As more and more people connect to the web, governments across the world are looking to regulate and control the virtual world. In India too there is a growing debate on whether the web, especially social networking sites, should be regulated or not. In an exclusive article for The Times of India, Vint Cerf, considered one of the fathers of the internet along with Bob Kahn, says the beauty of the web is that there are no gatekeepers and it must stay that way:
In a very short period of time the internet has had a profound impact on the way we live. Since the Internet was made operational in 1983, it has lowered both the costs of communication and the barriers to creative expression. It has challenged old business models and enabled new ones. It has provided access to information on a scale never before achievable.
It succeeded because we designed it to be flexible and open. These two features have allowed it to accommodate innovation without massive changes to its infrastructure. An open, borderless and standardized platform means that barriers to entry are low, competition is high, interoperability is assured and innovation is rapid.
The beauty of an open platform is that there are no gatekeepers. For centuries, access to and creation of information was controlled by the few. The internet has changed that --and is rapidly becoming the platform for everyone, by everyone.
Of course, it still has a ways to go. Today there are only about 2.3 billion internet users, representing roughly 30% of the world's population. Much of the information that they can access online is in English, but this is changing rapidly. There are 500 million users in China and they access and create information in Chinese. By design, the internet's World Wide Web application makes use of the Unicode character set, capable of representing most of the world's written languages. The Domain Name System that allows us to create signposts in cyberspace has been adapted to the use of Unicode rather than a small set of Latin characters. These features facilitate creating, finding and using content in most of the world's written languages.
As more diverse content comes online, so does the need for tools that allow us to jump over linguistic barriers. This is why I'm excited about the progress of automatic language translation tools -- and in particular the field that we call machine learning. The technology isn't perfect yet, but one can imagine a day when two people can experience a conversation as if it were conducted in their respective, different tongues.
The main driver of this increase in multilingual content will be increased access to the Internet itself. And one key to that access will be mobiles.
A few years ago everyone speculated about the promises mobiles would fulfill. Now they've truly delivered. We are already seeing the differences mobile internet connectivity has made in Africa, Latin America, and the Indian subcontinent. In developing economies, in addition to adopting applications popular around the world, people are finding other innovative ways to use mobile technology, from Grameen's microfinance and village phone programmes in Bangladesh to innovative SMS services providing farmers with crop and weather updates. Cheap smartphones, meanwhile, are bringing the processing power of the internet's servers into urban India on a grand scale.
The combined power of the internet and mobile, wireless and broadband services is producing an information and application cornucopia. How often do you hear "there's an app for that"?
The technological progress of the internet has also set social change in motion. As with other enabling inventions before it, from the telegraph to television, some will worry about the effects of broader access to information -- the printing press and the rise in literacy that it effected were, after all, long seen as destabilising.
Similar concerns about the internet are occasionally raised, but if we take a long view, I'm confident that its benefits far outweigh the discomforts of learning to integrate it into our lives. The internet and the World Wide Web are what they are because literally millions of people have made it so. It is a grand collaboration.
It would be foolish not to acknowledge that the openness of the internet has had a price. Security is an increasingly important issue and cannot be ignored. If there is an area of vital research and development for the internet, this is one of them. I am increasingly confident, however, that techniques and practices exist to make the internet safer and more secure while retaining its essentially open quality.
After working on the internet and its predecessors for over four decades, I'm more optimistic about its promise than I have ever been. We are all free to innovate on the net every day. The internet is a tool of the people, built by the people for the people and it must stay that way.
(In 1970s Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn worked on TCP/IP protocol, which powers the internet. In early 1980s he developed MCI Mail, considered the world's first commercial email service. He has worked with, as well as helped set up, a number of crucial regulatory bodies, including ICANN, that promote and develop standards related to the internet. He is recipient of several awards, including Turing Award which is considered Nobel Prize of Computing. Currently, Cerf is the chief internet evangelist at Google)