As a crowd filled the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building’s lecture hall, the lights glowing around the walls of the room were a bright blue, red, yellow and green.
The multicolored arrangement was a tribute to the third speaker in the inaugural ATEC Distinguished Lecture Series, Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist Vinton G. Cerf.
“Typically we give our guest speakers a gift to remember their campus visit, but what do you give the person who created the Internet?” joked Aaron Conley, vice president for development and alumni relations, as he introduced Cerf. “This is our gift to him, the Google-logo-colored lights.”
Cerf is recognized as one of the “fathers of the Internet” due to his work with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, in the ’70s and ’80s. Fittingly, his lecture on the Internet was just days after the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web.
When Cerf took the stage, he began by recognizing the forward-thinking nature of the University.
“This is my first time here, and today has been a real gift. There is some tremendous research happening at this University that is pushing the boundaries.
“I look forward to returning often,” Cerf said.
In his talk, Cerf spoke about his early years working on the architecture of the Internet, but also about new technologies Google is creating, likeGoogle Glass and a self-driving car. He spoke at length about the “Internet of Things” and the potential for billions of everyday devices connected to the Internet, like a refrigerator that can search the Web to find recipes based on ingredients it contains.
Cerf also expressed his concerns about bit rot — data that is inaccessible due to the evolution of software.
“We can save bits, but we have a problem interpreting them due to bit rot,” Cerf said about files created today that will not be readable in the future. “What will our descendants know about the 21st century if data isn’t readable?”
He also spoke about his role as chief Internet evangelist and how he is trying to bring the Internet to populations without access.
“What is so striking about Cerf is his global radar,” said Dr. Roger Malina, who is the Distinguished Professor of Arts and Technology and professor of physics. “He is not a pioneer in the historical sense — he is still creating the future and clearly thinking of what comes next.”
Cerf finished the evening by fielding a series of questions from the audience. When asked what he’s working on now, he described some of his current projects, including his role in the100 Year Starship — a DARPA project to make human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years.
When time ran out and the crowd gave him a long, gracious applause, he volunteered to stick around and meet those who wanted to talk more. Dozens of audience members lined up for the opportunity.
Before his lecture, Cerf spent the day touring labs and meeting with faculty and students in the Edith O’Donnell ATEC Building. Among the many labs that Cerf visited was the Virtual Humans and Synthetic Societies Lab, where PhD student Gary Hardee is among those working on creating game-based simulations that provide cultural-based communications training.
“It was great to see someone of Dr. Cerf’s experience and stature take such an interest in our lab. He offered thoughtful observations and expressed encouragement on the genuine need for virtual environments and Web-based simulation as means for improving distance-learning education,” Hardee said. “When he started his evening lecture, it was gratifying to hear him recognize the research that is going on here. We are trying to push the limits in many areas, and he acknowledged how well we are doing that.”
Even after touring the labs, meeting students and faculty members, giving his lecture and fielding questions, Cerf’s time on campus was not done. The next day, he gave the keynote address at the 2014 Global IPv6 Forum Summit, a conference for computing and business professionals, students and educators to better understand the coming changes in Internet Protocol.
“Dr. Cerf is an Internet pioneer, and a source of inspiration for all networking scientists and engineers,” said Dr. Ravi Prakash, professor of computer science in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “It was a privilege to have him on campus to participate in the IPv6 summit. His keynote speech was both very informative and highly entertaining.”