Guest: Vint Cerf Date: March 22, 2017 Guest Title: American Internet Pioneer
Debra Ruh: Hello everyone, this is Debra Ruh and you’re watching or listening to Human Potential At Work. Today is our 100thepisode. I’m so excited I can’t talk. And I’m also so excited about our guest; it’s Vint Cerf, who is considered… I saw… I’ve watched many videos of him and there’s this one video that he’s talking about the internet and he says he’s a father of three children, David, Bennet and the Internet and he’s only one father of the internet. I love that Vint. I thought that was so cute. He’s only one father of the internet. There’s others including Bob Kahn which is also joined Vint in creating TCP and IP. Wow. And Vint is really really working very hard to be sure the internet is for all of us.
He has created and cofounded with Mei Lin, make sure I get her name correctly, the People Centered Internet and David Bray is involved in that as well and we’ve had him on the program and Vint really feels that the internet should be for the people. And he comes to us with so many accolades. He is… so many that I’m going to read some of them. He’s Google’s chief internet evangelist which is really really cool. He has won the national medal of technology, the president’s medal of freedom, the Marconi price in National Academy of Engineering, Queen Elizabeth’s Price for Engineering and please, go to Wikipedia and check him out because he has tons… sorry Vint but tons and tons and tons of accolades.
This man is really really making a difference in the world. He also has been on the board of trusties for Gallaudet University which is you know, many of us on this program care about for inclusion and people with disabilities and access. And I am so excited. So Vint, welcome to the program.
Vint Cerf: Thanks very much. It’s a really pleasure to be here especially on your 100thbroadcast.
Debra: Yes. A binary number you said before we started.
Vint: That’s right. 1-0-0.
Debra: So Vint, tell us a little bit more about you as an individual. Tell us just a little bit about your life. I have said a little bit about your two sons and your third son, the internet but tell us a little bit more about who you are.
Vint: Well, I was born in Yale hospital in the middle of World War II, 1943 but after the war was over, my family moved to Los Angeles so I grew up in the LA area, San Fernando Valley. Went to high school there, Van Nuys High and then went to Stanford as an undergraduate then went to work for IBM for a couple of years and then went back to school at UCLA to get a masters and a PHD in Computer Science. And that’s where I ended up being involved in the ARPANET project which is a predecessor to the Internet.
It was an experiment in packet switching which went very very well. Then after I finished my PHD, I went back to Stanford to join the faculty and that’s where Bob Kahn and I began working on the Internet. And to give Bob credit, he had worked on the ARPANET, he is one of the architects of the Packet Switches called Interface Message Processor (IMPs) but then he left BBN to join ARPA and by around 1973, he had come out to my lab at Stanford and described a project that he wanted to undertake which is to find a way to connect different kinds of packet switch nets to each other; in mobile radio network, the packet satellite network and the original ARPANET.
So that was the problem that we worked on together from the Spring to the Fall of 1973; how do we link different packet switch nets to each other in some very uniformed way. And that of course what led to the TCP protocol which eventually evolved into PCPIP. So, since that time, I ended up… after leaving Stanford, I joined ARPA myself and ran the program for six years. Then I went to work for a company called MCI and I built something called MCI Mail for them then I rejoin Bob with his company, the Corporation Financial Research Initiatives where we worked on national information infrastructure and digital libraries knowledge robots and things like that. Then I joined MCI again to put them in the internet business.
So we built two internet backbones; one for research and one for the general public. Then we were required by a company called WorldCom and the whole shebang went bankrupt in 2002. I stayed and help put the company back together which was sold to Verizon in 2005 and then at that point, I left and joined Google. So I’ve been at Google ever since.
Debra: So you’ve been with Google since 2005.
Vint: That’s correct. Yes, 13 years now.
Debra: That’s amazing company.
Vint: You nailed it.
