People of ACM - Vint Cerf

February 14, 2013

We're introducing a new communications bulletin we call People of ACM to help you get to know some of the distinguished ACM people who are shaping the future of computing and the world. They are the innovators, the problem solvers, the mentors, the tech policy watchdogs, and the leaders who contribute to the advancement of our field in their own unique ways.

To kick off this series, we're starting with ACM president Vint Cerf, a 2004 Turing Award recipient, widely regarded as a pivotal player in the creation of the Internet. Vint is a perfect example of someone who transforms vision into reality for a better world.

We hope you'll discover how these inventive ACM members are making a difference in advancing computing as a science and a profession. They are among the many reasons to be proud to say, "I'm a member of ACM!"


John R. White
ACM Chief Executive Officer

Vint Cerf is one of the ACM people who is shaping the future of computing and the world. He represents an ACM Member whose personal and professional stories are worth sharing with the computing community. We posed several questions to illuminate his vision of computing in the 21st century.

Vint Cerf

ACM President Vint Cerf is Vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google Inc., where he is known for his predictions on how technology will affect future society. Cerf and Robert Kahn collaborated on the design and implementation of the Internet's basic communications protocols including TCP/IP, for which they received the 2004 ACM Turing Award. The next year they were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Cerf has continued to provide leadership in the networking research community and in the emerging industries of the internet and telecommunications. He was recently named by President Barack Obama to the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Stanford University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from UCLA. He is a Fellow of ACM, IEEE, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and National Academy of Engineering.

How do you view your role as an NSF National Science Board Member?

The National Science Board (NSB) was established along with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to oversee the Foundation's work and to approve large scale projects and expenditures. I consider the Board to be a partner to help NSF formulate policy and to encourage ambitious pursuit of research at the edges of knowledge. Some scientific work requires serious infrastructure (telescopes, high speed networks, particle colliders, etc.) and the NSB can be helpful in assessing and encouraging enabling infrastructure development. Of course, as a new member, I will be learning a lot from my more experienced colleagues and from the Director of NSF about ways in which the Board can take constructive actions. I note that the Board has the scope to produce studies and white papers, and I hope I will have the opportunity to engage in that way as well. As president of ACM, you may be sure I will be arguing that computer science should be treated as co-equal with other sciences. I believe that NSF has been very favorably disposed to support research in our community, noting the Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) Division as well as the pioneering work of the NSFNET and current international infrastructure programs. NSF has been a friend of computer science for a long time and I expect that will continue.

What can we expect as the Internet evolves over the next century?

The Internet continues to evolve and, thanks to its very open architecture, it is likely to continue to do so over the course of this century. There is no guarantee that this artifact will persist into the 22nd century although I expect it will continue to morph to adapt to new technology, new demands and new possibilities. Higher speed access and backbone speeds in the terabit range are readily predictable. Increased mobility and an "Internet of Things" are clearly developing. Sensor networks are becoming part of this infrastructure and the Smart Grid program will find purchase in the Internet's connectivity. Intensive efforts to make the system more resilient and resistant to various attacks and malware will continue to be high priority. It will take advantage of new hardware/software methods to reinforce security and safety. New social norms will evolve around its social networking features. The system is already heading off-planet with the Earth-Mars link as well as the International Space Station, which is already operating as an "Interplanetary Internet." New modes of interaction will become increasingly available including speech, image understanding, gestures, etc. The computers will participate in the same sensory environment we live in, making them partners with whom we can collaborate and interact in increasingly anthropomorphic ways.

What advice would you give to budding technologists?

My advice is simple. Deliberately explore a wide range of sciences and technologies, find something you really like and are good at, and pursue it relentlessly. I have found that patience and persistence (and hard work) have paid off for me, even though some aspirations have taken decades to achieve. It took 10 years from my first paper on the Internet design with Bob Kahn to roll out the Internet on January 1, 1983. It has taken about 15 years since 1998 to get the interplanetary Internet into prototype operation. Progress is made when someone is not satisfied with the status quo. So I am an advocate for a certain degree of dissatisfaction as a stimulus for progress! If you are excited about an idea, it helps to get other people excited so they can help. It's a sort of Tom Sawyer idea that really works. Above all, don't give up!