Radia Perlman: Thank you very much for this hon­or. I would like to say that I was born know­ing I was going to be design­ing pro­to­cols. But in fact, if I’d known more about com­put­ers when I was young, I would have said I would be hap­py doing pret­ty much any­thing as long as it did­n’t involve com­put­ers. And I think that the fact that I real­ly am not in love with com­put­ers means that I design things for peo­ple like myself. I want things to just work and you should­n’t have to under­stand it. Too much of the time, engi­neers design for oth­er engi­neers, and they ask you ques­tions like, Do you want to dis­play both the secure and the inse­cure items?” Which, I hap­pen to know what it means and it’s non­sen­si­cal. And you know, things just should­n’t be that way.

So I very much believe that net­works should be com­plete­ly self-organizing. And then, I was actu­al­ly pres­sured— You know, peo­ple told me, Well, some of our cus­tomers real­ly enjoy con­fig­ur­ing things.” Well, okay fine. You want to con­fig­ure things? So I put in knobs that you could play with, but you don’t have to touch the knobs. It’ll work with­out your touch­ing the knobs. And if you want to play with the knobs, fine. Any set­ting of the knobs will still work. So I believe things should be like, incred­i­bly easy to use because it’s actu­al­ly peo­ple run­ning it.

The oth­er thing is that we put up with just…junk. We come to believe that it’s of course nat­ur­al that your com­put­er will freeze every few days and you have to reboot it. That might be fine for a com­put­er. It’s not okay for the Internet. There’s no on/off switch for the Internet. So the Internet has to be absolute­ly robust. And so that was one of the oth­er things that I did, before I— I mean, one of the pieces of work that I did was to make the rout­ing of net­works what’s called self-stabilizing,” which before that it was pos­si­ble that even though all of the routers were doing the right algo­rithm, if some his­to­ry of kind of bad pack­ets or one sick router would be emit­ted, the whole net­work would be down for­ev­er, even though the sick router that inject­ed it would be removed. So that’s real­ly impor­tant for it not to work that way.

And inter­est­ing­ly, in the paper in which I explained how the exist­ing stuff could get into this bad state and how to design it so that it would be self-stabilizing, the last line I wrote in that paper was, Well you know, this is how to make it work. Once you get rid of the bad guy, the net­work will return to nor­mal oper­a­tion.” Well, when I went back to grad­u­ate school ten years lat­er, my man­ag­er at Digital, Tony Lauck, sug­gest­ed that for my the­sis I either prove my state­ment in this paper that you could­n’t pos­si­bly expect a net­work to work while the bad guy was still there, or fig­ure out how to do it. 

And so my the­sis was actu­al­ly even extend­ing robust­ness to hav­ing a dis­trib­uted algo­rithm, or a net­work, work even when some of the par­tic­i­pants are mali­cious. So while they’re still con­nect­ed. And the big­ger the Internet is, we have to real­ize that there will some­times be mali­cious par­tic­i­pants. So when­ev­er there’s infor­ma­tion, a lot of it is going to be wrong and mali­cious­ly placed, and how can soci­ety still work? How can the net­work still work?

So the Internet has so many amaz­ing chal­lenges ahead. The basic tech­nol­o­gy of sort of get­ting it work­ing is almost dwarfed by the chal­lenges there are ahead of us. So it’s won­der­ful that any­body can say any­thing and dis­sem­i­nate it to the whole world. But then, how do you dis­tin­guish cor­rect infor­ma­tion from incor­rect infor­ma­tion? If there’s nobody sort of being able to tell you what’s true and what’s not true, it’s almost like why both­er look­ing it up? Just make up some­thing. The right stuff will be there, but a hun­dred times as much wrong stuff will be there. And so that’s a real danger.

The oth­er thing is again, peo­ple don’t like cen­sor­ship, but what about gen­uine­ly dan­ger­ous things telling you how to cre­ate hor­ri­ble poi­sons or bombs and so forth? Do you real­ly want there to be no cen­sor­ship and to have infor­ma­tion like that be read­i­ly available?

The oth­er thing is that infor­ma­tion should be free. It’s sort of so won­der­ful that some very poor vil­lager some­where can access these things, teach them­selves what­ev­er. But on the oth­er hand, if infor­ma­tion is free, so many news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines are now out of busi­ness. It costs a lot of mon­ey to actu­al­ly do inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism. And so if we expect this stuff to be free, where will the infor­ma­tion come from? Because some­body has to do that.

The chal­lenge of hav­ing all of these diverse cul­tures coop­er­at­ing togeth­er in the same Internet in terms of what should the rules be, what should be allowed to be dis­played, is…you know, amaz­ing­ly dif­fi­cult chal­lenges. But it is aston­ish­ing that the Internet works as well as it does today and has scaled as well as it does. But it’s cer­tain­ly a fas­ci­nat­ing time to be part of it. So thank you. 

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