Steve Goldstein: First of all, I’ve been retired since 2003. So, most of the active role I’ve played has been between 1989 and 2003 at the National Science Foundation, with a slight addendum because I served on the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—ICANN—from 2006 to 2009. And I keep looking at the camera instead of you but that’s habit.
So at the National Science Foundation, my job by…the elevator speech? My job was to connect the Internet, or bring Internet around the world. To expand on that, when I came to the National Science Foundation in 1989, the NSFNET had established itself pretty much as the center of gravity of the Internet. And some people wanted to say was the core of the Internet, but that’s a technical term. And it really wasn’t because the Internet was a network of networks, so it was no longer a core. But it was a center of gravity. Everybody wanted to connect to the National Science Foundation network and my job, or my mission that I assumed for myself, was to help them do that.
And so little by little we connected a lot of countries, about twenty-five countries between 1991 and ’95, with the help of a project that I set up called the International Connections Manager, which was awarded to Sprint. And Sprint had no experience of the Internet at that time. This was their way of jumping in. And they really bent over backwards to do everything possible to make things happen, so they were a great partner. But we connected—or, well, we solidified existing connections with the Nordic countries—NORDUnet—and with France. That was the beginning of things.
But along the line we helped to connect Russia and China. And the very last connection before the project was ended was with Mongolia. And that was ’95, ’96. And Latin American countries along the way, with the help of the Organization of American States; Saul Hahn my partner in crime there. Saul worked in-country with the various governments and was able to provide some money for equipment while on the other hand we worked to help get the satellite links connected and get those satellite links connected to the NSFNET with the help of Sprint. So that was a big partnership.
Then Al Gore came along and started a G7 initiative called Global Interoperability of Broadband Networks—GIBN. And the idea there was that broadband networks—and by that he meant 45 megabits per second, which today is not fast at all. But they were beginning to spring up and he wanted a way of interconnecting those network from other countries. And so what we did in response to that was to kick off a project at University of Illinois, Chicago with Tom DeFanti and Maxine Brown to set up a router in Chicago where countries could haul their links across the US and connect to each other there.
Now I mention hauling across the US. If we had set this thing up in Los Angeles, that would’ve been great for the Asians. Taiwan and you know, Japan and so forth. But then the people from Europe wouldn’t be too happy ’cause they’d have to come clear across the US. If we set up in New York it would have been the same thing with the people from Asia not being too happy. So we set it up in Chicago where nobody was happy, or everybody was equally unhappy. But it worked rather nicely and many countries connected to the STAR TAP.
And the beauty of the STAR TAP was everybody that connected to a router. So for example, France if they want to connect with Taiwan through that router without going through any intervening US infrastructure. So there was no US policy imposed. And that was one of the key features. And this went on to be replicated at interconnection points all over the world. So it was one of the first ones there. And that was realized in 1997.
And then, toward the latter part of the 1990s, Greg Cole at University of Tennessee got a cooperation going among Russia, China, and the United States to basically—the concept was to set up a dedicated wavelength around the Northern Hemisphere to support computationally-intensive research. And this was called GLORIAD. And GLORIAD is still running today, although many other countries or networks have joined. So for example Canada, the Nordic countries—NORDUnet, SURFnet in Holland, Singapore, India, Egypt—the most recent one. And I’m pretty sure I’m leaving somebody—oh, Canada. And they’re all members of this GLORIAD group. So GLORIAD’s architecture’s now sort of a ring of rings around the Northern Hemisphere. But again, to support computationally-intensive science like weather research and so forth. So that’s a progression that sort of helped. And I was more an advisor to GLORIAD toward the end, and still do so informally at times.
One other thing that’s important was the grassroots networks. Places in the underbelly of Asia, for example, or Africa, and even some in Latin America, which were just trying to start up. And Randy Bush at the Network Startup Resource Center was our awardee for that. Later taken—when Randy went on to other things, Steve Huter, now at University of Oregon, runs the Network Startup Resource Center. And they do a lot of training of network operators. They leverage funds from us and now from Google to get books and other materials to startup networks around the world.
And even a lot of used equipment. So for example, at some point when people would trade in equipment to Cisco for bigger and more powerful stuff, the rumor was—and I don’t know how true this is–but the rumor was that Cisco actually bulldozed this stuff so that it wouldn’t be used on the market because they wanted to then sell the more advanced. Well, stuff was saved from the bulldozer and actually shipped to a lot of these startup networks in different parts of the world. Again, the underbelly of Asia and Africa. And Steve Huter at the Network Startup Resource Center was responsible for that. So, Steve continues to get funds from National Science Foundation, and as I mentioned a nice big grant from Google, and these things are ongoing.
Intertitle: Describe one of the breakthrough moments or movements of the Internet in which you have been a key participant.
