The White House
President George W. Bush
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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Dr. Vinton Cerf
Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google

Dr. Robert Kahn
Chairman, CEO and President, Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI)

     President Honors Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

November 9, 2005

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
There could not have been two more surprised people at the White House today than the two of us. Most people will immediately recognize most of the names on the list of Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees, but although our names are not household words, our work in creating the Internet now shows up in almost every corner of the world. If Vint has his way, it will show up on the other planets, as well. And if Bob has his way, the Internet will be re-invented many times over in the future by those in the audience and in generations to come.

John, from writes:
Please explain the difference between what you two developed and what Tim Burners-Lee (www) and Bob Metcalfe (ethernet) developed.

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
Tim developed the World Wide Web, one of the most important and popular applications on the Internet. E-mail was the initial killer application and has been around for almost 35 years.

Bob Metcalfe invented the ethernet, which is the most popular and widely used local area network technology.

The first network in the Internet was the Arpanet operating at 50 kilobits per second, but today the vast majority of networks in the Internet are local ethernets operating at 100 million to 1 billion bits per second.

Our work centered on architecture and protocols for interconnecting different kinds of nets and the computers on them.

Caren, from Grove City writes:
Should the Internet be policed or censored? If so, how would that work considering the First Amendment affects only this country, not international law?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
Neither of us favors government censorship of the Internet, but we also recognize the prerogatives of national sovereignty and the concerns that parents have for their children's use of the network. As with any technology, it can be used and abused and we need to be vigilant in ensuring that the bad doesn't overwhelm the good.

Bill, from Seattle, Wash. writes:
I read that Congress is considering a new telecom bill that addresses the issue of "network neutrality". What exactly is that and do you have a position on it?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
Vint agreed to field this question. He takes the view that users of the Internet should have unconstrained use of the underlying transport system to use applications as they wish. Network neutrality is one way to assure that the suppliers of broadband facilities do not abuse their special position in the infrastructure.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn, You must be so proud of your accomplishment in the development of the Internet. It is amazing how you have improved the lives of so many by your efforts. Congratulations I remember in the 1970's, my grandfather was in charge of the computer science department for a manufacturing company. His department consisted of a room packed with floor-to-ceiling sized computers. Today, one PC replaces all of that. What technological advances do you forsee in the future that will further shape the use of the internet?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
Dr. Kahn agreed to field this question. He sees the natural evolution of some of the newer technologies involving wireless and broadband, and the move to devices of all kinds - portable, mobile, personal and infrastructural. In the longer term he sees the move from managing the movement of packets in an open architecture environment to the management of structured data in the net, also in an open architecture environment. Having consulted with Vint, Bob is sure he would add the extension of the Internet to the rest of the solar system.

Steven, from San Jose, Calif. writes:
How can we ensure that history remains accurately recorded when pages on the Internet can so easily be changed? Does the Internet make it easier or harder to change recorded history?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
That's a really good question! There are projects underway to capture the dynamic contents of the World Wide Web. Brewster Kahle is running an Internet Archive project for example. The content of the WWW is dynamic and often ephemeral and potentially modifiable, as you suggest. Digital Signature technology is one way of protecting information by exposing any attempt to modify it. But even that may not guarantee absolute integrity protection forever. The use of digital objects and its underlying ability to verify the integrity of digital content through the use of the Handle System that Bob Kahn has been working on at CNRI offers another fruitful avenue towards solving this problem. In addition efforts such as the American Memory project at the Library of Congress and recent efforts to automate the National Archives represent institutional approaches to this problem.

Alexis, from Washington, DC writes:
I am ten years old and use the Internet a lot. What gave you the idea for the Internet?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
Actually, the problem was put before us in some sense by the development of several distinct computer networking technologies using packet switching back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency sponsored research in this area and Bob Kahn, while working at the Agency, recognized early on that something needed to be done to allow these different networks to interconnect. He started what he called the Internetting program and in the Spring of 1973 he invited Vint Cerf, then at Stanford, to work with him on this problem. The two of them came up with the architecture and protocols for what became the Internet.

Jeff, from North Dakota writes:
Did you ever expect the internet to get so big?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
Not initially since it was an experiment, but over time it became clearer that the technology had wide ranging potential. With the development of the personal computer in the late 1970s and early 1980s together with restructuring of the telecommunications industry in the mid-1980s, the scene was set for widespread commercialization of networking. The efforts of the National Science Foundation helped to foster the adoption of networking within the scientific and academic community. Their actions taken in the early 1990s to facilitate commercialization, supported by the US Congress, led to explosive Internet growth.

Julia, from Kansas City writes:
Thank you for your work in revolutionizing the way we live. What's your take on the convergence of technology? Do you see the internet replacing broadcast and cable television in the near future?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
It's already happening to some extent and this trend is likely to continue in the near term.

Mark, from Washington writes:
Who "owns" the internet? Should anyone?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
The bulk of the Internet's physical facilities is owned and operated by the private sector and also by some governmental organizations around the world. We view the Internet as a framework for network and computer interconnection and the management of information more broadly. In that sense, no one owns the Internet or perhaps all of us do.

Robert, from Vienna, VA writes:
To Dr. Cerf: Which current project are you most "passionate" about? Why?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
The interplanetary Internet project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory because it is as close as you can come to living a science fiction story.

Jeff, from Cape Girardeau writes:
Are you all tech savvy in your day-to-day lives? Do you carry around PDAs? Are you plugged into the Internet all the time when you are on the go?

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
It is fair to say that both of us are tech savvy, but we have different demands placed on us for connectivity. Vint carries a PDA, mobile phone and a laptop and likes using the net while on board Lufthansa's aircraft! Bob carries most of these devices, as well, much of the time but has fewer pockets than Vint does.

Dr. Cerf and Dr. Kahn
We wish we had more time to respond to all of your thoughtful questions and we are very grateful for your good wishes on our receipt of this notable award. We hope you are all able to make your own contributions to the Internet in the future.

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