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Internet Pioneer Cerf Sees Need to Promote S.D. Technology

Vint Cerf

Internet pioneer Vint Cerf got a private, three-day crash course in San Diego’s various science and technology pursuits in late June, and told an audience that more people need to get acquainted with the region’s technical side.

“People don’t know about it,” Cerf said.

“Even in Silicon Valley itself, there are people that don’t know the scope of what’s going on (in San Diego), and so you have to make yourselves more visible,” the co-inventor of the internet told a group during the only public meeting of the visit. “And one way to do that is to steer people in your direction. … You need more evangelists to come and spread the word about San Diego.”

Local leaders brought Cerf to town and organized the briefings with the hope that the 74-year-old leader will spread the word to decision makers within his circle.

There was also talk about steering more venture capital toward San Diego, though nothing concrete was announced.

Visiting as a Private Citizen

A second briefing, concentrating on bioscience and medical devices — and possibly taking in Baja California’s medical device industry — is tentatively set for early 2018. That is according to La Jolla resident Ann Kerr, who organized the June event called “Cerf’s Up in San Diego.”

Briefings on bioscience were a little hard to arrange one week after the BIO conference, Kerr said.

Cerf, who helped design the internet’s TCP/IP communication protocol, is now vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG). He spends his time in Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area. Cerf’s San Diego visit was as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a Google executive.

Kerr led the effort to assemble small groups of experts who briefed Cerf on the region’s work in the life sciences, software, cybersecurity and other disciplines.

“I was actually shocked that she could convince Vint to spend that much time here,” said UC San Diego professor Larry Smarr. “He’s so much in demand all over the world.”

Also addressed during the sessions were proteomics, metabolomics, artificial intelligence, analytics, blockchain technology, robotics and quantum computing. Groups were kept small and slide decks were prohibited.

DARPA Days

Both Cerf and Kerr have roots in DARPA, the Pentagon’s R&D agency, whose data communication link called ARPAnet eventually turned into the internet. (DARPA stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.)

Kerr said she proposed the visit to Cerf in June 2016 and firmed up the date in October. The visit coincided with Cerf’s travel to Orange County to meet with the leadership of CalIT2. Cerf sits on the advisory board of CalIT2 — the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology — a joint project of UC San Diego and UC Irvine. Smarr, the UC San Diego professor, is director of CalIT2.

“A lot of people don’t realize how special this visit was,” said Smarr, adding that Cerf took copious notes.

Spokesman for S.D.

“I think he was blown away.”

San Diegans who say, ‘Hey, we’re great’ would be perceived as speaking out of their own self-interest, Smarr said. Cerf, by contrast, can be a credible, disinterested spokesman for San Diego’s talent.

“He talks to everybody. He’s like a bee,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. “When he talks, people listen.”

One question raised during a Thursday evening public recap of Cerf’s Up was about how to get in on a new investment fund.

Cerf said the fund — being put together as a personal project of Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former Google Ventures executive Bill Maris — was still in its early stages. The fund has no affiliation with Google or Alphabet.

“Because it’s so early, I wanted to get San Diego in front of those guys for exactly the reason that you want to do, which is to get the allocations to come down here,” Cerf said during a Q&A session.

At one point someone asked Cerf what he plans to report to his fellow executives.

“I’m looking forward to telling the folks at Alphabet — in some form or other — that we’re missing the boat if we don’t show up down here, and make sure we discover what’s going on,” he said.

“… I want other companies to do the same thing, not just Alphabet.”

Kerr said that Cerf’s visit bought together a unique cross-section of San Diego leaders.

‘Created a Community’

“If he shows up, people who don’t really get together see each other,” she said.

“Now we’ve created a community,” Kerr said. “We now have connections we didn’t have before.” Kerr also said that one of the private sessions brought a “spirited debate” on whether there is a problem developing new companies in San Diego. One group argued that the element that the community needed most was seasoned management to help a company grow from a small business to something larger.

Asked whether he might come to San Diego permanently, Cerf remarked that UC San Diego Chancellor Khosla “has been twisting my arm pretty hard” to spend more time in the region.

“I’m super attracted to this place, maybe not to move here, but I’ve been looking forward to having excuses to show up.”

Cerf spoke briefly about his Google job as chief internet evangelist, noting that only 50 percent of the world’s population is online. He said that ViaSat Inc.’s ViaSat-3 project — which proposes three satellites with nearly global coverage — will be one of the things that brings the internet to more of the world.

San Diego’s MIT Enterprise Forum produced the public recap of the Cerf’s Up conference on Thursday, June 29 at Qualcomm Inc.’s Building AZ auditorium. Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs introduced Cerf, recalling that he first met Cerf during the early days of the ARPAnet. Jacobs recalled that his company at the time, Linkabit, won the contract to connect the ARPAnet to Europe via satellite.

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