Google might not be top dog forever says father of the internet

The man known as one of the fathers of the internet says Google might not be the defacto standard for search forever.

Vint Cerf, a vice-president at the Mountain View-based company, says there is no particular threat to the balance of the internet with such a large player directing which pages of the web are more appropriate than others.

Speaking at the launch of the Virgin Media-supported Life Online exhibition for the National Media Museum in Bradford, he said there was healthy competition from Bing and others. But his second point was perhaps more interesting.

"There's nothing to stop someone from developing better technology than we have and to invent something even more powerful and efficient and effective," he said.

"Which, of course, scares us. And that's good because it means we run as fast as we can to develop better tools for search in order to try to stay ahead of the game."

Referencing how the dominance of the search engine Alta Vista in the early days of the World Wide Web waned and gave way to Yahoo, which, in turn, was superseded by Google, Cerf offered a very clear perspective on how quickly times can change.

"We absolutely know that there could be somebody just like Larry and Sergey [Page and Brin of Google] on some university campus with an idea we don't have that could explode on the scene and take the business away."

Cerf is credited with the invention of the TCP/IP standard by which machines on the internet can exchange data with one another and therefore send communications from the most basic messages, such as e-mails, to renders of websites and Flash video.

While he and his fellow pioneers did a good job of building a protocol and a structure that could work with any machine and technology into the future by demanding only that it be "capable of sending a packet of bits from point A to point B with some probability greater than zero", what they didn't get quite right was just how many people would be using it.

"In 1973 we thought it would be expensive to build a national network. You have to appreciate that we were living in a time of $50,000 computers that people time shared on," Cerf explained to an audience at the launch.

"We predicted that there would be 256 networks, two per country, and then 16 million computers per nation. We ran out of that IPv4 32-bit address space in Februrary 2011."

For anyone concerned that the internet is about to collapse, iPv6, set to take over in June 2012, has 128 bits of address space which is plenty for now, according to Cerf.

"That's 34 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses and that number is enough to cover the foreseeble use of the internet - or at least until I'm dead and it's somebody else's problem."

To find out more about just how TCP/IP works, what it is and just what the first message ever transmitted on the internet was, then head over to the Life Online exhibition, which features interactive installations and video interviews with the men and women that paved the way for the world of computers as we know it. Life Online opens to the public on 30 March 2012 at the National Media Museum in Bradford.

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