Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cerfing the Net


As every schoolchild knows, the Internet began, oddly enough, as a U.S. national security imperative: RAND Corporation staffers, faced with the hypothetical problem of a communications paralysis in the U.S. following a nuclear attack, developed a proposal for a completely decentralized communications network, connected by "nodes"of equal status that could toss a "packet" of information from one node to another until the information could reach its intended destination.

A few years of noodling and testing followed, until the Pentagon asked the computer science department at UCLA to assist in building a computer network that encompassed the RAND concept of "packet switching."

While the Pentagon had national security in mind, Vinton Cerf, a grad student in computer science at UCLA in 1968, had a personal stake in this alternative method of communication. Cerf (who was born prematurely on this date in 1943) was hearing-impaired and could not differentiate between telephone voices; "electronic mail" would eventually prove to be a more friendly form of communication. Cerf worked on the first relatively crude system of computer protocols that would allow different computers speaking different languages to communicate with each other over telephone lines in service of "packet switching."

By 1971, UCLA had built a 15-host system, known as the ARPANET, which was used by Pentagon scientists and their counterparts in the university sector to communicate with each other and post information of mutual interest. In 1972, Cerf joined the faculty at Stanford, and with the help of Robert Kahn and several others, conceptualized and refined the more sophisticated TCP/IP protocols for computer communication. The Transmission Control Protocols, or TCP, convert messages into streams of packets at the source and reassemble them back into messages at the destination; the Internet Protocols, or IP, handle the addressing of packets being routed across multiple nodes.

In the mid-1970s, Cerf joined the Pentagon to implement TCP/IP as the prevailing standard for computer communication. By the mid-1980s, the Internet had become one of the most influential scientific instruments of the century, enabling the free exchange of research and even the sharing of computing facilities on a global basis at low cost and high speed; but even Galileo's refracting telescope, another influential scientific instrument, could be used for other things than its intended scientific purpose -- as a window to the beauty of the firmament, as a club to beat people over the head with, or, one supposes, if you take the lenses out of a hand-held one, an imperfect funnel.

As the Internet expanded past the original ARPANET sites to 30 million hosts by the beginning of 1998 (due in part to the creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, among others, which began to give the Internet its user-friendly media and navigation characteristics), users found a myriad of decidedly non-scientific uses for the Internet, the most significant being perhaps the transaction of consumer commerce (see funnel, above) for everything from mechanical parts to flowers to real estate to pornography. Cerf later served as a vice president at MCI Communications, where he continued to develop Internet-based services and tools, and now holds the title of "vice president and chief internet evangelist" at Google.


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7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come you don't mention Al Gore?

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, it's vint cerf. there are a few corrections I would like to make in the blog about the history of the Internet. DARPA actually contracted with Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) of Cambridge, MASS, to build the ARPANET. UCLA was the site of the first packet switch (called an "IMP" or Interface Message Processor). UCLA's role was to model and measure the network's performance and also to help lead the development of the first host-to-host protocols. Len Kleinrock led that modeling and analysis effort as principal investigator at UCLA. Steve Crocker, working for Kleinrock, was the leader of the protocol work, eventually going to ARPA himself for a time. Bob Kahn was a principal architect of the ARPANET and worked at BBN. I was a programmer working at UCLA also in Kleinrock's group, and helped to design the host protocols and also to write software to assist in the measurement of network performance. I went to Stanford in late 1972. Bob Kahn left BBN to join ARPA about that time and essetially came up with the idea of designing an architecture to allow multiple packet networks to be integrated together. He came to Stanford in the Spring of 1973 and we worked until the Fall of that year to design the basic TCP protocol and the architecture of the Internet.

Ray Tomlinson of BBN developed the first networked electronic mail and codified the use of the "@" symbol to separate mailbox from host identifier in email. The development of the Internet was a highly collaborative and international effort from its early roots and continues to be so today.

Vint

9:05 PM  
Blogger RSchuler said...

Happy Birthday, Sir -- thanks for your comments, corrections and amplifications -- and for your time. I put in a brief note about Mr. Kleinrock last year (see Lo, Indeed). Rarely if ever has anything of importance been achieved by a single solitary human being.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On 7th March 2007, Alessandro Sorbello of New Realm Media http://www.newrealm.com.au interviewed Dr Vinton Cerf in Brisbane Australia to present ‘Internet, Infinity and Beyond’ excerpts from Dr. Cerf’s presentation are available online at New Realm. Mr Sorbello http://www.AlessandroSorbello.com posed questions to Dr. Cerf relating to the development of the Internet and its role in today’s society and what we can expect in the future.

Dr. Cerf: So you can actually see some of the side effects. What happens when you get a billion people all connected together and able to interact? The first thing you notice is thanks to Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web is an enormous avalanche of information coming into the network. The uses and consumers of information have now become the producers.

And so when you look at things like Wikipedia you discover that its content comes from anywhere in the world from anyone who has a piece of information that may be of use to others. What amazed me is the number of people who want to share their information and they are not looking for payment, they are simply looking for credit or they simply want to contribute.

The interplanetary internet is set to change the face of communication not only on our planet, but also in the way we communicate with our technology in space.

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On March 2007, Alessandro Sorbello of New Realm Media http://www.newrealm.com.au interviewed Dr Vinton Cerf who was in Brisbane Australia to present ‘Internet, Infinity and Beyond’ excerpts from Dr. Cerf’s presentation are available online at New Realm. Mr Sorbello http://www.AlessandroSorbello.com posed questions to Dr. Cerf relating to the development of the Internet and its role in today’s society and what we can expect in the future. The interplanetary internet is set to change the face of communication not only on our planet, but also in the way we communicate with our technology in space.
Dr. Cerf replied when asked a question by Mr Sorbello, “I can speculate about one other thing a large number of senses are going to be on the network, billions of these things scattered a letter the world in parks, building stinky wearing ties its in offices at that time in order to keep track for example what's going on in the world around us and global warming is a big issue in some of the things that we need to know are going to be derived from major sensory networks which a part of the network but also you can imagine the systems are aware of this building like it and when here who is in here and how should I adapt my behaviour to be more effective for the people who are in here that kind of responsiveness is possible as the world in which we live in becomes more aware of us as opposed to how we have to adapt to it.”

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize this is a very old post - but if anyone who finds this is interested, there's a fascinating book called "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet" by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon, which covers this subject in great detail.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked at MCI when Vinton Cerf was there as a VP. I've always assumed that the term "surfing" the internet was a respelling of his last name, well, for obvious reasons.

Any truth to that?

4:33 PM  

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