Vinton Cerf, an American internet pioneer and one of the ‘fathers of the internet’ shared his thoughts with Airmic deputy CEO and technical director Julia Graham during Day 3 of Airmic Fest

He said one of the surprises since the origins of the internet, nearly 50 years ago, was the many ways in which it is now being abused, from malicious cyber attacks through to the distribution of misinformation on social media platforms.

But this is not a failure of the technology itself, but more a reflection of human nature, he thought. “That is one of the toughest problems we have right now - the abuse of the network due to people’s proclivity to do harm to others.”

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not going to protect business and society from the vulnerabilities that can be exploited, he warned. This fact alone bothers him.

“It keeps me and others like me awake trying to make sure we defend ourselves against the weaknesses in the software we have designed and deployed.”

“We still have a lot of engineering and research to do in order to make the world safer for software.”

Cerf said he was concerned about the risks presented by the Internet of Things (IoT) given the speed and low cost with which many internet-enabled devices are manufactured and brought to market.

“We’re literally seeing billions of devices with computer capabilities,” he said. “Safety, security and reliability with regards to software related devices is a major issue. I drive one: It’s called a Tesla.” 

As the population comes to rely more and more on IoT infrastructure it has to be “reliable, safe, secure and private - so our lives are not exposed to all seven billion people on the planet”.

“We have a great deal of work to do in terms of mitigating risk at many different layers in the architecture,” he added.

Cerf described the commercialisation of the internet during the dotcom boom years of the late 1990s, and how it has continued to grow exponentially despite the fact many start-up companies “have fallen by the wayside” along the way.

The launch of the first iPhone in 2007 was a pivotal moment in bringing the internet to the masses, with access to the internet an important right for everyone, he said. “We still have a long way to go. It’s 2020 and we still have about four billion people more to connect.”