Debra: And so Vint, I know that… my father and my mother both have, they’re deceased, but, they both worked for ATNT their whole life and my dad was a technologist before many people knew about technology. So, technology is in my blood. I’m a telecommunications brat and an army brat too so I love the work that you’ve done. But, I really admire multiple things about you and some of it is you really want to make sure that we all have access to the internet. But before we go there, as you know, we talk a lot about inclusion of everyone in this program but certainly for people with disabilities. And I talk a lot about how just because a person has disability doesn’t mean they’re broken or they can’t add value to the world. I believe you’re wonderful example of that. Do you mind just exploring a little bit about how you could fall under our Americans with disabilities act and I believe your wife as well.
Vint: Well, I’m happy to talk about that. I happen to have been born six weeks prematurely so it’s believed that being in an oxygen can led to a progressive hearing loss. So my hearing gets worst by about one DB a year. So now it’s probably down about 65 70 DB loss. But I’ve been waring hearing aids since I was 13 and of course the hearing aids keep getting better as my hearing loss increases.
So, basically, I managed to stay more or less flat and worked in a hearing environment. But I have to say that technology has helped a lot not only with the hearing aids but also things like electronic mail which is a convenient medium of exchange and it has more precision than sometimes for me anyway than audible communication. On the other hand; I got my hearing aids on, I got my headset on, we’re having this conversation. So I managed to survive thanks to technology.
The same is true for my wife who lost her hearing when she was three years old. She was totally deaf for 50 years and then discovered in 1996 the Cochlear implants were actually something that would work for her. So she had her first Cochlear implants in 1996 and it was spectacular experience. Once it was turned on, suddenly, she could hear again and so she uses the phone and watches television and enjoys life as other hearing people do. In fact, in some cases, she hears better than other people.
She has a speech processor which is taking sound in from a microphone analyzing it to figure out which frequencies are present and then figuring out which electrodes inside the Cochlea to stimulate in order to make the brain think it can hear. And she uses these level auxiliary microphones, she uses FM and infrared receivers, she uses patch cords to plug into the entertainment system on the airplane. So she’s only getting sound from those sources and not the screaming kid that’s few seats away. It’s an astonishing piece of technology. She had a second implant in 2006 and now both of her ears are working.
I feel very strongly about the value of people who just happened to have some disability. There’s a group called innovation for jobs that I cofounded with David Nordfors and we’ve coined a new term, we call it cool abilities. This is for people who may have what others consider to be a disability like autism that turned out to… because of that particular syndrome, actually have the ability to concentrate on things better than other people do. But the important part is the part that you hinted at earlier; and that is just because you happen to have what people consider to be a disability does not make you disable.
Vint: It doesn’t make you broken; it just means that you may not be able to do things the same way other people do. So for example when I give speeches which I do two or three times a week; when it comes to the Q&A, sometimes the best way for me to handle the Q&A is to get off the stage and run around by a hand held microphone so I can get close enough to somebody to lip read if I have to otherwise… so I just… sticking the microphone in front of their faces like [indecipherable 0:09:34.5]. These are sticks that you adopt in order to overcome what would otherwise be an awkward challenge. So, I have a great deal of faith in people’s ability to overcome some of these thing. If you talk to people that you might think of as disabled, they don’t think of themselves that way.
Vint: They realized that they have to do things differently from other people; if you can’t walk you have to sit in a wheelchair. Well, okay, so I use a wheelchair. I don’t, but other people do. And I don’t think of them… they don’t think of themselves as particularly disabled. Although they will say that the world doesn’t accommodate them very well especially if they don’t make any provision for wheelchair.
That’s why ADA was so important for the Americans with disability and that’s why it’s very important for everyone listening on the show to recognize that at some point in your life, you may experience a disability. Maybe it’s only temporary; you broke your leg and you’re in a wheelchair for a while or it may even be a permanent problem. As you get older; your hearing may go away, your vision may become worst. So we should all recognize that this is a potential hazard for all of us at one time or another. And you don’t feel… you know if you break your leg, you don’t feel like you’re a disabled person; you just realized, I broke my leg, so I have to use crutches until my leg heals or some of us that never heals.
Debra: Right. And there’s a… my husband who I’ve been married to 35 years, my husband about a year and a half ago went to the doctor, okay, I made him go to the doctor, and he has significant hearing loss and so he got hearing aids. And last night when I went to bed before him and he came into bed and he was… he took off his hearing aids and he’s like, “wow, that noise is so loud.” And I said, “What noise?” and he said, “The ringing in my ears.” And I said, “Yes. Welcome to my world.” My ears, they’re ringing right now; they’re very loud and I did not know that his hearing aids stopped the ringing. And I said, “okay, I got to go get me some hearing aids.” because the ringing is just part of my life and it happens to many of us certainly as we get older.
