just so many. Being chairman of ICANN and commissioner for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development are two of the things he’s done and of course he’s now a Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google. He has prizes, honors and awards galore and all of them are recognition of his work. It really is our pleasure to be able to speak to him.
Is there anything in the evolution of the internet that has surprised you?
Yes, with the arrival of the WWW there came a tsunami of shared information from the general public; this has been replicated with Flickr, FaceBook, Google+ and many other information sharing services in addition to blogs, web pages, etc. I think I was surprised by the degree to which users wanted to share information simply for the pleasure of knowing it might prove useful to others.
What are the biggest challenges ahead for the internet?
Implementing IPv6, improving security and safety, fending of attempts by governments to censor and otherwise inhibit freedom of expression, coping with abuse, finding a way forward to deal with “bit rot” (the loss of ability to interpret or render digital content for lack of the application software that created it) and with the treatment of material under copyright, improving support for mobility and sharing of radio spectrum, increasing deployment of broadband services….
Of all the awards and honors you’ve been awarded, which one are you most proud of?
That is very hard to say and “pride” is not quite the feeling I have. “Gratitude” and “surprise” come to mind. The ACM Turing Award and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom are remarkable when you consider the others who have been so recognized. The most significant award has been the willingness of millions of people to help make the Internet a reality. It’s hard to describe the amazing feeling to see over two billion people making use of the Internet. I am sure the inventor of the mobile, Martin Cooper, must have a similar feeling.
What are you most proud of on your time with ICANN? Any regrets?
First, the organization became financially self-sustaining and survived despite many challenges from powerful antagonists. Second, the organization re-invented itself in an honest effort to improve its capacity to serve its multi-stakeholder community. Third, internationalization of the Domain Name System (thanks also to technical work at the IETF). I wish I had been more successful in drawing participation of more countries into the GAC – I still think that needs work.
How far away are we from living in The Matrix?
I think we are far from such a situation. Despite my apparent resemblance to the Architect in the Matrix, I have a strong belief that humans will adapt the technology to use and not the other way around.
In 2010 you mentioned these three crises. Do you still think these are the biggest three facing the internet?
These were adoption of IPv6, coping with security and safety, and dealing with mobility. These are still challenges but i would now add to this the threat of excessive governmental and inter-governmental control.
Is working at Google really like working at Willy Wonka’s factory? What have the seven years there been like?
It has been a remarkable experience. Many young people, too young to know “you can’t do that” just go and do it. Second, they say “what don’t we X” (for some value of “X”). And I will think “Gee, we tried that 25 years ago and it didn’t work” – then I have to remind myself that there were reasons why “X” didn’t work and those reasons may no longer be valid, so it is worth re-considering “X” again! Being surrounded by people who are smarter than you are is wonderful – you get to learn a lot and people at Google are very willing to teach you what you don’t know but want to learn. Despite a lot of turbulence in the digi-sphere, I think Google has plotted a very commendable course through what could be a moral mine field.
Has your interplanetary work impacted the way you feel about God?
Probably not in the way you might mean but it has certainly given me great respect for the slow speed of light….
Can you see any parallels between the Internet and the Tower of Babel?
Perhaps except that Google Translate is there to reduce the babble of Babel. Internet certainly lets many voices speak.
Does Google have too much power?
I don’t think so – it is very successful but its success is based on technology and primacy in that space can be fleeting. Think of all the search engines that have preceded Google and the many who may follow it.
Could you imagine life now without the internet?
Well, yes since I grew up without it. I didn’t get to use it until I was about 28 and we had to invent it first!!
What does a typical day of yours look like?
Up early, plow through the morning’s email, review calendar, write responses to questionnaires like this one, review pending deadlines (for speeches, videos, presentations); head to airport (or local meetings); spend much of the day in meetings; hope I can get home at a reasonable hour for dinner! After dinner, more email and maybe a streaming Netflix movie!
You can invite any 8 people (living, dead, fictional) to a dinner party – who do you invite?
The Dalai Lama, J.R.R. Tolkien, my wife, Sigrid, Steve and Beth Crocker, Brian Greene, Alan and Arlene Alda
Away from work, how do you like to relax?
Science Fiction, Crossword puzzles, classical music (Wagner, Beethoven, Handel…), wine tasting and gourmet cooking.
You’ve already achieved a lot. What are your unfulfilled goals?
See the completion of the IPv6 roll out; achieve critical mass in the Smart Grid; finalize standardization of the interplanetary protocols; finish the five books that have been on my mind for a decade.
Who are your favorite heroes in fiction and real life?
In fiction, Frodo Baggins. In non-fiction, John Harrison (see Longitude by Dava Sobel), Jim Barksdale and George Conrades.
What are your biggest indulgences?
Caymus Special Select Cabernet and Le Montrachet Chardonnay; pumpkin chiffon pie; reading without pause: the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, The Lensman series by Edward E. Smith, the Harry Potter novels, and almost anything by Hal Clement.
Given the demands of your position, how do you achieve the balance between personal and business?
To be honest, I am a workaholic and have guilt feelings when I am not working and for taking time away from family to satisfy workaholic cravings. My family has involuntarily sacrificed a lot to allow me the time to indulge my Internet and related work.
You’ve been to the White House and met celebrity upon celebrity. Over the years, have you found yourself in surreal situations where you couldn’t believe it was happening?
Many times. The feeling often arises when meeting with royalty, prime ministers and presidents and other famous people. With few exceptions, I have found most of these notable people to be personable and surprisingly humble.