The power of ideas

The spirit of openness and sharing that has animated the Internet will require critical attention lest freedoms be lost.

Vinton Cerf The Internet Pioneer
Cerf is often called a father of the Internet for his work developing its core networking technologies. He has been awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Association for Computer Machinery's A.M. Turing Award.
Vinton Cerf
3 min read

What a difference two decades makes! The dot-com boom was on 20 years ago as Netscape Communications' IPO triggered a gold rush of Internet investment. Despite the dot-com bust of April 2000, the Internet has continued to grow, flourish, thrive and surprise.

It had been switched on January 1, 1983, after a 10-year gestation as a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) research development, reinforced by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and the US Department of Energy. Other research networks around the world were being interconnected in the run up to 1995 and the founding of CNET. CNET has been documenting the dynamic world of the Internet since CNET's beginning and what a story it has had to tell. Now at about 3 billion users and many billions of devices, especially smartphones and huge data centers, laptops, desktops and tablets, we foresee the Internet of Things when appliances, sensors and other programmable objects become a part of the Internet fabric.

Wireless access is increasing, supported by massive investment in optical-fiber network capacity. Balloons, drones and low/medium Earth orbit satellites are or will soon be part of the Internet access and transport system. No one who wants it will be without Internet access of some kind as this decade comes to a close. We will be wearing Internet-enabled sensors and programmable devices. Our homes, office buildings, vehicles and our cities will increasingly be instrumented, providing a massive flow of data for analysis and optimization. Such systems will also challenge our concepts of privacy, safety and security and as we encounter these important concerns, CNET will be there to shed light on issues and to document our debates.


As we come to rely increasingly on the Internet for a countless range of applications, technical developments will be needed to achieve increasing reliability as well as reinforcing protections for privacy, safety and security.

Cryptography is now and will increasingly be an important component of Internet design, along with strong, multifactor authentication. We are already experiencing the need for significant revision of edge devices, especially routers, to improve quality of service in broadband access to the Internet.

It is also evident that the methods of artificial intelligence, including machine learning, Bayesian analysis, image and speech recognition, will find purchase in everyday applications. Already it is the case that many applications will accept and interpret speech inputs where one might have had only keyboard interaction in the past. Machine translation is increasingly feasible among many pairs of languages for both written and spoken verbal forms. Semantics is playing an increasingly important role in our daily interaction with computer-based systems and this is sure to continue.

The balance between freedom of speech, access to and the sharing of information, with the protection of society and individuals from harm will continue to oscillate. Protections will require increased awareness and learning by individuals and organizations and international cooperation to deal with online harm while, at the same time, the spirit of openness and sharing that has animated the Internet will require critical attention lest these freedoms be lost and their values diminished. We will relearn again and again the power of ideas and the vigor of cooperation on a global scale.

CNET will not lack for stories to tell in its next 20 years!

Photo by James Martin/CNET