But the thing that I know that you and I share is the love of technology and how technology could actually help humanity evolve. And so, we were blessed to have you on AXSChat, A-X-S-Chat and David Bray was on there and we were talking about where we’re going with all these technology. And I know a lot of people are really really scared about AI. I mean, look what just happened with Uber’s automated cars. You know, a pedestrian unfortunately walked in front of the driverless car and the driverless car killed the woman which is very sad. And they’ve actually temporarily halted it. But the reality; a ton of these driving cars or self-driving cars or driverless cars I should say, there’s a real hope for them for people like my daughter born with Down syndrome and also my husband for example who’s now not quite as confident behind the wheel.
We bought a Subaru which is… it has a lot of self-driving features. Subaru; Toyota before that. But, you know, where we’re going with society and Vint, how do we make sure that the robots don’t take… I mean some… there’s a lot of things we can do wrong but, how do we make sure that we continue evolve and use technology to help us evolve.
Vint: Well, certainly technology has been part of human history forever. I mean, just imagine when the invention of the long bow had a dramatic effect on warfare because suddenly you could fire an arrow and it went a lot farther than a pikestaff did and changed tactics. There’s nothing inevitable about self-driving cars. It takes a huge amount of work to make that actually function successfully. We have an organization, a part of our alphabet homemade company called Waymo which has been working on self-driving cars pretty much ever since the original Darpa Challenge came along in the early 2000s’.
We think that we are doing a very very good job of testing these vehicles in all kinds of circumstances. We’re not going into a whole lot of details. I will say that the interesting thing about self-driving cars is that they take in a huge amount of information; they’ve got more, more 360 degree awareness than the normal human driver typically does. They don’t get distracted because the data is coming in all the time.
I don’t know what it was that cause the Uber car to fail to recognize that there was someone in the way but we run an enormous number of tests on these cars. And because we can simulate environments artificially; we can run the cars artificially to all kinds of situations by simply stimulating input into their censored systems or just passed the sensory system. We can literally generate virtual environments and cause the cars to experience things that we would not actually try in the real world like having a little kid ran out after a ball. We can simulate that and see how our software response to that so we can tell, we’ve driven four billion virtual miles and two and a half billion real miles on the roads. I’m sorry, two and a half million… no, four million miles on the real roads, two and a half billion miles in simulation. And whenever we release a new piece of software, we run it through a huge array of tests, simulated tests in order to make sure that the softwares still does what it supposed to do across whatever anything at.
Now, AI in general, let’s distinguish between machine learning and general artificial intelligence. What you’re mostly seeing today is what’s called machine learning and here, a huge change is taking place in the last five years or so with what’s called multi-layer neural networks. Here we’re talking hundreds of layers deep of neural nets that can be trained to perform certain functions. Some of them were spectacular but rather now ones are learning how to play golf for example or learning how to play chess or other board games so well that these machine learning networks can beat the international grandmasters. But that’s a very narrow skill.
An example of an application of that narrowness is what we do for cooling our data centers. We used to do a weekly adjustment of the various parameters we use to keep the datacenter from being too hot when the computers are not running properly. Now, we trained a neural network to manage that process and in the process of doing the training, we saved 40 percent of the power that was normally used to run the pumps and the valves to cool the system. So we actually trained the neural network to do better than the human being can with that particular task.
Vint: That’s not the same as what humans do. Humans take input from the real world and they build models somehow in their heads and then they reason about the models. We don’t have computers that do that very well at all. So we are long ways away from the kind of human capability to induce a kind of understanding of the real world that you can reason about. Perhaps someday we’ll get there but at the moment; even representing that information in a way that’s useful is a little outside of our grasp. But in the meantime, we can do these very narrow things and they can be very useful.
