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Vint Cerf muses about Google role, broadband

Net pioneer doesn't expect to be writing software at Google, but he envisions better mapping tools--and even voice-enabled search.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
3 min read
WASHINGTON--In his upcoming role as Google's chief Internet evangelist, Vint Cerf says he'll act as a "bumblebee," transporting ideas among the company's worldwide laboratories.

The Internet pioneer doesn't expect to be writing software or directly overseeing a crew of engineers, but he does plan to be "probing deeply into design philosophy, parameters and constraints" that underlie Google's operations, he told CNET News.com on Wednesday after an appearance at the FirstMile.US broadband conference here.

Vint Cerf
Vint Cerf

"What (CEO) Eric Schmidt had in mind is to go around helping people understand both inside and outside of Google what Google's potential is," said Cerf, who co-developed the basic communications protocol of the Internet. "I want to have the opportunity to challenge people in the labs with problems that need solving."

Cerf, 62, who most recently served as MCI's vice president of technology strategy, is scheduled to start with Google on Oct. 3.

It's hard to say what Google's major focus should be going forward, Cerf said. But, as he told CNET News.com earlier this summer, he sees transmission of "spacely" information--that is, the capability to locate, say, the nearest hospital or ATM from mobile devices--as a critically important venture.

"I think what's very clear, based on the excitement associated with Google Earth, is the exploitation of geographically indexed information is clearly ripe for more development," he said.

He also plans to ask Google engineers whether they've investigated the possibility of a voice-enabled search, which he says could be useful "in places in the world where people aren't literate but can speak."

And, naturally, he has a "bunch of other ideas," which he declined to leak for fear of tipping off Google's competitors. His job description, he admitted, is a "work in progress."

The next generation
As the keynote speaker at Wednesday's conference, Cerf mused about a broadband-centric future in a wide-ranging conversation with the audience.

He said he looked forward to implementation of the next-generation Internet, whereby a broad spectrum of electronic devices could become Internet-enabled. Wouldn't it be great, he suggested, to "order that bottle of champagne that James Bond is now opening" simply by mousing over on the same screen where a movie is playing?

Cerf said he has been approaching movie industry players and encouraging them to view the Internet as an alternative distribution outlet. "Some are responding positively, but some legal departments are still having trouble swallowing the idea," he said.

He said he also found it "troublesome" that various states and localities have been proposing and implementing measures to outlaw municipally sponsored broadband networks. "Why on Earth would we inhibit people from making their own investments--deciding, for example, to float a bond?" he asked.

Cerf said he plans to continue his ongoing work with NASA and others on interplanetary communications. He predicted the development of an interplanetary backbone by the end of the decade.

"We're actually closer to this than it might seem," he said, noting that 90 percent of the rovers currently positioned on Mars are transmitting data through a "store and forward" system, in which data is returned to Earth in spurts.

Still, he acknowledged, the sheer physical distance data must travel poses a challenge to protocol design: "TCP doesn't work all that well when round-trip times are 40 minutes."