February 21, 2007 7 Comments
Vinton Cerf, best known for having written the Internet Protocol, which is the substrate of the internet, gave a talk today in Bangalore at Ambedkar Bhavan. He is an ACM Turing award winner, the highest civilian honour in Computer Science and currently serves as the VP and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google. One thing I found surprising was that even though Google organized the talk, I could not find any references to the talk anywhere on the Internet (searched on Google of course), except for this blog. I had expected Google to put up a searchable page online at least regarding its much advertised “Google Speaker Series”. I saw the advert in the papers and later wanted to find more details, but alas! it seems they dont have a good PR person.
Anyway, coming back to the talk. I felt that the talk was a little too high level. That is mostly what happens in such talks where the speaker has to cover a lot of ground in a small space of time (Spacetime?). I felt Raghu Ramakrishnan handled it better — he elaborated on a specific application (DB Life). A few takeaways from the talk were:
- During the design of the IP Protocol he decided to keep the design independant of both the applicaiton (it just works on bytes) as well as the infrastructure (IP works on all concievable connection system from telephone lines, ethernet, ATM, VPN) and it has stood IP in good stead since. This independence ensured that lots of new applications (some of which even surprised Vint, such as a internet-enabled surf board) as well as new tele-infrastructure.
- Mobile users in India are about 200m as compared to 40m or so internet users. What is the medium of choice for connectivity in the future?
- Of about 1b internet users, around 400m are in Asia with China and Japan accounting for around 150m each. North America is only third after Europe. And we thought internet is in English.
- As more and more devices get online, there will be many more applications.
- Hardware has improved substantially thanks to Moore’s law, but software has not kept pace. Higher level languages such as Python have not helped much. Perhaps they should all shift to Lisp :). He also seemed to believe Ajax is a high level language. I am not sure how — perhaps my understanding is flawed, but I used to think it is only a mechanism for ensuring asynchronous call backs on web pages with very few language level features (which would definitely be desirable).
- He seemed to make a strong point for Formal Methods in Software Analysis to find out bugs in Software and be able to give guarantees.
- He seemed to believe that our current infrastructure needs to incorporate security as a first class design parameter. Concepts such as VPN sit atop traditional networks like a veil, but with increasing mobility, the need for security being fundamentally encoded in our design is a requirement.
- Similarly, prediction of internet usage (similar to Erlang in Telecom) and QoS are perhaps desirable but have technical difficulties and these make them important problems in Computer Science.
- The QnA was mostly irrelevant — What will Google do in future? What does Google use apart from PageRank? How can internet be made more accessible in India? With (mostly) even more irrelevant answers.
It would have been nice to hear more about his experiences in the actual design of IP.