So when a person for example is surfing the internet through for example our index Google search and you encounter a page which is written in a language you don’t have to speak, we use a neural network to translate into whichever target language you prefer. So you are exercising very powerful artificial intelligence or a very powerful machine learning intelligence in the course of doing that translation that we see this as a tool for people to use in order to make their lives easier or better in some way or to get task done that they couldn’t otherwise do. So we see that as a powerful tool making activity and tool application activity.
Debra: Yes. It’s very exciting and I think you and I share this, I’m a very curious person and so I’m always trying to find out more and I watch television sometimes and what I watch is the science shows. I love science. And so… and sometimes… I’ve watched a series where they were talking about artificial intelligence but their vision of the world was so much darker than the vision I have of the world and I think the vision that you have of the world because I really believe that technology can make the world better.
I know we can misuse it and we have to figure out how to use this thing for example like the internet. So I am blessed to be very active on social media and have a lot of followers on social media and I’m such good friends with people that I’ve never met in person. For example Doug Foresta; I’ve known him for 10 years but we’ve never actually met live in person where I could touch him, I could touch his hand but I considered him one of my dearest friends and I have many many many other people like that. I’ll speak at conferences and people say, I’m, and their Twitter handle. I was like, “we know each other.”
So, there so much amazing potential and what I’d like to talk a little about is the People Centered Internet. And you’ve mentioned I4J and Coolabilities which I love Coolabilities. I love it because I… just because… when my daughter was born with Down syndrome and the doctor said she might never walk, she might never talk, she’s going to be a burden to you and they were wrong wrong wrong. She challenges me every single minute of the day, she makes me be a better person, a better mother, a better human, she is the reason why I created this works that I do now telling other people’s amazing stories. But I really believe in the power of humanity and you’ve been called a humanitarian many times and I was just wondering if you would talk a little bit more about the I4J Coolabilities and the People Centered Internet. I will say to the audience that you did speak to congress about net neutrality and we don’t want to get into politics or anything but you have just been such a humanitarian and technologist and that’s one reason why I get a little nervous when I have the pleasure of speaking to you. I’m sorry to be a dork but my audience knew that I’m like… I just love technology so.
Vint: So do I but we both know that technology has its dark side.
Vint: And we can’t ignore that; we shouldn’t ignore it. So, if you look at the current state of affairs on the net; we see social media being abused in some way misleading people, deliberately taunting them or trolling and things like that. Unfortunately, this is a side effect of human nature. We have our dark sides and that’s why we still read or watch Shakespeare plays because he covers the damage of goodness and badness in humans.
So we have to learn how to respond to that. Just not going too deeply into this but when we see things and hear things on the net, we have a responsibility to think more critically about what it is we’re seeing and hearing; where did they come from? Who put this up there? Is there any corroborating evidence for assertions that are being made?
Critical thinking takes work and not everyone is willing to do that and there’s this thing called confirmation biased where if you see opinions on the net that echo your own, you want to go look at those and you don’t want to look at any countervailing examples. We need to make ourselves be a little bit more thoughtful in order to combat that. We may even need to have the companies that are the platforms for that content take more responsibility for trying to filter things that are harmful.
But I’d like to shift the conversation a little bit back to the People Centered Internet for just a moment. Mei Lin Fung was one of the cofounders of People Centered Internet and her vision is that the internet should be and can be a positive, useful and constructive element of everyone’s lives. Of course if they don’t have access to it, they can’t take advantage of it which means that we need to build more internet and I’m committed to that especially given that only half the world population currently seem to have access to the net. That’s been exacerbated by the arrival of smart phones in 2007 from Apple and now many other companies including my own at Google makes these things.
So, more and more people are getting access to the internet by way of the smart phone which is a very interesting phenomenon because the smart phone makes the internet more accessible and the internet makes the smart phone more useful because of all the contents on the net. So, this is called mutual reinforcement of two technologies. Nonetheless, we still have a long way to go to make sure that even if internet is available that it also provide something useful to the population that has access to it and that means content that is literally locally useful in local languages that you want to be able to… if you’re looking for a plumber and you have to be living in Quito for example, you don’t need to know where the plumbers are in New York city, you need to know if there’s any plumbers in Quito. So we have work to do to produce that content and the nice thing is that it’s a local phenomenon that someone who has the knowledge can share that knowledge; put it up on the net, make it accessible for anybody.
