Cerf’s up: economic future tied to growth of ‘internet of things’

26 Apr 2012

One of the internet's founding fathers, Vint Cerf

One of the internet’s founding fathers Vint Cerf, who co-invented TCP/IP technology – the platform upon which the internet runs – said that by the end of the decade every person and machine on the planet could conceivably be internet-connected. This means more economic opportunities will arise for IT-skilled economies, as the cost of internet-enabling anything falls.

Cerf, vice-president and chief internet evangelist at Google, who was in Dublin today to address Google staff, said he was impressed at how a country like Ireland made the right policy decisions over a number of decades to develop its ICT economy.

“I’m very impressed at how over the last few decades Ireland concentrated its belief in ICT in order to build up a new kind of business base,” said Cerf, who was instrumental in creating the internet as we know it by helping develop TCP/IP while a programme manager at DARPA.

“Your policies encouraged outside investment. Long-term planning showed the ability to develop markets not strictly domestic.”

Cerf said he recalled the early days of the international services industries in Ireland when companies would actually mail physical credit card receipts.

“But Ireland showed the ability to go after the bigger jobs, built up its skills base and attracted international businesses.

“You came to the table with a lot of thoughtful effort to prepare your country for the IT space.”

Light at the end of the tunnel

Cerf acknowledged that Ireland suffered the same disease as the US – the property bubble and subsequent economic collapse. “In the US, the light at the end of the tunnel hasn’t produced the jobs we hoped. It’s been a jobless recovery so far. That is going to change and I have a feeling of optimism about the perverse effect that technology has, that it is not just static.

“The internet is as good an example as anything that has evolved over time and is continuously rolling out new kinds of apps.

“Every time you do something with software, you have to break it.

“In that sense, the more IT activity you can undertake gives you the opportunity to be helpful to other people.”

Cerf expressed his belief that there is a long-term growth prospect for the IT industry.

“The key is to grow your IT skills base. There are going to be new possibilities and new problems to solve, it’s not going to stop.

“I’m optimistic about that segment of IT activity – in the UK, the IT economy is over 7pc of their economy – that, frankly, surprised me. And that growth is continuing.

“Every year, there is a 15pc growth in the number of people and machines and by the end of the decade everyone on the planet could be on the internet.

“This is going to expand. Look at the apps economy – ‘hey, there’s an app for that’ – and it’s going to go beyond mobile, every machine can be connected to the internet. Ally that with cloud, it’s a confluence of the two.

“This is making it possible for more people than ever to write apps and this is going to expand to other machines – you’ve heard of the internet of things.

“The cost of internet-enabling anything is dropping dramatically. It costs 50 cents to internet-enable a light bulb. This isn’t a crazy idea – once you put something on the internet you make it controllable. The more devices connected to the internet, the more opportunities.

“That means there’s a raft of potential waiting to penetrate the IT space.”

Check out our video interview with Google’s Vint Cerf here:

The web’s impact on nations and media – one of internet’s founding fathers Vint Cerf 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years