The Future of Internet: A Lecture by Vint Cerf


RFID tags on every bottle in your wine cellar? Why not?

Vint-CerfThe Internet, a global system of interconnected computer networks that has transformed the lives of billions of people across the world, turned 30 this month. On this occasion ACM India, IEEE Computer Society, Computer Society of India and IITM Alumni Association had jointly organised a talk by the co-creator of the TCP/IP protocol, Vint Cerf. Vint Cerf is an American computer scientist who is also known as one of the Fathers of Internet. The presentation, titled “The Future of Internet”, was held in ICSR auditorium on the evening of Thursday, 24th January 2013.

While more devices and services go online, this also increases the chance of malware and phishing. It’s time that hardware and software work together to achieve this end said Cerf, addressing an overflowing auditorium. For example, a secure boot system which will not allow the machine to boot unless BIOS digital signature is verified. This will prevent unauthorised editing of the system BIOS.

Just when the presentation was starting to seem a little technical, Cerf took the audience for a ride into the future. “Integration of sensors and the internet is the future.” he said. Essentially any device that has any kind of sensor should be connected to the internet. Cerf pointed out a series of smart devices that had already been manufactured on this principle starting from smart refrigerators to smart light-bulbs to surf boards with internet capability! Imagine that all food items have RFID chips instead of bar codes and your smart, touch screen -fridge also has an RFID sensor. Now the refrigerator knows exactly what items are stored in the fridge, their expiry dates, what needs to be bought and it can also search for recipes that can be made with the items in the “inventory”. It can also help you keep a track of your diet. Your fridge can detect when you are in the supermarket (you will be carrying a phone which can talk to the fridge) and message you a list of items that need to be bought. Then he went on to talk about his futuristic wine cellar which he has back home. It has temperature and humidity sensors system so that he can use temperature variations to tell if someone entered the wine cellar. “If I am detecting people entering, why not rather just put an RFID chip on every wine bottle and on the cork. That way, I know exactly which bottle is opened, which bottles are old, which ones have been in a warm environment…all through an SMS sent on my phone!”

Following this, Cerf talked about several upcoming fields in networking and network architecture which have a tremendous scope for cutting-edge research. The talk covered areas of Content Centric Networking (CNN), OpenFlow Networks and concepts on improving efficiency of communication networks. Cerf stressed on the need of work to be done in the area of inter-cloud communication. “Even though almost everyone stores data on the cloud, as of now, there is no way of directly moving data across clouds, simply because the protocols haven’t been laid down.” he said.

Cerf also talked about the concept of Smart Grids. A Smart Grid integrates into the conventional power grid an end-to-end, advanced communications infrastructure. Thus, an SEP 2.0 (Smart Energy Protocol) compliant application running on a smartphone, tablet or a dedicated display device, could present to users real-time energy consumption information for the whole home and can also be used to achieve intelligent and dynamic power saving.

Talking about World Conference on International Telecommunication held in Dubai in December 2012, Cerf said that internet networks should be kept as open as possible. Many times anonymity is a very important part of the internet experience and is absolutely necessary in certain cases, he added. He also said that openness is what has driven GDP growth around the internet and is the key factor for growth of the internet itself.

Towards the end of the presentation, he spoke about interplanetary communication and the associated problems of a very large round trip communication delay and periodic loss in communication due to rotation of the planet. He emphasised on the need of having an inter-planetary satellite network. Signal transmitted from Mars, for example, will hop at one or more satellites before it is transmitted to earth. “The next destination will be Alpha Centauri!“ he declared to the awed audience.

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