Critical Thinking Skills Necessary to Sort Through Misinformation on the Internet

By Suzanne Ffolkes, OSA Chief Communications Officer

Connectivity allows people to make progress on research, create new businesses and grow digital economies, according to Vint Cerf, widely known as a “Father of the Internet.” In a live interview during the OSA Subsea Optical Fiber Communications Mini Dive on 6 August 2020, Cerf discussed the future of the internet and expressed concerns with the increased level of misinformation spreading globally.

Caption: Jayne Stowell of Google Global Infrastructure Group (top left) and Valey Kamalov of Google (top right) introduce Vinton Cerf. 

“The problem is that information is propagated very rapidly in social networks and has the potential to cause great harm,” he said. The vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google pointed to the amount of misinformation on the internet about covid-19 treatments and vaccine development that he argued “could be a killer.” Coping with misinformation and disinformation is a big challenge and the public and private sector cannot solve it alone. Critical thinking will enable those consuming the content to ask serious questions and make informed decisions, he said.

Covid-19 is a very serious problem but it is an opportunity for our community, Cerf noted. The world has rapidly shifted work online to the internet as more individuals telework. Building more internet in places that do not have access, he argued, will help address some of the economic and educational challenges in underdeveloped regions and research needed to overcome the pandemic.

Cerf insisted that the internet will be crucial in addressing the next global pandemic. “How do we deal with supply chain problems that will arise to get personal protection equipment? How are we going to deal with the next virus that shows up that doesn’t respond to covid-19 and other viral treatments?” Early career researchers, he said, will have an opportunity to try new ideas and take risks.

With regard to 5G, Cerf expects greater speed but is concerned the internet’s international character will be “leached away” by the 5G interfaces. “I’m very worried that the openness of the internet is going to be seriously impaired by some of the features of the 5G control mechanisms.”

In developing the internet, Cerf said he was “patient but very persistent” throughout the process during his time at Stanford University, USA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and MCI Inc. He was determined to convince others to join the effort and fight competitors but his secret sauce was that the internet protocol layer could run on any underlying transport which was part of his success.

Over 150 graduate and PhD students and early career researchers participated in the OSA Subsea Optical Fiber Communications Mini Dive, 4 – 6 August, which featured virtual programming with multi-disciplinary courses covering advances in the field.


Posted: 18 August 2020 by Suzanne Ffolkes, OSA Chief Communications Officer | with 0 comments

The views expressed by guest contributors to the Discover OSA Blog are not those endorsed by The Optical Society.


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