Future of the Internet with Vint Cerf

The Internet is among the most profound achievements in human history. We talk with Vint Cerf, the co-inventor of TCP/IP, one of the foundational protocols on which the entire Internet relies.


Mar 08, 2019

The Internet is among the most profound achievements in human history. We talk with Vint Cerf, the co-inventor of TCP/IP, one of the foundational protocols on which the entire Internet relies and David Bray, an important thinker on policy and change agents.

Vint Cerf is one of the “Fathers of the Internet”, having co-designed the TCP/IP protocols and the Internet’s architecture. He contributes to global policy development and continued spread of the Internet. President Obama appointed him to the National Science Board in 2012. He is Chief Internet Evangelist at Google and the Chairman of People-Centered Internet

Dr. David A. Bray was named by Business Insider as one of the top “24 Americans Who Are Changing the World” under 40. He is passionate about championing positive #ChangeAgents working in turbulent and resource-constrained environments and was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum for 2016-2021. He also serves as a Faculty Member giving talks on Impact and Disruption at Singularity University, as well as guest lectures at both Harvard and Oxford Universities. He was selected to be a Marshall Memorial Fellow for 2017-2018, focused on Trans-Atlantic issues of common concern including exponential technologies and the global future ahead. He is Executive Director of People-Centered Internet and former CIO of the Federal Communications Commission.


Michael Krigsman: Where did the Internet come from and where is it going? What about the Internet of interplanetary space? Yes, that's a real thing. We're talking with an Internet pioneer, Vint Cerf, and David Bray, Executive Director of People-Centered Internet, an organization that's shaping the future of how the Internet can benefit society.

Vint Cerf, thank you so much for being here.

Vint Cerf: Thanks, Michael. I really appreciate the opportunity. Just to briefly say a bit, we actually have an interplanetary Internet in operation now and so, as we get into the show, I'd like to tell you a little bit about where that came from and where it's going. Of course, now we want to look at the more general question of what's happening to the Internet on our planet.

Michael Krigsman: Our other esteemed guest today is David Bray. How are you? Thanks for being here again.

Dr. David Bray: Thanks for having me, Michael. It's an honor to be on here with you and Vint Cerf. One, I'm really excited to get into the conversation about the solar system wide Internet efforts and why we can't just use TCP/IP in space and launch it towards Mars, how we have to do some adjustments for that. Then, two, talk a little bit more about the People-Centered Internet, which is dealing with the challenges here at home.

I'll put out an interesting thought conjecture, which is, as we are now several decades into the experiment that is the Internet, we may be discovering that the human component, how we receive information, how we process it, how we make sense of it, the challenge is we aren't necessarily ready for that immediacy of both emotions and things that come with it. Then, basically, how we can do demonstration projects that can improve people's lives using the Internet, that's what we hope to do with the People-Centered Internet Coalition.

About the Interplanetary Internet

Michael Krigsman: Tell us about solar system level Internet. Maybe that's a good place to begin. It's certainly an interesting place to start.

Vint Cerf: Well, I'm happy to do that. It turns out, in addition to some of the other hats I wear, including Chairman of the People-Centered Internet, I'm a visiting scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and have been in that role since 1998, so it's been over 20 years now. In that early period, around 1998, we had just successfully landed the Pathfinder robot on Mars after having many failures between 1976 and the Viking Landers and the 1997 landing of the Pathfinder.

My team at JPL and I got together. We said, "You know all of these missions to Mars and other parts of the solar system have been managed by point-to-point radio links from the deep space network, which is three 70-meter dishes in Madrid, in Australia, and in Goldstone, California. They're like 120 degrees apart so, as the earth turns, these things can see out everywhere into space.

Those point-to-point radio links don't have anything like the resilience of a network that we experience here on Earth with the internet, so we asked, "Could we build an interplanetary Internet?" We started out by thinking we could just use the TCP/IP protocols that Bob Kahn and I developed way back in 1973. We quickly discovered that it wasn't going to work because the distances between the planets are so big that the speed of light is too slow.

It takes between 3.5 and 20 minutes for a radio wave going at the speed of light or a laser beam going at the speed of light to get to Mars and another 3.5 to 20 minutes to come back. We're talking about sort of 40-minute round trip times in the worst case. None of the flow control schemes of the TCP protocol would withstand a 40-minute roundtrip time.

Then there's another problem. It's called planetary motion. The planets are rotating, and we haven't figured out how to stop that. [Laughter]

Dr. David Bray: [Laughter]

Vint Cerf: The consequence is that if you're talking to something on the surface of the planet, the planet rotates. After a while, he can't talk to it until it comes back around again.

We realized that we were in a variable delay and very disrupted environment. We had to invent a suite of protocols that are more resilient under those conditions than the TCP/IP protocol, so we did that. It's called the Bundle Protocol.

Then an interesting thing happened. We were just doing this as a speculative development but, in 2004, two rovers landed on Mars, Spirit and Opportunity, January of that year; successful landings, both of them. They were supposed to transmit their data back at a blazing 28.5 kilobits a second from the surface of Mars back to those 70-meter dishes. The radios overheated. Don't ask me why we didn't figure that out before we launched these things.

Everybody said, "Wow. Let's be careful. Don't let them run too much because they might destroy either themselves or damage the onboard sensor equipment." They backed off on the duty cycle and, of course, the scientists are all upset.

Somebody noticed the JPL that there was an expand radio on the rover, which couldn't get all the way back to Earth, but it could get up to an orbiting satellite. By good fortune, we had sent orbiting satellites ahead to image the surface of Mars to figure out where the rover should go. They were still in orbit, still had power, computing, and communications.

We reprogrammed the rovers and the orbiters. This is the cool part. This is stuff 35 million to 235 million miles away. You reprogram these devices so that we could use the prototype, interplanetary protocols to squirt data from the rover up to an orbiter as it came along overhead. The orbiter would hang onto the data, according to the interplanetary protocols until it got to the point where it could see the deep space network. Then it'd squirt the data down there, so it'd store and forward, which is how packet switching worked, in general.

All the data that's come back from the Mars missions, including the more recent Mars Discovery robot, have come through that method. Then we added the international space station to the system, so we have the Earth. We have the space station, and we have the Mars rovers and the orbiters all part of this interplanetary system.

The protocols have been standardized by the consultative committee on space data systems, which is a UN construct. All of the spacefaring nations are participating in that.

Dr. David Bray: Mm-hmm.

Vint Cerf: Now, everybody has access to these protocols if they wish to use them. They're available on GitHub. A number of terrestrial applications have arisen because of the resilience of these protocols.

At this point, we're ready to deploy those protocols on subsequent space missions, including one which NASA is now in preparation for called Gateway. Gateway is a very interesting, rather eccentric orbit around the moon, which is intended to aggregate, over time, the number of modules just like the international space station and support a shuttle service between the Gateway orbiter and the surface of the moon. That's in preparation for a possible other scenario, which might be a similar kind of thing on Mars where you could be shuttling back and forth between the surface of Mars and orbiters.

I'm extremely excited about the possibilities for a solar system wide Internet. Of course, now there is some consideration of how we get to the nearest star, which is Alpha Centauri. It's 4.3 light years away. That poses yet other fairly difficult problems that are yet to be solved.

Importance of Open Protocols to Society

Michael Krigsman: Well, I want to remind everybody that we're speaking with Vint Cerf and David Bray. David, Vint was just talking about protocols that are open and sharable, continuing the tradition of the original protocols of the Internet. This leads directly into the subject of our conversation. What is this openness, David? Why is this so important to the Internet? Not from a technical standpoint, but from social, political, regulatory, every other aspect you can think of, the human standpoint?

Dr. David Bray: Right, well, I think, in order to truly have a global Internet, which was the vision that Bob, Vint, and others had with the Internet, was that by making these protocols open, you truly could have interoperability and you could truly have an interconnected planet that could share information. I think the interesting thing, and this gets to your question about where are we going, there are some that have said, "Are we now, unfortunately, maybe becoming more--?" There are some that have said, "Are we becoming multiple internets in which you're going to have possibly an Internet that is, with China, behind the great firewall? They're controlling content. While they're using TCP/IP, they are doing things that are heavily filtered. Are you also going to have one that's possibly Russia's version as well?"

Then, on a little bit more subtle note, you've got the United States and you've got Europe. Europe is doing GDPR, which is an interesting General Privacy Data Regulation, which is an effort to try and actually provide privacy for your data, but it's interesting because it also has some things that aren't defined yet. I've talked to so many people that helped write GDPR. I said, "You need to protect healthcare data. That's good. Glad you said that. But what specifically do you include and not include as being healthcare data?" They said, "Well, we'll figure that out under the next five to ten years of court law."

Vint Cerf: [Scoffs]

Dr. David Bray: Quite frankly, in my opinion, I'm not a lawyer but I don't think--other than providing employment for the courts--deciding things through court law is the best way forward. And so, I think you run the risk of a fragmented approach going forward where there's maybe three, four different regimes trying to each carve out their own walled garden that is the Internet. I think, to me, that's not what the original hope was of the 1990s, which was, we'd have a way to all come online. We'd try to achieve greater understanding, achieve greater knowledge sharing. Part of what we've discovered is we have the human element to address first before we're truly ready for just the technical element of connecting the planet.

Vint Cerf: Just a couple of thoughts to add to what David has already summarized. The first one is that the original impetus for the Internet was, in fact, a Defense Department command and control system that would carry voice, data, and video. I would say that we succeeded in some ways beyond our expectations with all of those modalities.

At the same time, we gave away the design freely and openly because we knew that allies would have to be part of the system in order to achieve interoperability in joint efforts, but we didn't know who our allies were going to be 25 years hence, and so we decided the only solution there was to just give it away to everybody. That was our original intent.

Around the time of the late '80s and early 1990s, Tim Berners-Lee was at CERN. He was trying to figure out how to share his reports among his colleagues that included imagery and the formatted text and the like. He came up with what we now call the World Wide Web using the hypertext markup language to describe the documents and the hypertext transport protocol, which layers on top of TCP/IP. That was intended to be freely and widely available because the scientific community benefits from sharing of his knowledge freely and as openly as possible.

David's description of what's happening from the governmental point of view is driven in part by seeing that the openness of the Internet, the reduced barrier for injecting information into it and getting information back from it, has led to some side effects, which I frankly think that we hadn't thought through, one of which is that there are people out there who are deliberately injecting misinformation, disinformation, trying to commit fraud, trying to invade other people's systems, create botnets, generation spam, do denial of service text, distribute malware. There's a long list of things, malicious things, that people do when they're, of course, scattered all over the world. The problem is that the victims and the perpetrators are often in different legal jurisdictions, often crossing the international boundary, leaving us with a fairly complex law enforcement problem and a fairly complex social and economic problem.

David has alluded to, this could lead to fragmentation. It could be countries trying to wall off their part of the Net to control it better, which would erode the utility of this openness and this exchange of content. We are in a very interesting and, I would say, complicated period in the Internet's history, on this planet anyway, of trying to figure out how to maximize its utility while minimizing some of the harmful aspects that are appearing.

Michael Krigsman: Where are we in developing the ability to manage these conflicts that you're just describing?

Dr. David Bray: I'll jump on that hand grenade. I think we're in the era of still trying to reach agreed-upon vocabulary for some of the things we're seeing. In order to effectively address it, you first have to agree to terms. You can then use those terms to define what are the challenges and then work towards a solution.

Right now, there's not even a defined vocabulary, and so some of these things like what people call "fake news," well, maybe it's not necessarily fake news in so much as it is either misinformation or selective cherry picking of the facts or the content to support your existing perspectives. I equate this in a lot of ways.

We've had, and it has been said, we're at a very interesting point in human history. We've seen this before, too, with the Gutenberg printing press. The luxury we had there is we had about 200, 250 years to try and figure out what this really meant. That was even then just for a portion of the planet.

This is like giving everyone their own personal Gutenberg printing press at the same time and saying, "Go forth and do," and so we've got a much shorter time period to both figure out, what does this mean? How do we harvest the good of it? How do we make sure we deal with the fact that there is going to be confusion about what really is occurring?

What you really come across to is, our brains, evolution select for our brains have certain traits. One is confirmation bias. Those in our species that had confirmation bias were more likely to pass their genes on than those who didn't. The downside is, now in an era in which we have such information bombarding us on a daily basis, confirmation bias also makes us less open to considering additional facts as they come in.

The same thing with cognitive ease. The more you repeat something, the more someone is willing to believe it. That's what's done in advertisement. That's what's done in political rhetoric. The challenge is, it's the same thing that's done on social media where things are repeated. That makes us more likely to believe them because it seems familiar, even if that's not necessarily what really happened.

Then, finally, it's just the fact that anything taken out of context can either be made to look good or bad. How do each of us make sense of this information abundance given that we also, at the same time, have flattened the gatekeepers? In the past, there were only three, whether initially radio and then eventually television. While you may not have agreed with everything they put out, they were at least the gatekeepers and would actually serve as the conduits for what was going on.

Now the challenge is everybody can print whatever they want, both good and bad. And so, how do we make sense of what is going on in our world? That to me is an interesting challenge given that we do have confirmation bias, cognitive ease, and other parts that just make us intrinsically human.

Vint Cerf: David, one thing I would observe from that very nice summary is that even book publishing or the printing press produced a similar problem because there was nobody guaranteeing that the content of the book was necessarily accurate or anything else. In some ways, there was some implicit implication that something was probably well researched because, why would you go to the trouble of printing it? It's costly. The presumption was that you would go to the trouble of assuring that the content was worth all the expense, except, frankly, we all know about books that are filled with misinformation and disinformation, very deliberately, intending to reach a particular outcome.

We have that problem in the print world, and we have that problem now in the online world. The immediacy of the online world and the fact that everybody has his own printing press, as you say, just makes the matter more difficult because there are more sources of disinformation and misinformation and motivation for injecting that content. Anyone who has been looking at the news media in the recent two or three years will have seen accusations of nation-state interference with other elections by injecting controversy, by injecting misinformation and disinformation into our common communications challenge.

I also thought that it would be important for you to explore the utility and difficulty of critical thinking when it comes to being confronted with a large amount of content and not knowing which facts to adopt and which facts to reject. Learning how to think critically about that and ask all the right questions is a nontrivial exercise and it takes a lot of work. It isn't clear that everybody is actually willing to put that amount of work into filtering the content that they are exposed to.

Human Nature and the Internet

Michael Krigsman: Can I jump in and ask a question here? What you're describing are problems of human nature, agendas, and so forth that fundamentally have nothing to do with the Internet. And so, why do we need to have that conversation so prominently in the context of a discussion about the Internet?

Vint Cerf: It's because it's the medium through which all of these transactions take place. It's a convenient place to hang the debate. Your question, of course, implies one other thing that there is an implication that somehow the technology of the Internet can solve a problem. I think David and I would both agree that technology is challenged to deal with some of these problems because it isn't always clear what the facts are and there isn't some simple algorithm that says this is clearly a fact and this is not.

It gets worse when the scientists assert X as a fact. They've done experiments. Here's my theory, validates the theory and then, ten years later says, "Well, I made some more experiments and my theory was wrong. Here's a new theory." Everybody else says, "Well, now we don't believe anything you say because you told us this other thing was right. Then you said it's wrong. Now you're saying this thing is right, and we don't believe anything," which, unfortunately, erodes people's trust in science and scientific method.

Dr. David Bray: Exactly. It's the medium in which we communicate.

Vint Cerf: Yeah.

Dr. David Bray:

I think the other thing to also think about, Michael, to put it back, there was a time period in human history in which we thought the sun went around the Earth. Then we discovered later that, no, that was not the case. The Earth actually goes around the sun.

I think we're discovering the same thing, which is, we're born into this world and we grow up thinking that our thoughts are our own and, in some respects, we may have the initial opinion until we grow up and become adults that the world goes around us. What we're discovering with the planet is now the Internet allows us to see the planet as a whole and see different things in different context across the planet, which can be tremendously uplifting that we can understand that we are 7.6 billion people on this planet trying to do our best to coexist, trying to do our best to move forward. But, at the same time, we're also recognizing that things cannot be just left to individual thoughts of individuals or even just local communities. It's now thinking about the collective planet as a whole, and that's why we have to have the conversations about how do you relate to others through this medium called the Internet that connects us all on the planet and, eventually, if all things go well, in the solar system?

Vint Cerf: [Laughter] Right. Now we have to worry about Martian foreigners online.

Michael Krigsman: [Laughter]

Dr. David Bray: [Laughter]

The Internet Causes "Location Distortion"

Vint Cerf: The one other thing, which is very important, about the Internet and the things that layer on top of it, including mobile and things of that sort, smartphones, is that there is an immediacy. There is no distance anymore. Things happen all over the world and, yet, they become visible to you very, very quickly.