Goldstein: Well a lot of the breakthroughs you know, were technical, and I didn’t have a part in that. For example, a huge breakthrough was the Border Gateway Protocol, which allowed networks which would had a lot of complication internally to avoid having to exchange all this detail by just having connections among these networks at border gateways. And Border Gateway Protocol I believe is still working quite actively in the global Internet.
One of the problems is that… Let’s see, the structure of networks is such that if you have a lot of very small net—relatively small networks and you want to reach clients on them, the number networks just explodes to the point that routing becomes a very complicated matter. And it would be difficult to have routers, at least in the big-boy commercial world, that were built on PCs as they used to be built back in the 1980s and 1990s. And so I would…as a layman on this, and I actually am a layman when it comes to this, I say that some of the routers are approaching supercomputer size of the 1990s, not maybe today’s supercomputers, in order to be able to work. They’re amazing things.
And now because we’ve pretty well run out of IP version 4 addresses, people are reselling blocks of addresses that they used to have and they’re chopping them up. Well, that makes routing even more difficult. So the question is to what extent will reachability of individual IP addresses be maintained? And I think that’s even a problem today. It’s only going to get worse.
Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weather analogy and explain why.
Goldstein: That would be a very simplistic characterization. The way I did talk about is this. There are days which are sort of partly cloudy, partly sunny, but they say well but, possible thunderstorms late this afternoon. Some of which could be dangerous, could even spawn tornadoes. And that’s the way I’d sorta characterize it. Because the Internet kind of bumbles along now. It’s held together sometimes with baling wire and chewing gum. Because of all these routing problems. Because of links that go down and paths that have to be rediscovered and so forth. Because of third- and fourth-tier networks that need to get routed in the network but have trouble getting a peering relationship with the big boys. And then all of a sudden you get hacking incidents and troublemaking and so forth. So, the thunderstorms come in, the lightning comes in.
And then we learned that governments are really snooping on all the stuff that’s going on and so that casts big, gray clouds over the whole thing. And to what extent will the Internet be able to persist as a global medium. Will the weight of all these things be supported by Internet technology. And I don’t know the answer for that one.
Intertitle: What are your greatest hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?
Goldstein: Let’s put it this way. When the Internet got started, it was largely an academic and research undertaking. And it was based on Unix. And there was really no real security built, other than things like passwords and maybe some encryption here or there. And the attitude that my boss had at National Science Foundation was, “That’s not our concern. This is for the academics. People want to build in all kinds of security, that’s somebody else’s problem.”
Well…it’s…I think that was a very valid point at that time, but that was 1990. And security… How do you build security on a system which was never designed as a secure system? That’s the question. There are supposedly secure government networks in various countries. How secure they are and how they work, I don’t know. I know they exist. Would those security models be generalizable to the public? I don’t know. My guess is no. Will a whole new architecture have to be built to handle security? I’m not sure. But my guess is no matter what you build, somebody’s going to be able to hack into it. And no government, or no big government, is going to let people build networks that don’t have backdoors to them. We’ve learned in the headlines that government is asking Internet access providers to build backdoors into whatever they offer to the public.
So that’s very disturbing. I understand it from the point of view of government wanting to keep track of the bad guys. But for the casual, the everyday user, it’s rather disturbing to know that his government and other governments can really figure out what he’s doing and then read his or her mail.
Yeah, the other concern that I have, and I have no idea where it’s going, is the idea of consolidation and commercialization. So, in the earlier days we had a lot of independent Internet service providers—ISPs. And gradually they were bought out as the industry consolidated. But the industry continued to consolidate. And gradually companies that at that point we said were totally clueless… Like AT&T. AT&T was totally clueless when it came to Internet in the 1990s. And every attempt we made to involve AT&T in the Internet, they kinda turned their back and they weren’t interested. So that’s how MCI and Sprint, for example, got interested. But AT&T wasn’t terribly interested.
Now, of course AT&T has undergone corporate changes and the merge with Bell South— Was it Bell South or Southern Bell, I forget which. So they’re different corporation now than they used to be. But here you have companies that’re basically communications companies that are now running large segments of the Internet. And I’m sure their philosophy is basically a philosophy of revenue and revenue generation for their shareholders and have very little sentiment for the Internet the way we viewed the Internet when it first got started. They’re just looking at it as a way to again, generate revenue for their shareholders by providing a service. Where they will go with that I don’t know, but I don’t know to what extent the innovation which continues to evolve within the academic and research communities will be transferred to the commercial Internet providers.
Well, there’s certainly a lot of developments again within the research community. Especially things which are supporting what I call computationally-intensive research. Now, to what extent those broadband things are going to be even useful to the average consumer other than for entertainment purposes like watching streaming video, I’m not sure. So there is some exciting stuff, but I don’t know to what extent it’s going to apply.
