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Father of Internet talks tech at PKI

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Published: Monday, October 8, 2012

Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 20:10


Jeff Kazmierski/The Gateway

Vint Cerf (standing right), the man who created the Internet, speaks with students at the Peter Kiewit Institute on Oct. 3.



His wine cellar is connected to the Internet.  As Google’s “Internet Evangelist” he travels the world encouraging people to use the Internet. He helped NASA scientists develop a way to communicate with interplanetary spacecraft.  And he’s working on a way to send and receive data packets to and from space probes at Alpha Centauri, just because we’ll need it someday.

Oh, and forty years ago in 1973, he developed the Transport Control Protocol and Internet Protocol that every computer user in the world uses today to get online.  He is Vint Cerf, the man who created the Internet.  On Oct. 3, Cerf met with UNO students and faculty for an afternoon of technology and conversation.

Three sessions were held, one each for graduate students, undergraduates, and faculty.  Each session was standing room only in the cozy presentation space, as Cerf waxed eloquent on diverse topics from the changing nature of technology and our interactions with it, to the Curiosity rover, Google’s self-driving cars, to the development of version six of the Internet Protocol (IPv6) and his ultra-wired wine cellar.  He opened his session with the undergraduates by reminding them that graduation marks not the end of their education, but the beginning.

“It doesn’t work to get through your education and then stop, and expect that’ll last you the rest of your career,” Cerf said.  “One thing that’s been very important in helping people continue their education … is MOOC, which is Massive Online Open Course.” 

This new online learning system enables institutions to connect with students around the world, greatly expanding the enrollment and education opportunities for a global audience.

Cerf blamed the name choice on engineers.  

“If an engineer had invented Kentucky Fried Chicken, it would have been called ‘hot dead bird,’” he said.  

All kidding aside, MOOC has been a great success, Cerf explained.

“Two of my colleagues at Google … decided earlier in the year, they did one AI course online and expected 500 to 1000 people,” Cerf said.  “Over 150,000 people signed up for the class.  Subsequent classes had 300,000 people.”  

The massive reaction prompted a complete redesign of a lot of the backbone software to accommodate the unexpected popularity of the program.

The idea behind MOOC is that professionals can continue their education online even after graduating, and keep up with current trends in technology.

“It’s an opportunity for people to learn, even if they’re working,” Cerf said.

From distance learning, Cerf moved on to discuss Google’s self-driving car project, which teams from Carnegie-Mellon and Stamford Universities are currently working on.  As Cerf explained, the cars are not completely autonomous.  The on-board computers scan the cars’ surroundings continuously in 360 degrees and don’t get bored, angry or distracted.  

“It’s also reporting what it’s seeing back to Google,” Cerf said.  “So that every car is learning what every other car is seeing, and since it’s cumulative, over time every car begins to learn what the environment is like.”  

A car that has never driven through a given intersection can scan it, look it up in Google’s database, and know what to expect.

Self-driving cars aren’t the only way technology is changing our lives.  Miniaturization has allowed engineers to build smaller computers that use less power, and wireless communications enable them to be put in places where we wouldn’t normally expect to see them.

One example of that is Cerf’s house.  

“I have in my home an IP version six radio based sensor network,” Cerf said.  “Every five minutes they’re sampling light levels and temperature in each room in the house, and reporting it back to a database.”  

Not content with merely having a wireless sensor network, Cerf decided to use the data to determine how well the heating and air conditioning were working throughout the year.

Like a true engineer, who also happens to be a wine enthusiast, Cerf programmed the system to monitor his wine cellar and send him an alert whenever the temperature goes above 50 degrees or the humidity drops below 40 percent. 

After a few power failures resulting in a warming wine cellar and no one around to restart the system, Cerf decided it was time to re-engineer yet another solution.  

“I called the company and asked if it could be made remote control, and they said yes,” Cerf said.  “So now I have the ability to reactivate the cooling system while I’m away.”  

His next project is to install Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in each bottle to track when a wine enters or leaves the cellar.

The greater story, as Cerf explained, is that today’s Internet is becoming more and more the “Internet of things.” Devices that use electrical power can now not only report their usage, but respond to advice from the central grid about how to use it and when to restrict usage. 

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