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Internet fathers get presidential medal

Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, who developed protocol used to send data across the Internet, will be honored by the White House.

Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf, who developed the TCP/IP protocols used to transmit traffic across the Internet, next week will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award.

President George Bush announced the recipients on Thursday. The Net's founders are two of several recipients of the award, including such prominent figures as Muhammad Ali, the three-time heavyweight-boxing champion and gold medalist at the 1960 Olympic Games; Carol Burnett, actress and comedian; and Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve for the past 18 years.

Vint Cerf

The two men were honored earlier this year with the 2004 A.M. Turing Award, widely considered to be the computing field's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Cerf and Kahn developed the TCP or transmission control protocol in 1973 for the US military while working for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.

The main idea was to enclose packets in "datagrams" that would act something like envelopes containing letters. Gateway computers would simply read the delivery information contained in the datagrams and deliver the contents to host computers, which would "open" the envelope and read the actual contents of the packet. TCP allowed networks to be joined into a network of networks, or what we now call the Internet.

The protocol was later refined and split into two parts called TCP/IP. The protocol has gone on to become the standard for all Internet communication.

Robert Kahn

"At the time, we saw this as an exciting technology challenge and research project," Kahn said during an interview while attending the Marconi Society's symposium in New York City on Friday. "You have to realize that there wasn't anything known as the personal computer. We didn't know where things would lead."

After working for DARPA for 13 years, Kahn became chairman, CEO and president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), a not-for-profit organization founded in 1986 to provide leadership and funding for research and development of the National Information Infrastructure.

Cerf is now working for Internet search giant Google helping the company develop architectures, systems and standards for next-generation applications. Prior to Google, Cerf worked at MCI, previously WorldCom, for most of his career, with an eight-year break to work at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives.

He is also working on a new set of communication protocols in deep space for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The project is designed to create an Internet communications connection between planets. He also serves as the chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN, an organization which oversees the Domain Name System (DNS) and the network architecture he helped invent.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom will be presented at the White House on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005.