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Vint Cerf: Your shirt shouldn't have Internet access

Google's chief Internet evangelist arrives at CES still bullish on the connected world -- with limits.

Vint Cerf at CES 2013.
Vint Cerf at CES 2013.
Casey Newton/CNET

LAS VEGAS--The Internet has come a long way since he helped create it in the 1970s, Vint Cerf told an audience at CES today -- but there are still some places it shouldn't go.

"What would happen if our clothes were Internet-enabled?" Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist, asked during a morning session at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

It's a question Cerf started asking himself in response to a problem as old as laundry: Where did that sock go? RFID chips attached to socks could answer that question -- "Hi, I'm sock #124L, and I'm under the sofa in the living room," Cerf said, doing his best sock impression.

The flip side, though, could be unexpected surveillance. A husband who tells his wife he's working late at the office could get a phone call: "She says, 'That's interesting, because your shirt seems to be at 19th street at the bar.'"

"Maybe Internet-enabled shirts are a really bad idea, because of the social side effects," Cerf said.

For the most part, though, Cerf continues to push for near-ubiquitous Internet connectivity. He spoke glowingly of refrigerators that know their own contents, homes that collect data on their HVAC systems, and surfboards that let you surf the Internet between waves.

Cerf has been busy building an Internet of things at his own home in Washington, D.C., where he has lived for 37 years. He installed components that collect HVAC data so he can tweak components each year for maximum energy efficiency. He also tagged the bottles in his wine cellar with RFID chips, lest someone walk away with a bottle. (A friend pointed out someone could drink the bottle and simply leave it in the basement, with Cerf none the wiser, and so he is now considering putting sensors in the corks.)

Cerf spoke as part of Silvers Summit, a series of talks about older people and technology. He said the Internet has been an important way for senior citizens to connect to their families and one another at a time when more and more, they are separated by long distances.

If nothing else, Cerf said he hoped to dispel the myth that senior citizens couldn't be tech savvy.

"Some of us invented this stuff," he said.