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HindustanTimes Thu,10 Jul 2014
Thoughts on meeting a father of the Net
N Madhavan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 03, 2013
First Published: 20:53 IST(3/2/2013)
Last Updated: 20:55 IST(3/2/2013)

In covering information technology (IT) and the Internet for nearly two decades, I have had the privilege of meeting some of its hottest names, such as Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy, Wipro chairman Azim Premji, Microsoft's founder Bill Gates and current Google CEO, Eric Schmidt.

But none perhaps gave me the special thrill I felt last week when I met Vinton G Cerf, who is currently the chief Internet evangelist at Google - and not because of his current title and role. The man with a snow-white beard reminds you of Santa Claus, but is actually Father Internet.

The amiable former Stanford University professor is special because he co-created one of the most critical building blocks of the Internet, the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP-IP). Not for nothing that he is called one of the fathers of the Internet.

The term "internetworking" - that resulted in the short-hand "internet" - was used first in 1974 in a paper by Vinton Cerf, Carl Sunshine and Indian-born Yogen Dalal (an IIT, Bombay graduate and currently a venture capitalist).

Cerf, now  69 years old, created with Robert E Kahn the IT equivalent of the English language, a kind of glue that enables computers across the world talk to each other in a glorious, open network of data packets - and that's what makes him an exciting man.

Kahn and Cerf were named recipients of the ACM Alan M Turing award in 2004 for their work. The award is called the "Nobel Prize of Computer Science." I would even welcome a real Nobel prize for them and other creators of the Net - the peace prize. The reason I say this is because the first network to implement the TCP/IP was the Arpanet - the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) - which was built with funds from the US defence department.

Strangely, the Internet, which has its origins in what one could call the American defence establishment, turned out to be a dramatically different creature in the civilian world.

Today, Facebook is building a global network of friends and Google is using transliteration and translation to make the world a smaller, friendlier place. I do believe that the friendly element far outweighs the foulplay on the Net. And it was an honour to meet a key architect of this phenomenon.


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