Elon University

Keynote – Internet Hall of Famer and Google VP Vint Cerf, Co-Creator of the Internet Protocol, Shares Insights on Emerging Trends

Brief session description:

Monday, July 24, 2017 –  Vint Cerf, Google vice president, Internet Hall of Fame member and co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, shared insights related to emerging Internet trends during the opening plenary session of IGF-USA 2017 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Read the print story and see video highlights on this page. You can view the full, archived video of Cerf’s talk here.

Details of the session:

Vint Cerf, widely referred to as a “father of the Internet,” explained how Internet stakeholders could begin to combat the negative side effects of an open and accessible Internet by encouraging critical analysis of digital content and a transformation of journalism business models.

Cerf said he and fellow Internet pioneer Bob Kahn published the specifics of their protocol designs to encourage other pioneers to continue the evolution of the new technology.

“We thought it was important to have an open and freely accessible Internet,” he said, but “permissionless innovation” and open access to protocols produced other problems.

Cerf, Google’s chief Internet evangelist, said one of the biggest challenges facing the future of the Internet is the spread of misinformation, which he attributed to two factors: social networking and the failing business models of traditional newspapers. These combined to isolate people from “information that would have perhaps persuaded them to consider alternate views,” he said.

“[Social networking] is in some sense part of the problem that we’re grappling with today — many of the themes that we’re dealing with,” Cerf continued. “I think that we can see that social networks produce a kind of amplification. There is a bubble reinforcement effect. Sometimes this is called reinforcement bias.”

That echo chamber combined with a changing journalism industry has allowed for the dissemination of false information in all areas of the Internet, Cerf noted. He said that the most apparent example is the 2016 presidential election, where fake articles originated from sources outside U.S. borders.

“The worst part about of all of this is that this fake news was accepted in many circles here in the United States,” he said. “And the question is, why is that? Why can this happen? What’s going on here? Well, part of it is an uncritical audience and/or a polarized audience where fake news can somehow reinforce their beliefs even though they don’t make any logical sense. It’s this uncriticality that really disturbs me.”

Cerf proposed early training in critical thinking to offset the influence of false information, but he is disheartened by “people who would resist such an initiative.”

“I don’t understand how you could possibly have a society which is able to evolve with all these new technologies, without the ability to think critically about it,” Cerf said.

Cerf explained that questions of whether new technology and digital platforms are helping or hurting societies are valid ones, but stakeholders should focus on making the Internet more useful for people across the world.

“Let’s make it a more people-centered system, something which is taking into account solving problems for people, helping people discover each other, and helping each other to make life a lot better for us and others in this world,” he said. “It would be really disappointing if a 40-year effort into the Internet turned out to be … more harmful than beneficial, and I’m relying on you in this room to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

– By Christina Elias

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The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2017 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:

Janna Anderson, Bryan Baker, Camille Behnke, Liam Collins, Diego Pineda Davila, Colin Donohue, Maya Eaglin, Christina Elias, Meagan Gitelman, Alex Hager, Tommy Kopetskie, Deirdre Kronschnabel, Jared Mayerson, Emmanuel Morgan, Grace Morris, Jackie Pascale, Mariah Posey, Alexandra Roat, Ginna Royalty, Alexandra Schonfeld, Jamie Snover, Erik Webb, Brooke Wivagg