Google guru embraces the future

By John Hill on October 1, 2008 11:08 AM |

cerfWEB.jpg

VINT Cerf has been dubbed "the father of the internet".

In helping to build the net back in the 1970s, he created a phenomenon which has revolutionised the way the world talks, shops and learns.

So what does Google's vice president believe the future holds for technology and communication in the 21st Century?

The web evangelist looks into his crystal ball during a trip to Canary Wharf.

HAS the growth of the internet signed the pink slips of a generation of journalists?

Not according to Google vice president Vint Cerf, who appeared in the Mirror's offices last week for a Q&A with reporters.

Vint helped develop the internet in the 1970s, and has seen his project swell into an almost-indispensable provider of video, communication and online news. But while he acknowledges the public are increasingly shunning print titles for instant web updates, he believes news providers still remain relevant to today's public.

He said: "The younger generation is turning to news services online, which are more up-to-date than even daily papers can be, and are often much more summarised.
"My wife cancelled her subscription to her paper because she said she could read it online and she didn't want any more dead trees in the house. I wouldn't be surprised to find that this works for a lot of other people too.
"I met [former US secretary of state] Henry Kissinger, and he told me he was a big user of Google news because it gave him a sense of what was happening in the world.
"It may be that newspapers become more and more irrelevant, but news will never be irrelevant, and neither will the people who produce it.
"They help focus the attention of the readership. People need help figuring out what they should be paying attention to. That will never go away. But the paper itself? Who knows?"

Vint arrived in London as the search giant celebrated its tenth year in business. And he sees big changes on the horizon, as the internet targets the smaller screen.

Google is targeting the mobile world with its Android software, which allows programmers to write new applications specifically for phone use. Vint believes mobiles will soon be used for everything from making payments to programming the home entertainment system.

He said: "Wireless telephony has taken off like a rocket. There are some people who don't have a PC, but do have a mobile phone. This is especially true in developing worlds whose first opportunity for communication is through mobiles. Some people are even using mobile minutes as a means of exchange nowadays.
"We see mobiles as little receptacles waiting for someone to pour in more software and make them do something they didn't do before."

The internet now has 1.5billion users from around the world, and this immense popularity has naturally put pressure on space. Vint warns that all unique internet addresses will be exhausted by 2010, but that a new internet provider has been developed to address the problem.

IP version four only accommodates 4.3billion unique addresses. IP version six will be able to offer 340 trillion trillion addresses, but the issue has been in getting Internet Service Providers to make the switch to the new system.

Vint said: "It's something of a struggle to get it implemented right now, but as people realise they're not going to have any more internet space, they're going to wake up pretty quickly."

This extra space will come in handy when the world wakes up to the full potential of streaming video, which will allow TV viewers to download programmes quicker than real time.

He said: "There are technologies already in use that can deliver internet at more than a billion bits per second. That means you can download an hour of video in 16 seconds. Then video on demand is just a file transfer, and that's easier to do than delivering video and audio in real time.
"Things like newscasts, sporting events and emergencies may always need to be live, but otherwise it completely destroys the concept of prime-time. It means most entertainment TV programmes can just be selected by consumers and watched whenever they decide to watch it."

Nowadays the average computer owner can watch live sporting events, communicate with friends using social networking sites such as Facebook, and even order food, clothes and other products online. So has the invention of the internet doomed us all to a hermit-like existence as bloated shut-ins?

Vint said: "I won't argue it won't ever happen. But I will argue it's not common.
"The internet has allowed us to maintain social interaction in the place of face-to-face interaction. But for someone like me, who's on the road 85 per cent of the time, it has been a great help.
"The internet and its applications have helped me to maintain personal relationships over many years and a great distance that I wouldn't have been able to maintain in any other way."