In a few days, Internet users will reach five billion. The first billion was reached in 2005; the second in 2010; the third in 2014; at the beginning of 2020, a year and a half ago, we were at four billion. The acceleration is evident. Was it due to the pandemic? And now that we cautiously return to life as before, what will happen? In his home in Virginia, Vint Cerf looks to the future with the usual optimism and not just because last year the covid had it and beat it in a few weeks despite the 77 years carried with elegance. In 1973, together with Bob Kahn, he developed the protocol that allowed the network until then called Arpanet, to become the Internet.
Vint Cerf and the future of the Internet: three predictions
For many years he has been one of Google’s vice presidents with the title of “first evangelist”. Yet there is no triumphalism in his words after a year in which the Internet has “saved the lives” of many, in the sense that it has allowed schools, companies and communication channels between people to be kept open. “We would have done it even without it,” he says. “In 1918 there was a terrible epidemic and people overcame it. Of course the fact that people could work through a video call was a great help, but it also brought out the weakness of our supply chains and reminded us that some jobs cannot be done remotely. So we have seen how unfair the impact of the pandemic has been for a part of the population, depending on the job or financial possibilities. People of different ethnicities or races have reacted differently to the virus. And these inequities. they reinforce the desire to build a more equal society for all. This of course also concerns the Internet which is a very powerful medium, but if it is not accessible or is too expensive, it is useless “
Do you think the Internet, or the right to be connected, can become a fundamental right like freedom of expression?
“I have dealt with this issue for a long time and I believe that no, we should not consider the Internet as a human right. The right to access information is fundamental, of course, but it would be wrong to elevate the Internet because there may be better technology tomorrow. The horse was very important in the 19th century, less in the 20th century. With this I do not want to belittle the Internet, depriving someone of the ability to access the network is a violation of their rights, but we should try to grasp the nuances “.
You built the Internet, what could be better?
“We should look at things in historical perspective. In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell certainly did not think about smartphones when he invented the telephone. And to access the Internet thirty years ago you needed a telephone connection. Now Elon Musk is trying to connect the remote areas of the world via satellite. And those who work on an interplanetary Internet have had to abandon my protocol to take into account the enormous distances. In short, technologies change “.
During the pandemic, when we were all always connected, the network held up very well. Surprised?
“No, since 1983 the system has grown 10 million times. Technology has adapted to demand. What we do with video streaming a few years ago was unthinkable.”
Soon we would be connected in 5 billion: what remains to be done?
“We have to close the gap with others, bringing the connection everywhere. It is already happening, with satellite and with 5G but the matter will become economic. Not everyone will be able to afford it. And then there is a functional gap regarding the language in which find information or people with motor, sight and hearing disorders who struggle with applications not designed for them as well. We must work to ensure that no one is excluded “.
What will happen now with the return to nornality?
“The first thing I imagine is that Internet access will increase even more because everyone has understood its importance. I am thinking of remote working, remote teaching, but also medical examinations … there will be a huge push to The second is that there will be an increasing involvement of space agencies to build an Internet that brings the connection everywhere, even over the oceans. Finally, with more people connected, the need to teach them to be online will grow. “
For some years now it has been said that the Internet “is broken”, that it has become a system for amplifying fake news and hate speech. What to do?
“We will have to teach people to distinguish the right and the wrong information. People must learn to think critically about what is happening online. Platforms can try to protect us from dangers, for example through a precise order of visibility that you privilege. quality content, but our best ally is our head. No algorithm alone can do it. The solution to this problem, which exists, cannot only be technological, but is cultural “.
Do platforms have the right to ban someone for life like Donald Trump did?
“It’s hard to answer. There is a lot of pressure to get us to delete false and harmful news. Sometimes we have to do it. It’s not my favorite solution. People should decide for themselves. I don’t know if it’s time to review the legislation. , but it’s time to talk about it “.
Do we often talk about the quantum computer? But what exactly is it?
“It’s the ability to solve very complicated problems in a very short time. But it’s only effective for certain types of problems. And we’re only starting to build computers now.”
What is the future for you?
“The future is built by those who are dissatisfied, we have always evolved because someone is dissatisfied with the way things are. I invite everyone to be a little dissatisfied”.