Why Google hired Vint Cerf

Internet pioneer has big ideas for Google Earth and mobile phones. He's also got his eyes on outer space.

What will Internet visionary Vint Cerf do for Google?

Whether he meant to or not, Cerf hinted at one area he was interested in six weeks before he joined the search giant, and it deals with a wireless device near you.

In a broad-ranging interview with CNET News.com on July 28, Cerf--the man who co-developed the basic communications protocol of the Internet--said databases filled with geographically indexed material will soon help people easily retrieve lists of local hospitals, ATMs or cafes on mobile devices. Advertisements could also be part of the mix.

Vint Cerf
Vint Cerf

"In the case of Google Earth, for example, if you find yourself at a particular location and you ask where the nearest Chinese restaurant is, they can all be popped up, with little logos with the appropriate symbols on them, and you could mouse over to that and click on it and menus might pop up," Cerf told News.com this summer.

In one of the tech industry's most prestigious hires in recent years, Google announced Thursday that Cerf, 62, would help the company develop new architectures, systems and standards for a next generation of applications that would likely run across the Internet. Cerf, who was the vice president of technology strategy at MCI and a visiting scientist with NASA, will start his new job as Google's chief Internet evangelist on Oct. 3.

Cerf's comments in the July interview seem to indicate he was already thinking about Google's future, as well as projects considerably more ambitious than checking out the General Tsao chicken at a local Chinese joint. To start, his expertise in communication protocols could help Google build a vast network that binds location-specific data with wireless communications.

Location, location, location
"If it's in an emergency, suppose there's been a release of toxic material and the wind is blowing. What is in the way of that wind plume--what housing, how many people?" Cerf mused. "This ability to turn geographically indexed data into useful, possibly life-saving, and potentially (money-making) data is extremely exciting."

The search giant is already on its way to doing that with Google Earth, a three-dimensional mapping service, still in its testing phase, that lets people find services like restaurants and ATMs by ZIP code. But Google has yet to make the service as robust as Cerf described. And it's limited to PCs.

So how would Google make money off this sort of thing? National banks could pay to highlight their neighborhood ATMs. Shopping outlets could offer coupons to diners in a local area.

"Say I'm going to Paris and I may want a list of museums within five miles of this hotel. Or where's the nearest hospital? Where's the nearest ATM machine while I'm in the car? These questions have to do with my own mobility. Others have to do with economics and demographics, like what can I learn about my population?" said Cerf.

"There are lots of people who are beginning to accumulate data that binds the geographic location to the data that you're interested in,

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