A Day with the “Fathers of the Internet”


I have been working in the online world since the late 1990s.

While I might feel like something of an old-timer in this space, I had the opportunity this week to meet and listen to the two most important figures in the history of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf. These guys have been at it since the 70s.

If you don’t know who they are, it is the equivalent of a sports fan getting the opportunity to listen to Abner Doubleday (the purported inventor of baseball) and James Naismith (the inventor of basketball).

Let me explain.

Cerf and Berner-Lee are recognized as two of the key “Fathers of the Internet.”

Back in the early 1970s, Cerf, along with colleague Bob Kahn invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) which moves data on the modern Internet. The two went on to develop the IP protocol.

As explained by the good people at MIT, “TCP/IP allows for the "handshake" that introduces distant and different computers to each other in a virtual space. TCP controls and keeps track of the flow of data packets; IP addresses and forwards individual packets. “

Nearly two decades later, Berners-Lee wrote the first Web browser and invented both the HTML markup language and the HTTP protocol used to request and transmit Web pages between Web servers and Web browsers. In other words, he created the World Wide Web.

This week, the two were keynote speakers at the New York Chapter of the Internet Society.

In his address, Berners-Lee said writing the code that created the World Wide Web was “easy to do” since Cerf had already created TCP and IP.

As for the future of the Web, Berners-Lee said his greatest hope was that the Web would remain “open,” free of interference from governments or businesses.

The right to connect, he added, should be thought of as a human right.

His other hope for the future was that everyone in the world would be given the opportunity to connect.  Currently, 20% of the world uses the Web.

As for the other 80 percent? Three quarters of those have access to connectivity, but not the means or equipment to connect.

“The important thing is that the Internet should be open in a sense that you can use it without paying royalties,” he said. “Open to the fact that when I connect you can connect and then we can talk without anyone filtering who we can connect to.”

Also addressing the future of the Internet, Cerf said he hoped the Internet would remain “open, affordable, accessible, transparent and safe.”

“We say that the Internet is for everyone,” he said. “It must be for everyone… I hope it will be.”

The two men also cited privacy as a key issue that we must do everything to ensure.

“It is our obligation to understand as deeply as we can what has made the Internet such a vibrant source of new ideas and creativity while at the same time trying to figure out how to make it a safer place for all of us to use,” Cerf said. “Those two things are so important to our descendants.”

Other speakers at the event included Assistant Department of Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling,  Internet pioneer and Columbia University law professor Eben Moglen, Internet Society President Lynn St. Amour and Rachel Sterne, the Chief Digital Officer for New York City.

Categories: Events

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