What Internet Pioneer Vint Cerf Sees in San Diego (and Other Hubs)

The Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf came to San Diego recently on an unusual quest—to meet with dozens of local technology leaders and assess what the region has to offer in terms of innovation. It was Veni, Vidi, Vinti. He came. He saw. He Cerfed.

The visit was unusual in part because of Cerf himself. As a co-designer of the basic protocol for transmitting data packets over the Internet, Cerf has attained a kind of elder statesman status in the tech industry. He has served in a host of influential roles: as a distinguished visiting scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; a co-founder at Innovation 4 Jobs; and an advisory board member at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, also known as Calit2. Since 2005, he has been a Google vice president whose title includes “chief Internet evangelist.”

Doors open for him, in other words.

In a June 29 presentation that summarized his findings, Cerf said it might be possible to boost innovation in San Diego by attracting more venture investors to the region—and perhaps identify some new opportunities for collaboration.

While San Diego seems particularly strong in some emerging technologies, such as genomics and precision medicine, Cerf also identified some areas of innovation, such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, that seem to be exploding everywhere. Much of what he had to say in San Diego would be just as applicable to the startup communities in Seattle, Austin, and Boulder-Denver, for example.

Cerf’s visit also was unusual because he spent three days in La Jolla, meeting with over 60 academic and business leaders in a series of “invitation-only” roundtable discussions. Ann Kerr, a former Arpanet colleague of Cerf’s who organized the event, said the idea was to highlight San Diego’s innovative research and technology through a series of curated conversations. As a computer industry management consultant and member of the La Jolla Town Council, Kerr told me, “Since I came out here from DARPA [the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], I’ve been of the opinion that we don’t showcase our community enough.”

Cerf agreed, saying, “The innovation happening in San Diego is not as widely known as it should be. But perhaps we could help do something about that.”

Vint Cerf (Xconomy photo by BVBigelow)

Vint Cerf (Xconomy photo by BVBigelow)

Kerr billed the event as “Cerf’s Up in San Diego.” As she explained it in a note, “We have kept in contact through yearly catchups, and last June [2016] I proposed he come to SD and see for himself the [breadth] of ideas, tech, and most importantly, human capital.” As an innovation hub, she described San Diego as a “great alternative” to the Bay Area and Washington, DC, where Cerf lives.

By coincidence, Steve Poizner, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former California Insurance Commissioner, recently argued that San Diego offers a better alternative for startups than Silicon Valley, which is becoming too expensive and congested for many startups. Poizner set out to boost the startup ecosystem throughout Southern California by forming a nonprofit—the Alliance for Southern California Innovation—and has enlisted support from research institutions and tech leaders like Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO now serving as executive chairman at Alphabet, and Bill Maris, the founder and former CEO of Google Ventures.

So, did Cerf come to San Diego to scout for Google?

No, