Vint Cerf

Went to see a talk at Imperial’s Department of Computing* by Vint Cerf, currently Google’s “Chief internet evangelist.” But Cerf’s roots are deep in tech: at Stanford in the seventies he co-invented the TCP/IP protocol which controls how information moves around the internet.

I discovered that this was mostly a Google recruiting talk for Imperial’s Computer Science students (applications due this Friday!), but at least that gave him an audience with whom he could switch from “Evangelist” mode — “wow! there are almost a billion machines on the internet!” — to full-on techie, spouting acronyms like BPG4 that I had never heard of. Of course he fielded some political questions such as the obligatory “why is Google allowing the Chinese to censor Google’s search results”. (To which he gave the same answer as he did on the BBC’s Today Programme earlier this week: very little is censored; we tell the users it’s censored; and even a trickle of information may be enough.)

Cerf also talked about a non-Google project, much further away, but closer to my intellectual home as an astrophysicist: the InterPlanetary Network, a protocol for communicating with spacecraft throughout the solar system. Cerf got most visibly exciting when answering a question about possible terrestrial uses for the sorts of technologies developed for this projects: disruption and delay-tolerant networking, which could be used to communicate not only with spacecraft that could be light-hours away, but with remote villages such as those of the Sami of Northern Finland.

An aside: Cerf talked a bit about the controversy over Google’s plans to scan, well, every book they can get their hands on (strictly in order to index it, he says). I’m sure I’m far from the first to notice the amusing coincidence of the two meanings of “IP”: “Internet Protocol” and “Intellectual Property” which overlap so much these days.

*I’m sure this link will be down after this term; sorry!