‘Father of the internet’ Vint Cerf speaks out against bitcoin

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Doug Smith/Staff

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Vint Cerf, who is frequently considered to be one of the “fathers of the internet,” spoke out against bitcoin and promoted global internet expansion during a Berkeley Forum event Wednesday evening.

Cerf spoke in front of about 250 UC Berkeley students and members of the public, recounting the history of the internet, his involvement in the creation process, mistakes he made along the way and his visions for the future.

Now Google’s vice president and chief internet evangelist — Cerf had originally requested he be called “archduke” — Cerf worked with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop the internet. According to Cerf, his mission is to bring the remaining 4 billion people without internet access online.

“I do want you to appreciate how long it took to get this stuff to work,” Cerf said during the forum. “It took us 10 years to get to that point. … (But) here we are; half the world is online.”

In addition to discussing the history and advancement of internet technology, Cerf talked about cryptocurrency. When asked about bitcoin, Cerf said his first response was to “run the other way.” On the topic of blockchain, he struck a more moderate tone but cautioned about its applications.

UC Berkeley students have become increasingly interested in blockchain development, with clubs such as Blockchain at Berkeley hosting conferences and DeCals on the topic. Multiple departments on campus have also sponsored courses on blockchain in the spring 2018 semester.

Cerf also encouraged the audience to engage in critical thinking when using the internet, saying that malware and misinformation cannot be counteracted using algorithms alone.

“I don’t mean to absolve companies like (Google) and Facebook and others from trying to filter out some of the more harmful things that show up,” Cerf said during his speech. “I hope you all recognize that the filtering of content on the network is a clearly scary proposition.”

In an interview with The Daily Californian, Cerf said websites have an increasing responsibility to filter out “harmful” material. Rather than reforming the internet fundamentally, however, efforts should be targeted at improving people’s ability to dismiss misinformation, Cerf said.

The talk was part of the Berkeley Forum’s larger mission to elevate the discourse in Berkeley by giving individuals like Cerf a platform for sharing relevant ideas, according to Berkeley Forum talks manager Soham Kudtarkar.

Campus sophomore and computer science major Daniel Chang, who attended the event, said he found Cerf’s account of failures in the past and the unexpected nature of internet development interesting.

“Forty years ago, (Cerf) wouldn’t have expected any of this, and now 40 years in the future, who knows what we are going to be looking at?” Chang said.

Cerf said his advice to UC Berkeley students is to find things they are passionate about and to tackle one problem at a time in order to better the world.

“(UC) Berkeley has some of the most talented people around,” Cerf said. “Look at the creativity of the young people who are here. … We rely on them.”

Sophia Brown-Heidenreich covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.