Cerf, big on net neutrality, is a highly vocal proponent for as little regulation as possible in the cyber-world.
"I can assure you that Larry Page and Sergey Brin did not have to do a negotiation with every single ISP in the world in order for them to bring up Backrub, which became Google," he said. "'Permissionless innovation' is a term I like very much, meaning that one doesn't have to get permission in order to innovate. It is a very powerful tool. I think it is important to preserve that notion that what other people know may be useful to you, and vice versa.
"I have to say that the most astonishing effect of the arrival of the World Wide Web was the enormous avalanche of content that flowed in because people just wanted to share what they knew, on the possibility that it would be useful to someone else. I think that intention is still there, although this is a big tent, and all business models are welcome."
Ultimately, the Internet needs to continue to adapt to changing security problems and figure out new ways to defend the free transmission of information.
"As the Internet becomes more and more penetrant and more things are connected to it, we're going to have to learn what social conventions we need to adopt, in addition to legal structures and technical mechanisms, in order to make the net a safer place to be," Cerf said. "And it does have to become a safer place to be because, if it does not, it will fail.
"We have a big challenge ahead of us, with a number of different tools, to respond. But we're just at the beginning of a lot of that response."
A True Cyber-Space Pioneer
In the 1960s and '70s, Cerf was a program manager for the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), funding various groups to develop TCP/IP. When the Internet began to transition to a commercial opportunity in the late 1980s, Cerf moved to MCI, where he was instrumental in the development of the first commercial email system (MCI Mail).
Cerf was instrumental in the funding and formation of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the private sector, nonprofit organization created in 1998 to assume responsibility for the Domain Name System from the start. He waited in the wings for a year before he stepped forward to join the ICANN board, eventually becoming chairman. He was elected president of the Association for Computing Machinery in May 2012, and in August 2013, he joined the Council on CyberSecurity's Board of Advisors.
About the FiRE Conference
The FiRE Conference, in its 12th year, is an elite international meeting of about 250 business executives. The event, held May 20 to 23 at the Montage resort in Laguna Beach, is conducted by Mark Anderson's Strategic News Service, a Seattle-based research consultancy that describes itself as "the most accurate predictive newsletter covering the computing and communications industries." Members include IT leaders such as Cerf, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Paul Jacobs, Justin Rattner, Steve Ballmer, Paul Ricci, Bill Janeway and other global intellectual, policy and business leaders.
Photo of Vint Cerf courtesy of Creative Commons/Wikimedia.org.