So, we have this framework if you like for producing useful content and useful products and services that anyone is free to find and use. At least it should be that way in which now that takes a super net neutrality to date and we’re not going too far into that. One thing that I believe implicitly is that people should be able to get access in the internet and then go wherever they want to go on the net and find the information that they’re looking for. And it should not be the job of the intermediaries to somehow interfere with that.
So neutrality has to do with treating everyone with the same principles and the same opportunities for access. It doesn’t mean every packet gets treated the same; we understand latency is important for some of the application. It doesn’t mean you can’t charge more for more usage; it just means you can’t take advantage of the broadband types that you might control as the access to the net and interfere with somebody’s ability to choose to go in one place or another to reach sources of information or resources of functionality somewhere on the net. It should be neutral in that sense.
Debra: So, how can people get involved in the People Centered Internet supporting what you’re trying to do?
Vint: Well, an easy place to go is peoplecentered.net. If you go there, you’ll see what our website has to say, you’ll see opportunities to participate in the projects that we’re undertaking. And I hope that we’ll able to expand opportunities for people to join us to make things happen. at the very least, I hope it will trigger ideas and thinking locally around the network about the things that they can do that they imagine that they could do to make internet more useful and more accessible to people that are of interest to them.
Debra: Yes. I think it’s an important endeavor and I know you have blogs out there and newsletters and there’s a lot of ways that people can get involved but also, brands. So, Vint, you know represents Google which, I love Google, so big fan of what Google has done to change my life and all of our lives. But, Vint, how can other brands get more involved? Because I am really… I work a lot with multinational brands and more and more I see that the brands are the ones that are being the innovators not as much so as countries. There’s a lot of you know, fighting going on in certain countries like say our beautiful country the US but a lot of good things happening too. But I see a lot of corporate brands really stepping up to really solve some of these societal problems. I don’t know if you’re seeing the same thing Vint but, what can brands do to get more engaged in this conversations?
Vint: Of course we certainly hope at Google that we are a brand that people can learn to trust and that the products and services that we offer are found to be useful. You can tell that the company has evolved quite a bit from its earliest days where its primary product was search on the World Wide Web. Now of course we’ve created this overarching company called Alphabet and it has various companies within it one of which is Google but there are others for example there is Calico which is the California life company which is trying to figure out why do people get old and can we stop that. You know, as I get older, I’m very interested in the answer to that.
Debra: Yes. Me too.
Vint: There’s Verily which is a medical instrumentation and health company trying to understand more about how we maintain our health, how do we detect when our health is degrading and what can we do about it. There’s Sidewalk labs which is up in New York and they are in the business of trying to build smarter cities and they have a project in Toronto along the waterfront to build a smart town of about 20,000 people.
We have the Waymo which is the self-driving car is in that company. Of course it will help people who would otherwise not be as mobile to be able to get around. So the whole idea is empowering people to do things with technology and I think that Google and its sister companies in the Alphabet space are all focused on exactly this using technology to empower people to do the things that they want to do more easily and more confidently and more effectively.
Debra: And I also know that Google has done a lot to support the community of people with disabilities. They are investing in really cool technologies that support people with disabilities. They’re investing in companies that are run by people with disabilities. Once again, I’m a big fan of Google because of what they’re doing for the community that I care about and for my family.
Vint: I really appreciate that. We have a nonprofit component called google.org and at one point, we pick… each year we pick a focus of attention and a couple of years ago, disabilities was our primary focus. I think we spent about $20,000,000 on the variety of applications companies that we’re trying to develop technology and make people’s lives easier. We have a significant group within the company that’s directly concern with accessibility of all of our product. So we keep striving to improve their accessibility for people with wide range of needs, of assistive needs so we’d love to make progress there too.
Debra: And of course, Google is an employers of people with disabilities. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sara Basson who is… her job is to make sure that Google is the best place in the world to work for people with disabilities. That’s the quote she gave me and I was like, “that’s a good quote Sara.” So…
Vint: Sara is… we’re very delighted to have Sara with us. We have Eve Anderson runs the central accessibility team and I just looked at an internal report, I can’t give you all the details to some of its proprietary but, there’s a really long list of things that we’ve done in the past six months to improve the quality of accessibility of our products and services…
Debra: Which so…
Vint: There’s still plenty more to be done. We all know that.
