2020 Bruin Engineers Centennial Reunion: A Talk with Internet Pioneer Vint Cerf

Jun 11, 2020

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom
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There is perhaps no better time to hear from the man who contributed to the creation of internet than the present, when most of us are relying on the technology to connect with our communities, stay informed and access our school and work. On May 30, Vint Cerf spoke with nearly 300 UCLA engineering students and alumni at the virtual 2020 Bruin Engineers Centennial Reunion.

Cerf received his master’s and Ph.D. in computer science from UCLA in the early 1970s. He is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the internet – both of which govern how computers connect to each other and the wider internet. Among his many recognitions, he has received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the A.M. Turing Award, the Charles Stark Draper Prize in Engineering and the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. For many years, Cerf has been a vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google.

Cerf congratulated this year’s graduates and those celebrating their reunions. He also acknowledged the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. For Cerf, who tested positive for the virus in early March, it was a personal ordeal. The experience, he said, helped him recognize the drastic ways in which COVID-19 has interfered with the infrastructure of our society. 

The best detector of misinformation and disinformation, he reminded attendees, is critical thinking.

Cerf also discussed how the internet has evolved since its creation, and the role it plays in today’s climate. The media has continued to be a dominant part of the internet, and he said it has generated a reward system that promotes a feedback loop and encouraging extreme content online. The best detector of misinformation and disinformation, he reminded attendees, is critical thinking. Much more progress needs to be made on algorithms in order to actively detect wrong information.  

This is not to say that the internet hasn’t improved many aspects of society, he said. Cerf discussed the value of utilizing computing software to model our world, with applications for medicine, linguistics, biology and cosmology. He said we are in the middle of a transformation to an internet of medical things (similar to the internet of things). Over time, we may be able to use devices to gather increasing amounts of medical information, improving the quality and accessibility of remote healthcare. 

Looking forward, Cerf is interested in exploring how we can use computing capability in order to plan comprehensive responses to major societal disruptions, such as future diseases and the impact of climate change. As for how he accomplished his work on TCP/IP, he said it took skills any engineer has.

“I would not say that there was inspiration as much as it was problem-solving,” Cerf said. “Those of you who are engineers will appreciate that engineers love problems. Engineers come and say, give me a problem to solve.”

This story is contributed by Zoe Curran

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