The result of that is that you feel like every bad thing you've ever heard of is taking place in your backyard. This distortion of reality, I think, is hard for us to ingest because our species evolved with the notion of locality. The Internet erases the locality and causes us to imagine that everything that's happening around the world is happening nearby. Our psychology, as a result, receives this as potentially alarming. This is a phenomenon that is new. Any of the other, the telephone, telegraph, and everything else, had some of those properties, but they didn't have it on the massive scale the Internet has now.

Dr. David Bray: Yeah, the diffusion. Yeah, exactly. The telegraph could community, but it wouldn't diffuse as rapidly as it does now on a daily basis, let alone hourly basis. This gets to the questions then of what I would call virality which, unfortunately, the research is showing if you want something to go viral, first make it angry. Second, make it fearful. The trouble is, you don't want to make it so it makes everybody angry. You want to make it so it makes one group angry and the other group angry in response or fearful.

Now, there's a little bit of hope that the third way to make something go viral is to have a sense of awe and of inspiration. Maybe we need more of that and less of the other two. Again, I think the fascinating thing is the Internet, in some respects, is a reflection of all of us as humans. And so, if anything, maybe what we need, going forward, is a deeper understanding of the empathy and what makes us humans, both at the individual level but part of the People-Centered Internet is thinking about the community and the society level as well.

Vint Cerf: This actually emphasizes the importance and role of anthropology, behavioral psychology, all these other things. I think of Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Sherry Turkle's book Alone Together. There are a number of things to read that reveal the human element of this online communication system and what its side effects are.

The Internet and Human Psychology

Michael Krigsman: Given the fact that, essentially, what you're saying is that the Internet is a reflection of fundamental dimensions of human psychology manifest in this communication thing, this communication device that brings the world to us with the sense of immediacy and distorts that sense of locality, as Vint was saying. This being the case, why are we even having this discussion at all? Human nature is what it is and protocols in communication devices are simply not going to change it, so why are we having the discussion at all?

Dr. David Bray: I don't think we're proposing. I know you're playing devil's advocate, Michael, as you always do. I don't think we're proposing that the communication protocols should change it. I think, if anything, it's just discovering that we now, in some respects, have the feeling of feeling more connected now than ever, but let me give you two quick things as well.

First is, back at the beginning of the 20th Century, there was this actual school of thought that thought there were three types of spheres. There was the inanimate sphere, the geosphere of the planet. Those were the things that were inanimate. Then there was the biosphere. That was animal life. Then there was this idea of a noosphere, N-O-O-sphere, which would be eventually where we'd have collective thoughts occurring. In some respects, that's what the Internet is allowing to occur.

What we're discovering, though, is not all those thoughts are necessary thoughts for the good of individuals in human society. Like all things, it's both mediocre and, unfortunately, has some bad things.

Then what also happens is this other phenomenon, which is, we humans have an inherent sense of fairness. We want things to be fair, which means, let's say someone has $100 and they offer you a percentage, so they only give you a dollar, well, economists would say you should take that dollar. We know that you're going to reject it if that other person gets to keep the other $99. If instead they give you an offer that's closer to, say, 40% or 50% and you feel like it's more fair, you're willing to accept it.

What the Internet is allowing us to do is we're now beginning to see what we think is perceived unfairness around the world. Some of it is real. Some of it is not. The trouble is, with social media, a lot of times people only put their best side forward online, and so you have this illusion that everyone else's life is better than yours and that's not fair. That causes anger, and that causes interesting anomalies.

This also is not just unique to humans. Again, going back to biology, primates as well, they will eat cucumbers up until the point where they see that another primate is being given a banana by somebody else. They'll reject the cucumbers and they'll throw them at the researchers and refuse to eat, which is not logical but, again, they're seeing that being done with another monkey or chimpanzee and they want that banana too.

The Internet is creating all these interesting second and third order effects, much like how books did for society when the printing press came out that we're now having to deal with because the future of the Internet, at the end of the day, is not the technology; it's how we as society choose how to use it.

Michael Krigsman: Vint, if we are giving both good and bad actors an equal access to this huge megaphone, is there any solution possible? If so, what should we be doing about it?

Vint Cerf: Well, I think we have learned lessons from other technologies in the past. In some cases, the mass media, for example, have regulated limitations on what they can and can't do. There used to be the notion of responsible journalism. You'd like to think there is still small evidence of that here and there. But as David has implied, if you have a business model that requires lots of attention in order to generate revenue, then you tend towards extremes in terms of what you broadcast and what you put out in the print media.

