Friday, February 23, 2007

Dr. Vinton Cerf at Hyderabad

For the uninitiated Vinton Cerf, along with Robert E. Kahn, is the person essentially elemental in allowing me to write this and you to read this. For the more technologically minded, he invented the open protocol for tcp/ip, which is essentially a set of rules which a computer must follow to "talk" to another computer, which is where it all begins. These two gave us the Internet, invented the wheel far as I could draw an analogy.

Well, this Vint Cerf is currently the Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, on whose invitation he had come down to Hyderabad to illuminate us mere mortals. Amongst the other things that he chose to enlighten us with, a couple of things caught my attention.

The Fridge and The Doctor

Imagine, star trek and the future that it portrays. So in this dream future of yours, you have this refrigerator, which is connected to the Internet. Also every piece of food item that you put into that is marked with RFID, or something similar that they use at your nearest supermarket to read the prices (oh! the devices of man to save manual labor... nobody even wants to write jot the prices of a simple list of items!!! neways...). So you have this fridge of yours knows what you have stored in it. And at the end of the day, when you come back it suggests you recipes that you can prepare based on what you have in the fridge. Kewl, ain't it??? More -- the fridge can actually send you and sms, "Don't forget the yogurt when you pick up stuff for the dinner tonight!".

Similarly, you have this weighing machine which is connected to the Internet as well as your clothes which monitor your vital signs. What happens?? All your medical data goes to your doctor, the virtual one of course (suitably encrypted, for those that are technologically minded). Then one fine day on a note of preemptive strike (as our dear Mr. Bush, Jr. would say) against such diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and the others, your virtual doctor wakes ups and decides "enough is enough". So it prescribes a "diet" diet. And how does he enforce it upon you?? Through your fridge of course. Did you forget the fridge?? It is intelligent and now is fed with instructions for your well being. So what does it do?? Suggest you diet recipes!!! Better still, one day it finds that you are trying to cheat it by sneaking out things that you are not supposed to take in your diet and shuts its door tight. There you go! what better than a fasting diet!!!

The other scenarios I leave to your imagination... :)

Interplanetary Internet

3min and 30sec: Time it takes light to reach from Mars to Earth
Spirit, Opportunity: 2 robotic rovers exploring the surface of Mars, since 2003

The rovers initially were programmed to relay the signals directly to Earth, but could not due to interconnectivity problems. Then the signals were relayed through the orbiting satellites. Here they introduced the concept of store and forward of the messages from the rovers to the earth base station, which is essentially the way the internet works and where Vinton Cerf figures in. But there are considerable difficulties in this approach even since the store time when we consider internet on earth is just some hundreds of milliseconds. But the same will grow to minutes in the case of communication from Mars, since the signals from the orbiting satellite is relayed when it is in direct line with earth. And add to that the delay caused by the actual astronomical interplanetary distance

Certain delay tolerant networks are also being developed. And to test such networks, scientists actually travel to places like the northernmost point on Sweden, implant networks in laptops fitted in vehicles (snowbuggies, snowcats) and run experiments. In places like these the curve of the earth becomes really low.

For those wanting more information, click on the link above.

Moot point: Even before actual interplanetary travel is discovered, the scientists will make sure that we are able to talk to our friends staying in another planet! And people say scientists are romantic! It is something like abstract algebra.