In some sense my academic children became some of the fathers of the Internet. It’s why some people mumble that I’m the grandfather of the Internet.
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Anything that is vital and living and growing, there’s always going to be turbulence. It’s always going to be going off in many directions, several of which are bound to be wrong, some of which are going to be right. So I think the Internet is still a work in progress. And that’s a very good thing.
My big concern right now actually has to do with the tendency of people to want to regulate it. So, the Internet is mostly successful because of the ability of people to do whatever they want. That is, innovation happens wherever you are. You can just add things to it and so on, and nobody’s in charge. And that’s scary for a lot of people who want to run things.
The biggest surprise I’ve ever had about the Internet is that my mom surfed. It never occurred to me in the early 80s that my mother would ever knowingly use the Internet. It was a toy—it was a geek thing. It was for scientists, it was for researchers, it was for technical people. I expected her to use it without knowing it, because I expected it to be an underlayment for a lot of telecommunications.
At one point, in contravention of a great many regulations we managed, together, to buy a computer out of project funds. And after a good bit of time, we put Unix on it and got that to work.
As I was coming over toward Brussels in the airplane, happened look down the window and there were the Straits of Dover. And the melody just came to my mind, you know, “I’m flying over the white cliffs of Dover,” the World War II melody. And it reminded me that I am not of this Internet generation.
I was just in charge. I was just directing things. But all those people with me, and all those people with you, we have to thank them all for doing this.
For me it is a fairy tale quite similar to that of the ugly duckling. Perhaps you know. And from the ugly duckling we can learn if you are in such a miserable situation what to do. And what did the little ugly duckling [do]? It went into the world and look for birds of the same feather.
He would say to you that you are all wrong and that he never should have been chosen to receive this award. He was a fairly humble guy and would sit here—and it’s been a recurring theme—he would begin naming the names of all the people who really did the work. And he would sort of just say, “I was there.”
Aaron fought tirelessly to make information free, and keep the Internet free, and to make academic research available for free, among other things.