‘Eureka’ moment as humble graduate offering leads to birth of internet
Steve Crocker’s 1969 paper initiated the process of defining the rules that govern virtually all data exchange
In social terms, Crocker says, our norms and expectations are likely to change over time.
“Our world has moved from one of small towns, where everybody knew pretty much everything there was to know about you, to the anonymity of big cities. Now we’re moving back.”
The result of this reversion to small-town intimacy is that, on the one hand “keeping secrets is going to be harder and harder”, but on the other hand, we will “evolve our norms as to what is expected”.
In other words, as things become impossible to hide the half-life of embarrassing disclosures may change.
“If someone does something stupid as a teenager, does that have to damage their career forever?
“Not necessarily. Would you hire somebody who didn’t behave properly but now they are 10 years older? You might very well say, ‘Yes I remember that, but I did that too’.”
A cameraman is filming our discussion with a souped-up iPhone with a bolted on wide lens and broadcast-quality microphone.
Crocker has not seen such a system before and his fascination with the technology is evident.
He is one of the people who shaped and articulated the norms of a generation of engineers, values of openness, humility, and trying to get things done under adverse circumstances.
These days, computer science has become a commercial rather than an academic vocation, so is he concerned that the architects of the coming decades will lose these values? His answer is surprising. “The internet is not going to be the story forever.”
He sees other big changes afoot: experimental bioengineering, environmental deterioration and the prospect that the nation-state system is coming to an end. With such changes unfolding, the finest minds of the future may not be occupied by computer science.
“The environment in which the internet was built reflected a particular time,” Crocker says. “Everything has a time and that doesn’t last forever.”