"The net was not designed to do anything in particular. It was designed to move little bags of bits from point A to point B, with some probability greater than zero," said Vinton Cerf, often referred to as one of the fathers of the Internet, during the Panetta Institute Lecture Series in Monterey, California last week. "And because it doesn't do anything in particular, it does everything."
During the lecture, Cerf, who is a Vice President at Google and in 1997 was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Technology by President Clinton, discussed technology and the Internet with Arianna Huffington and Larry Magid, a CBS News and KCBS analyst who also blogs for The Huffington Post. Frank Senso, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University moderated the discussion.
This particular lecture was the final event of Panetta's series on "Revolutions of the 21st Century." The panel discussed the future of the Internet, problems that affect everyday life because of digital media, and the new technology to come.
The opening discussion centered around how we, as users and creators, define the internet. Do we find it to be an evolutionary or a revolutionary advancement? Cerf, for one, said he believes it's a combination of both.
"Any revolution that you know anything about starts in a way that might be small," he argued. "Internet is a revolution. It took a technology called packet switching, which was considered crazy at the time by the traditional telecom people, and made it work for computers. But it has evolved over the past 40 years since that idea was put on paper."
"It is unquestionably a revolution," Arianna said. She continued by discussing the sheer number of Internet users who now have an opportunity to join the cultural conversation. That number, she said, will only continue to rise. "And that has revolutionary implications. For everyone - for politics, for the way we live our lives, for good and for evil."
The panelists also discussed Google's role online and whether the company could be considered a hero or villain within the cyber world.
"Is it possible for Google not to be evil?" Senso asked Cerf.
"The answer is yes, and we're not," Cerf responded. "[W]hat is of interest to us is not persons; it is patterns."
Cerf argued that Google is trying to make a buck from advertisers by following its users' online movements. "We are interested in patterns because we use the patterns of behavior and the patterns we find in your email."
Cerf did, however, express concerns about the impact that access to vast networks of online data could have on users' critical thinking skills.
"There is an issue there. The instant gratification, the instant satisfaction when you do a Google search. [It] may actually work against this notion of critical thinking," he said. "I worry that we will not imbue young people, and the rest of us, with the consciousness and needing to think critically because we are confronted with all this information, and we ourselves are the only ones who can filter that out."
To hear Cerf, Arianna and Magid's full discussion, check out the video below. What points did you find most interesting? How has the explosion of internet technology throughout the last two decades effected your everyday life?