Lunch with Vinton Cerf: the question I never asked

I had the good fortune to attend a lunch today with none other than Google Chief Internet Evangelist, Dr. Vinton Cerf. Dr. Cerf is in Sweden to speak at the Internetdagarna conference but he managed to squeeze in a lunch with a few bloggers, researchers and journalists.

The father of the internet turned out to be a humble gentleman with an intellectual curiosity I wish I have a fraction of at the age of 65.

Actually, I wish I had it at 32! Google is very fortunate.

The discussion lasted about 2 hours and covered a range of subjects, including the struggle between an open internet/society (can you really pick them apart nowadays?) and crime prevention, machine learning, young peoples use of the internet and the meaning of life (we didn’t really sort that last one out, though).

Dr. Cerf started the discussion by introducing the thinking behind the architecture of the net that he and Robert Kahn used when constructing the core components of what is now called the internet back in the 70s. It was an architecture based on openness and collaboration. There was no central component controlling the nodes of the network, it was distributed and in a sense organic, growing node by node.

In fact, I would argue that this idea really is the internet. Not the ethernet, TCP/IP, HTTP-protocols or any of the other acronyms. The internet is an idea. The rest are just implementation details.

That’s why you can’t kill it.

The discussion turned to openness and authenticity to prevent fraud and spam. There’s an interesting link between the need for authenticity and identification, the loss of ways to be anonymous, privacy and personal integrity that unfortunately wasn’t explored further.

There’s one question I wanted to ask Dr Cerf that I never got to.

I would like to know the IQ of the internet.

Or, well, not really the internet itself, but rather how the internet affects the ability of society to solve problems. How it affects the intelligence of individuals.

Computers and the internet is a tool for the mind. As such, the primary purpose of that tool is to extend the capabilities of the human brain. Some years ago I proposed the IA Turing Test.

Unlike the original AI Turing Test, this test does not test the intellectual capability of a machine but how a machine can augment the intellectual capability of a man. The test is simple: you sit outside two rooms with closed doors. In one of the rooms is an expert in a certain subject. In the other room is a layman in the same subject, but with access to the internet.

Your task is to find out in which room the expert is in. You can only communicate with the persons in the room using a chat client. The persons in the rooms may lie.

20 years ago the test would be simple. 10 years ago still quite simple. Today, probably still rather simple but the difference (I would guess) is decreasing. It is becoming easier to find answers to just about everything online or to use software to solve problems without expert knowledge. The computer and the internet is becoming ever more powerful as a tool for the mind.

It is becoming easier for the layman to be an expert. In everything!

I think that’s pretty cool.

I think that’s a major shift!

That’s why I would like to know the intelligence of the internet and the rate at which (Dr Cerf thinks) it is changing.

Why? Because it’s not the internet that is changing. It’s us.

All of us.

Together.

We, as a global society is changing and it’s a change driven by the mind tools we call computers or mobile phones or netbooks or cybernetic machines. We are so intertwined with these tools that it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart from us. They augment us. Extend us. That’s why they are also a part of us.

Oh well. Maybe next time.

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