We have encountered problems like this before. Let me use a rough analogy. The automobile gets embedded. It too was a compressor of distance. It made it possible to live farther away from work and still commute. It led to the road system in the U.S. The interstate highway system led to both a boom of automobile production, but also housing because of what it allowed, the affordances that it permitted.

Here we are. We're faced with some of the same kinds of things in the Internet space. Think about the cars on the roads for a moment. When the cars were first built and were using cow tracks and other things because there weren't really any paved streets, eventually we realized that there were things that people could do with these that were potentially harmful, like running into each other, running into other things, driving on both sides of the street.

Rules got embedded in order to change the chaos to try to put order into chaos. That's what we do. That's why we create the laws. That's why we have regulations. That's why we have societies and governments. That's why we have social contracts where we give up some of our freedom in exchange for stability, peaceful, and safe existence.

We're going to adopt rules that will achieve those kinds of objectives in the online world. The big question, of course, is whether the rules differ from one country to another and whether or not the boundary between the countries ends up being in conflict or whether there's a way of making the rule set more or less compatible.

The United Nations Secretary-General has empowered a panel, a high-level panel, to discuss digital cooperation, which is a nice broad mean. It could mean lots of different things.

A portion of it is to ask the question, "How should nation-states interact with each other? What rules should they adopt? How should they cooperate with each other in order to cope with harmful behavior on the Net, even if it's crossing the international boundary?"

I think we are going to need to explore those kinds of things. Of course, we also have local questions about how to deal with bad behavior, how to regulate it, how to apprehend criminals or harmful actors, so we will be working our way through this as the Internet penetrates more deeply and as we become more heavily dependent on it.

I don't want to go on and on here. I want to put a small place marker here for a discussion about Internet of Things because that introduces its own set of interesting challenges.

Internet of Things

Michael Krigsman: What about the Internet of Things? It's a very interesting point. [Laughter]

Vint Cerf: Yeah, look. The simple idea here is that we can program all kinds of things now and they can have communication capabilities, so ordinary appliances that normally weren't part of the Internet can become part of it. That allows us to automate things. It allows us to use externally obtained information in order for those appliances to do useful things for us. There are these artificially intelligent assistants like Alexa and Google Home and others, which we interact with using voice communication, which is another manifestation of machine learning and AI.

The thing that I worry about, though, is that everything is dependent on software. As David and I both know and, presumably, your listeners know, the software is well-known for having bugs and that it often leads to things that don't work the way they're supposed to. We don't need to go into the details, but you were experiencing something like that in the process of setting up this conference call in the first place.

Now, what do we do about buggy software, and what responsibilities do programmers and companies have to protect people from these kinds of failures? It just exacerbates the brittleness of the infrastructure that we are relying on. We have to figure out how to cope with that.

Infrastructure and the Human Dimension

Michael Krigsman: There's this very significant technical component having to do with the infrastructure that has to be dealt with at the same time that we're dealing with the human dimensions and that is then expressed in business models and what's acceptable to society in terms of even government regulation.

Dr. David Bray: In fact, Michael, if I could add even a third dimension to it so we can make it a three-legged stool. In addition to the people side and the technical side, what really is also a phenomenon that's happening that I think historians will look back at what was 2010, 2020, and then what those decades were, were instrumenting the planet in a way that's unprecedented for human species. With the Internet of Things, plus small satellites, increasingly getting affordable to launch cube satellites, we will have sensors scattered throughout the planet and have an availability for what's going on around the world that the only time we ever came close to this was when we were living in nomadic groups and everyone in nomadic groups pretty much knew what was going on in that nomadic group. Now, we're going to know it for the entire planet.

That then also raises questions about privacy. That raises questions about transparency. That raises questions about, can anything you do be taken out of context? You already see some societies where they are doing public shunning if you do something that the society themselves does not feel is something that should be done.

There are questions about how do we live in that world in which we have now instrumented the planet, where do we want to go, and how do we want to live as, in this case, the United States, open societies? But there are other countries that will make other decisions that are appropriate for them. Can we still be connected as a planet through a global Internet?

