Internet @ 100
The University of St Andrews awarded Dr Vint Cerf an honorary doctorate on 24 June 2015. To celebrate this, they organised a one-day event entitled The Internet at 100, with a number of talks reviewing the history of the Internet, its current state, and looking forward to the future. I was honoured to be invited to speak at this event.
I gave the first talk of the day, on the subject of “Networked Multimedia and Internet Video”. I reviewed the history of networked multimedia from the initial packet voice experiments leading to the Network Voice Protocol, through the Mbone tools and RTP, conferencing standards such as SIP, 3GPP IMS, and WebRTC, IPTV and streaming standards such as MPEG DASH. Then, I discussed some current challenges in networked multimedia, and concluded with some speculation on how the field might evolve.
Following my talk, Ian Brown from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, spoke about “The technology and politics of privacy and surveillance”. Ian reviewed the current situation with regards to censorship, privacy, and surveillance on the Internet, both in terms of technical standards and actions takes by the IETF to develop secure protocols, and the legal framework, and implication of the revelations made by Edward Snowden for the current and future security of the network.
The afternoon began with a talk by Julie McCann from Imperial College London, on the subject of “Things and Sensors”. Julie spoke about some current research on sensor networks and the Internet of Things, describing some of the challenges in building robust sensor systems that can survive real-world deployments, including various prototype sensor networks her group have deployed around London to demonstrate the feasibility of the ideas. She discussed some of the potential risks, benefits, and challenges inherent in such deployments.
The second talk after lunch was by Lars Eggert from NetApp, who is the current Chair of the Internet Research Task Force entitled Internet, Research, Stuff. Lars reviewed the history of the Internet, from early work on packet networks, Vint Cerf's contributions developing the TCP/IP protocol, the world-wide web, and so on. He described the essential role that the research community played in the early development of the Internet, and reviewed some of the challenges being considered by the IRTF at present, including the challenges of providing Internet access in developing regions, and of ensuring the Internet remains a secure and open platform for innovation, commerce, and free speech.
Jon Crowcroft from the University of Cambridge Computer Lab introduced Vint Cerf by means of a talk on “A True History of the Internet”. Jon gave a typically idiosyncratic review of the development and history of the network, meandering through addressing, backhoes, binary patching, buying the Peabody Hotel, IP multicast, bufferbloat, MPLS, and the Interplanetary Internet. He concluded by looking forward to some possible futures which are “all around us, just unevenly distributed”.
Finally, the keynote speech was by Vint Cerf, who spoke about the potential coming digital dark age and the difficulties in preserving digital content in “Digital Dark Age? Digital Vellum”. He warned that we're at risk of losing access to much digital content in the long term, since the data either won't be preserved, or might be preserved in a form that's unusable or unreadable. The computing industry has a poor track record about maintaining access to old file formats, media, software, and so on, and this is becoming increasing problematic as more and more information moves solely on line. How do we ensure today's electronic content is still available, readable, and understandable in decades, or even centuries, to come?