Google Chief Internet Evangelist Sees Changing Shape of the Web
San Diego, CA, April 23, 2007 -- Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf – whose day job at Google carries the weighty title of Chief Internet Evangelist – spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at Atkinson Hall on April 19. His talk was hosted by the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), where Cerf also sits on the Advisory Board.
In his talk about “Internet Research Challenges,” Cerf noted that with the advent of Wikipedia, YouTube and social networking communities such as Facebook and MySpace, “users are becoming the center of the universe. They are in control.”
Cerf recalled that ten years ago, most users were in the United States. Today, North America accounts for 232 million users, while Asia and Europe have 389 million and 312 million, respectively – statistics that will impact the content of the network and the languages that are used to interface to it.
During the past decade, meanwhile, the number of Internet users has exploded, from 50 million to over one billion. And with “increasing numbers of wireless phones and other devices being Internet-enabled,” said Cerf, “that means that for many people in the world, their first introduction to the Internet will be through mobiles rather than through desktops and laptops.”
Still, explained Cerf, he has his work as an “Internet evangelist” cut out for him, given that Internet penetration today reaches only 16.6% of the world’s population. “There are a billion people on the continent of Africa alone, and only 32 million are hooked up to the Internet,” said Cerf. “However, there are over 90 million people in Africa with wireless phones, so as those phones become Internet-enabled, the continent will start to derive more benefits from the Internet.”
The number of server “hosts” hooked up to the Internet has exploded from 22 million to 433 million in the past decade, said Cerf. But, he added, “in June of 2006, the statistics showed 439 million hosts. So that is the first time that we have seen this particular data from the Internet Software Corporation trend down rather than up, and we’re just not sure why.” One possibility: more servers hidden behind firewalls.
Cerf recalled being a graduate student at UCLA when the first packet switch was installed as part of ARPANET. "That machine is now in the Computer History Museum, and of course some people think I should be there with it," he joked.
During his visit to San Diego, UCSD division director Ramesh Rao briefed him on new developments, including the creation of Calit2's new Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3), which applies multispectral imaging and other digital technologies to learn more about cultural heritage. UCSD archaeology professor Tom Levy also briefed Cerf on the institute's plans for a Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land. The Google executive has taken a special interest in efforts to spread the benefits of the Internet to new fields, and Cerf spoke earlier this month at the summit of the Digital Humanities Centers organized by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
Prior to his talk in Atkinson Hall, Cerf also addressed nearly 500 private-sector attendees at a meeting of the San Diego Venture Group. Joining him on stage for Q&A and a discussion about the future of the Internet were Calit2 director and Computer Science and Engineering professor Larry Smarr, and former Jacobs School of Engineering dean Bob Conn, who is now managing director at Enterprise Partners Venture Capital and also a member of the Calit2 Advisory Board.
After helping to develop TCP/IP packet switching networks and the ARPANET, Cerf developed (at MCI) the first commercial email service to be connected to the Internet. He joined Google in September of 2005 as its Chief Internet Evangelist. Cerf received the U.S. National Medal of Technology in 1997, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, for his work that "enabled the digital revolution and transformed global commerce, communication, and entertainment."