When Governments Use the Internet to do Harm

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Twitter from Arsalan Khan exactly on this point. He asks, "What happens when governments, on purpose, use technology and data to do harm? Who is responsible to keep them in line?" is his question.

Vint Cerf: This, of course, is part of the challenge that the high-level panel on digital cooperation has been wrestling with because, in order to live in a cooperative and constructive environment, we have to recognize that there will be these kinds of bad behaviors. Because of the fact that they are global in scope and cross international boundaries, the only way to cope with this is to have a cooperative regime. There is one other possible way to deal with this, of course, and that's to have everybody cut themselves off from this global shared system, lose all of its benefits and value, lose all of the sharing of data and the ability to acquire and discover it, and then try to lock everything up inside national boundaries.

We have seen this huge appetite that people have. What is amazing to me is that even in economies where the disposable income is relatively low, there is a willingness to buy these smartphones, for example, because it gives access to information and because it allows this connectivity. The answer is more international cooperation, finding incentives that cause individuals, corporations, and governments to want to cooperate and collaborate to deal with the harmful effects, to cope with them, and to suppress them somehow while enhancing the positive benefits of this global connectivity. It won't be an easy task at all, but I sense a feeling, in many of the democratic countries anyway, that this is a value worth preserving.

In the autocratic world, however, there is a great deal or desire to prevent people from finding things out, to prevent them from cooperating with each other because that might lead to government overthrow. And so, you get this amazing difference of view about the utility of this kind of technology.

Michael Krigsman: It's interesting, the multiple points of view, as you say. We hold up in our society, as an ideal, this notion of cooperation, fairness, openness, transparency. Yet, from a functional standpoint in many other societies, for the leaders, these are antithetical to achieving the goals.

Dr. David Bray: I would go even further, Michael, and say there was actually a video done recently. It was a four-star that was assigned what was called the Pacific Rim, U.S. Pacific Rim forces, RIMPAC, in which he actually puts forward the premise, which is, some of those autocratic societies may be wanting to polarize conversations in more of the open, holistic, represented democracy societies, one, to demonstrate to our own people that says, "Look, they can't even agree amongst themselves. They're fighting amongst themselves. They're pulling themselves apart. They're being driven apart." That helps reinforce their own autocratic regime to say, "Well, you don't want that because the Internet and what it provides and other things like that are polarizing your society." Then, two, it also then hamstrings us to respond to the changing world.

2050, whoever looks back from 2050 to where we are, this is going to be an interesting next decade ahead that we're living in, in which you are going to try and see. As Vint said, I love that he said, "Can you provide incentives that work for all different types of regimes to try and suppress the less than great elements of what they could do with the Internet and try to encourage more of the good, positive elements of it, regardless of whether they choose to have a more autocratic versus open, representative regime?" That's going to be hard.

Even just to put it in context, with the People-Centered Internet, we had a big event last year, December 10th, 2018, which was 70 years after the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Now, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came after WWII in which those countries that were participating came together and said, "We want to make sure another WWII never happens again," and that was fresh in their minds. They remembered all the atrocities and everything like that.

Imagine, though, nowadays if you try to get people to agree to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from fresh--

Vint Cerf: Wow.

Dr. David Bray: --I don't know if they would ever do it. While we celebrate that we're becoming more progressed as societies and things like that, I think we've got some really hard, deep introspection to do as well as bridge-building to do with others to try and, again, recognize that we're all on this pale blue dot together. We've got to figure out a way to agree to some version of human rights both for the physical world we live in, but also the digital world we live in as well.

Vint Cerf: Imagine that you're in China right now. The Chinese government has made a huge investment in the Internet and they capitalized on it in dramatic ways if you look at some of the companies that have come out of this: WeChat, for example, Alibaba, and WeWork.

In fact, here's an interesting observation. Driving down the street, downtown Washington, D.C., this morning, I passed a little storefront that said WeWork in English and Chinese. It never dawned on me that the WeWork pane would actually have what looks like, I guess, a presence in Washington, D.C. That was a surprise.

We have the Chinese making this huge investment and, at the same time, very concerned about the potential abuse, from their point of view, of this knowledge sharing, which the Internet supports. And so, they work very hard to try to keep that knowledge sharing under control. We're going to be arm-wrestling with a lot of these phenomena for some time to come.

