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Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist. Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist.

The Future of the Humanities in a Digital Age

The 22nd Adams Lecture features two giants of contemporary culture.
By SDSU News Team

Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, and Bruce Cole, senior fellow at the Ethics and Policy Center, headline the 22nd Annual Adams Lecture in the Humanities, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Jan. 26, 2016, in Montezuma Hall.

The two will discuss "The Future of the Humanities in a Digital Age."

Cole is also a former two-term chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Cerf is credited with helping create the modern Internet.
The lecture, sponsored and organized by the SDSU Department of Classics and Humanities, is free and open to the public. Register here.

Future of the Internet

In a preview of the discussion, SDSU asked Cerf to answer a few questions about his role at Google and his assessment of the Internet’s future. A Q&A with Cole will be published in SDSU NewsCenter next month.

Q. Did you create your title — Internet Evangelist? What's your job description?

A. Actually when Google asked what title I wanted, I said "Archduke!" But Larry and Eric and Sergey said, ‘The previous Archduke was Ferdinand and he was assassinated in 1914 and that started World War I. So maybe that is a bad title to have. Why don't you be our Chief Internet Evangelist?’

Q. In 2005, you and Robert Kahn received the highest civilian honor bestowed in the United Statesthe Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award language stated that your work on the software code used to transmit data across the Internet led to "a digital revolution that has transformed global commerce, communication, and entertainment." How would you evaluate the impact of the Internet on individual freedoms across the globe?

A. I think that Internet has opened up the ability for individuals to find and communicate with each other in ways that would have been impossible or, at least, unaffordable in the past. There is no doubt that freedom of speech is under attack by authoritarian governments. Despite this threat, however, I believe that people’s ability to share and access information is unprecedented in human history.  

Q. In February you spoke to the American Association for the Advancement of Science about a "digital dark age" in which the storage formats we use for Internet data today could become incompatible with new hardware technologies that emerge in the future. Please explain.

A. I am deeply concerned that people take "digital preservation" to mean digitizing fixed text and imagery. What I worry about is that this format will prove to be unreliable if the software that interprets it is no longer available. We really need to figure out how to assure that digitized content can be preserved regardless of format.

Q. Will you give us a preview of the topics you want to discuss with Bruce Cole during the Adams Humanities Lecture?

A. Clearly I will want to discuss digital dark age and to review some of the functionality that can be used to assure our ability to render new software. I will also want to explore how the processing of "big data" might reveal information about long-hidden works. We may be able to fingerprint newly discovered works to identify their authors. Styles of writing may become more aligned with the virtual environment created by the Internet and the WWW. We will want to get into what digitization may imply for utility of digital files and the applications they support. I am curious to know what we can learn about the author and his/her works using analytical tools.

About Vint Cerf

Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. He is responsible for identifying new enabling technologies and applications on the Internet and other platforms for the company. Widely known as a "Father of the Internet," Cerf is the co-designer, with Robert Kahn, of TCP/IP protocols and basic architecture of the Internet. During his tenure with the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from 1976-1982, he played a key role leading the development of Internet and Internet-related data packet and security technologies.

About the Adams Lecture in the Humanities

The John R. Adams Lecture in Humanities is supported by the John R. and Jane F. Adams Endowment. Professor John Adams taught at San Diego State from 1928 until 1968, serving as professor of English and the first chair of the Department of Humanities before it was combined with Classics.