On the other hand there are a lot of useful things that are going on, applications and gadgets that go along with, or… Gadgets maybe not be the best word but…what should we call them? Devices that go along. And I can give you an example of one that I find particularly useful but it’s just one. And he’s searching into his pocket now for…ta da! This belongs to me but it’s not my development. These are actually electrodes for an electrocardiograph. And this is just a phone, a case that fits on an iPhone. So it fits over an iPhone. And with this thing, I can take a lead one—I think it’s lead one or lead two electrocardiogram. And turn it into a PDF and send it to a physician for interpretation. By email. And that’s just one example of mobile medical devices that say hook onto a smartphone. There are others for example…some people at MIT I think are on the verge of commercializing it, something that can be used in the third world where they hook Something to the iPhone and people do things to sort of match patterns, get patterns to converge. And from this, they can get a prescription for eyeglasses. And the next step is that that prescription can be sent over the network to somebody who can grind a pair of glasses and send them back to the user. Or to the person. This could be useful in many parts of the United States and not just the third world.
So those are just some of the things, devices, which’re using Internet technology which I think are bright points.
Interviewer: That is so interesting. I’ve never [inaudible; crosstalk]—
Goldstein: Oh you should try it, if you want.
Interviewer: [laughs] That’s really…oh, that’s so cool. I’ve heard a little bit about some of the [inaudible; crosstalk]—
Goldstein: Yeah well actually I’m developing a briefing to give to a group of senior citizens on mobile medical devices so. I mean you’ve heard of Fitbits.
Goldstein: Okay, so Fitbits are—there are a lot of things like Fitibts. Nike has one. There’s just you know, personal kinds of things. There’s actually an application on the iPhone but I’m sure Android has it too, where you can put your finger over the camera and it’ll take your pulse, tell you what your pulse rate is. That’s not all that exciting. I think the EKG is even more exciting.
Interviewer: Yeah. That’s really cool. There’s a few hospitals in the area where we’re from that’ve kind of started a large-scale rollout of some of those technologies.
Goldstein: Yeah. I mean, there’s one where you can get remote monitoring of a patient who’s say a bedridden patient by putting sensors on them and then it gets sent wirelessly, but it can be picked up on an iPhone by a physician somewhere else on the net. So you know, a lot of these things are developing using the network. But to what extent—I mean are these revolutionary new technologies? I think they’re just things that learn how to use the network the way it is. I’m not sure where it’s going in the future.
Intertitle: Is there action that should be taken to ensure the best possible future?
Goldstein: Yeah. I think that’s a political question. And right now, certainly in the United States…political progress is pretty much at a standstill. You know, Congress is deadlocked. I think the United States is not the only place where that is happening. So will people take action politically to curb or to limit some of these abuses? I don’t know. I certainly hope so.
I can’t remember who was the target, but I imagine there were many targets. Sometime I think…well in our past history, supposedly our spy agencies conspired to get urine samples from dictators, or from potential adversaries so they could analyze the urine samples and infer what the person’s health was and how long this person was likely to live. Okay. That’s real. Or at lest I’ve read it I believe it, okay.
Well, let’s say that somebody was sending medical information over the network. And let’s say that somebody that was sending medical informational, or somebody whose medical information was being sent, was a political leader. And so you wouldn’t have to sneak in and get urine samples out of the bathroom. I mean you, could actually get real stuff which is being sent. And to what extent can that be protected? To what extent can a determined hacker hack into medical records and get stuff on say the President or the Speaker of the House and so forth. The Speaker the House has been absent for the last three days. Nobody knows where he is. Hey, let’s hack into his medical records and find out what’s going on.
And that was a hypothetical case, by the way, you get that.
Intertitle: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Goldstein: Yeah, there’s one more thing that… It’s a recurring thing that comes up, you know sort of cycles every five or ten years. And I think as of late Vint Cerf has been bringing up this question again. And that is records, digital data. Digital data that we have today…or even stuff on paper and stuff on film and that was the question. Stuff on tape, stuff on film and so forth. In ten years, how are we gonna be able to read it? In twenty years, how are we gonna be able to read it? If we get rid of all the paper now and digitize it, as libraries are being digitized and so forth, how do we store it? Will the formats be readable in the future? Will the storage media persist? Will the information disintegrate digitally? Will be it backed up and recoverable? If there’s a disaster and—will we lose information through disasters? Will we lose it because formats change? Will we lose it because media changes?
Already apparently we’re losing a lot of TV shows. I just saw something on TV about that. Old TV shows which were taped, all the tapes are disintegrating. And people are trying to preserve them and digitize them. So okay, so they’re digitized. But will the digital libraries persist in terms of format and storage and so forth twenty or thirty years from now? So that’s not so much an Internet question but it is an information question. And of course the Internet is a medium by which information is exchanged and stored, so that is a very important question.
Steve Goldstein profile, Internet Hall of Fame 2013