Debra: Right. But I do think and I’m always saying this, we must celebrate the successes that we’ve had along the way and we as a community of people with disabilities have to celebrate the brands that are really working hard to include us like Google. I think sometimes our community is seen as, “yes but you haven’t done enough yet. You haven’t done enough.” I have wrote… I wrote a blog once that was called, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.” And my latest book which I sent you a copy of it which will publish on March 29 is inclusion branding which is talking to brands about telling our community or any other community about what you’re doing. Because instead of just tripping across it, tell us what you’re doing. I know a lot about what Google’s doing because this is my work; I track it. But, I think there’s a lot that brands could do to tell us but we as a community of people with disabilities need to reward these brands.
Vint: In that case, it seems to me that we got to get Eve Anderson and Sara Basson onto your show.
Debra: Yes. And I’ve asked Sara and she was like, “yes. I just got the job from Debra Woods. I just got promoted.” So, I agree Vint and I want them on the show. I want them to talk about… I also want to get you involved with the United Nation’s international labor organizations global business disability network which is global companies talking about why we should be including people with disabilities in their workforces.
So, there’s some big… I think there’s… yes, there are some things to be depressed about but, there’s also a lot to be really excited and hopeful about and that’s really how I try to live my life. But, I know that I promise to only keep you 30 minutes and I think I already went over but, before we go, I would like… if you don’t mind, you tell people how they can find out more about i4j and also any other links that you want to tell them about. I know that you’re on Twitter and you’re on Facebook, I found you this morning as I was stalking you on social media and I’m sure you’re on LinkedIn. But… and once again, all you have to do is Google Vint Cerf. That’s all you have to do and you’re going to get some great great videos and interviews and great information. But, go ahead Vint.
Vint: Again, to get to the People Centered Internet, just go to peoplecentered.net and to get to the innovation for jobs webpage and our programs there it’s i (literally i) 4 (the numeral 4) j.info. I-N-F-O. David Nordfors is the cofounder of that organization. I encourage your listeners and viewers to have a look at both of those websites and track, by all means track Google. Just do google accessibility at Google and see what we have to say there too.
Debra: It’s very exciting and I really encourage the brands that are following the show to please get involved; they need funding. You know these are nonprofits so they need funding. We need to keep the internet people centered and we need to make sure that we have… we’re focused in Coolabilities and we’re involved in i4j to really make sure everybody can work. What if I was a coal miner my whole life and now I need different skills because I need to support my family. The work that they’re doing with these two organizations; this is how we change the world. So, please get involved and please vote with your money. Send money there.
Vint: Well, we’d appreciate that. Let me mention something else called grow with Google. It’s a program that we put together to help people learn new skills. As time goes on; skills need to change.
Vint: There are new demands on people’s talent for work. And so Grow With Google is a very good place to look. Just Google that and you’ll see a whole program for retraining the people whose current jobs may be less needed but there are other jobs that need to be filled and they need training to do them.
Debra: Vint are you saying Grow with Google?
Vint: Grow With Google. Yes.
Debra: My ears heard glow and I thought, “Well that’s cool. Glow with Google.” But…
Vint: You can glow… glow with Google. But we hope that after you… after you take the Grow With Google program, you’ll be glowing with success.
Debra: That’s right.
Vint: I hope so.
Debra: With so many job opportunities.
Debra: Vint, thank you so much for being on my hundredth episode and for the work that you do and you proved my point that we all can add value to the conversations and I just really really admire your work and I’m very thankful for being a little part now of i4j. I’m going to try to make your meeting in California and the People Centered Internet. And remember on Twitter, change agents is the hashtag that People Centered Internet is using. So please join the conversations. And thank you for blessing me and our audience with being on the show today.
Vint: No, thank you very much for having me on the show. I appreciate it and I’ll see you on the net.
Debra: Yes. Yes. Thank you so much. Bye everyone.
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