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IEEE Fellow Spreads Gospel of the Internet at IEEE-USA Future Leaders Forum

By Chris McManes

The most popular speaker at the July IEEE-USA Future Leaders Forum in New Orleans was probably an evangelist. But he wasn’t trying to save souls.

He was spreading the gospel of technology. The Internet to be precise.

Dr. Vinton Cerf is one of the leading authorities on the history and evolution of the Internet. That’s what happens when you’re one of the creators of the fundamental communications protocols and architecture of the Internet.

The Transfer Control Protocols/Internet Protocols (TCP/IP) that he and colleague Dr. Robert Kahn developed helped lay the groundwork for open-architecture networking. This allows computers on different networks to communicate and share information regardless of what hardware or software they employ.

Cerf and Kahn presented their “design and philosophy” of this network of networks 42 years ago in the IEEE paper, “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication.” Interestingly, the word “Internet” is nowhere to be found. “Internetwork” appears 39 times.

Today, Cerf is a Google vice president and its chief Internet evangelist. Is that one of the coolest titles ever or what? Calling him a “Father of the Internet” is pretty cool, too.

Kahn and Cerf are two of IEEE’s most distinguished members. President Bill Clinton in 1997 presented them with the U.S. National Medal of Technology. Seven years later they received the ACM Alan M. Turing award, aka the “Nobel Prize of Computer Science.” In 2005, President George W. Bush honored the IEEE Fellows with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

After Cerf completed his formal presentation at the Future Leaders Forum, he took questions from an audience made up primarily of IEEE students and early career professionals. Here are some of the topics he discussed:

New Economy Jobs

“The question is, are the people who are displaced from the old jobs capable of doing the new ones? And the answer may be no. Then the question is how do we deal with that? And the answer is exactly the answer that IEEE is handing right in front of you, which is, “keep learning, keep learning throughout your career.’ You’re going to live to a hundred years. You’re going to have to have multiple careers. You’re going to have to learn new things in order to stay productive.

“And so if there’s any lesson to come out of disruptive technology, it is that one: We must keep learning. We must keep innovating. And we must make ourselves relevant as time goes on.”

Disruptive Technologies

“Disruption is going to happen whether we like it or not. Technology moves on. These people in [this] room are people who invent new things based on what they know of physics and engineering and electronics. So that’s gonna happen. The disruption is inescapable. The question is can you adapt to it?

“We’re in the middle of experiencing disruption, for example, in the news business. It used to be that newspaper was the cheapest way of getting a lot of information out to everybody on a regular basis. But that’s not true anymore. Now online services are faster, and the advertising industry that drives that is now more specialized. It shows specific ads, like in the case of Google, to specific people rather than having to show everybody the same thing. So businesses that fail to adapt are the ones that are harmed, and that may not be the end of the world. I don’t consider that necessarily to be horrible.

“The whole industrial revolution put whole industries out of business, replacing them with something else. The real challenge is the jobs that are lost by disruptive innovation “¦ will be replaced with other jobs, I am confident of that.”

Internet Positives & Negatives

“This is a neutral technology. It gets used and it gets abused. And that’s common for infrastructure. It’s like cars on the road. People get drunk and they drive and they hurt themselves and other people. We don’t stop building roads and we don’t stop building cars because they are too valuable to the economy. The same is true of the Internet. But we have to deal with people who harm themselves and others, especially, on the Net. We have to find a way to deal with that.

“Cryptography is not the sole solution, so don’t let anybody tell you that, although it has a role to play in strong authentication and confidentiality.”

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager. For a highlight video of the Future Leaders Forum, see


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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