Transparency and the Internet

Michael Krigsman: We only have five minutes or so left. If the Internet technology is a kind of virtual Rorschach test or projection that allows people to project whatever they want, and given the diversity of opinion, as you've been describing, and the diversity of goals, can you, in our last five minutes, talk about some of the opportunities of the Internet? How do we retain that Rorschach style transparency and yet, at the same time, impose some type of -- is moral discipline the right term? I'm not even sure what the right term is.

Dr. David Bray: I think the first thought is, if what we're coming into terms with is our own human natures, can the Internet help hold up a mirror to us and say, "Look, for example, did you know the last ten news articles you read had this type of political bend or this type of media bend?" It might be that you're okay with it, but at least begin to make you aware of it.

Similarly, with things with hiring decisions, "Did you know that the last ten hiring decisions, you tended to select people of this type or you made salary offers of this type?" The reality is, you're never going to have unbiased humans. What you can do is maybe make us more aware. It can serve as a reflection of that.

The second thing is, actually, I think we need more research into a science of humans plus machines. How do they behave? That's not economics. That's not sociology. It's a new field.

I've been calling it augmented intelligence. Basically, how do these humans plus machines behave in different structural incentives? If you push out different type of stimuli, how do they behave? We can begin to at least have some explanatory and predictive science of that.

Then the third, I think, is when you talked about encouraging values. While I don't want to assume that my values are the values that are right for everybody else, I'd say three things, which is:

  • Encourage curiosity; always be learning.
  • Two: Encourage empathy, so at least you can put yourself in the shoes of somebody else.

There's a wonderful phrase from President Lincoln that said, "I do not like that man. I must get to know him better."

Vint Cerf: Yeah.

Dr. David Bray: I feel like we've forgotten that and we're all just resorting back to our own shoes as opposed to trying to wear the shoes of someone else.

The third, I think, is actually a willingness to experiment, learn from, and try again. We're going to have to figure out ways, at the community level, to have leaders that say, "Look, I may not have all the answers, but I can work with you to try and figure out what works best using this Internet for your community, whether it's at the local level, national level, or global level."

Vint Cerf: It would be hard to add much to what David has just said, but I will suggest to you that what we are all seeking, I think, in our environment in which we live and work is safety, security, some sense of privacy, stability, and agency in which to operate, to have choice, to choose to explore things of interest to us, to share what we've learned. We're looking for those benefits out of the societies that we live in. The Internet is a potential tool to achieve that objective. But, as this conversation has demonstrated, it's also a potential avenue for all kinds of disruptive kinds of behavior, which would lead us not to the benefit that we're looking for but some real negatives.

Figuring out how to cope with that at all levels--the personal level, the family level, the private sector level, the local and national government level, and the international level--all of them perceive, sense, and experience both the benefits and the deficits of this online environment and, at all of those levels, we have to be seeking solutions. That means we have to be talking with each other about what we're seeing, what we're experiencing, and what we think could be done in order to make the situation more manageable and more beneficial, which is, of course, why the People-Centered Internet was created. It was to focus on things like that, and we appreciate, very much, the opportunity to articulate that on your program, Michael.

Vision of the Future Internet 

Michael Krigsman: We are pretty much out of time. Before we go, Vint, can I just ask you to take 60 seconds and describe your vision of the Internet today? Has it changed since you coinvented the first TCP/IP protocols all those years ago?

Vint Cerf: Well, the thing which is different, frankly, is the arrival of the general public in the network. It started out as a military experiment. Then it became part of the academic community. Our national science foundation played a tremendous role in the expansion in the academic world, reaching now to other academic networks around the world.

When the general population got on, thanks to the World Wide Web, we saw a real sea change in the diversity of content showing up on the Net and the applications to which it was put. You just multiply that by the now 12-year-old smartphone, the iPhone that showed up in 2007, and you see this rapidly proliferating array of behaviors, content, incentives, and side effects, most of which, I have to be honest, were not necessarily squarely on our radar screen 40 years ago.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Well, we are out of time. I would like to express a sincere thank you to Vint Cerf and to David Bray. They are both involved with People-Centered Internet, PCI, so check that out. Thanks for watching, everybody.

Be sure to subscribe on YouTube and go to CXOTalk.com. We have lots of great shows coming up. Subscribe to our newsletter and keep abreast of all the great stuff that's coming out of CXOTalk. Have a great day, everybody. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Mar 08, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 584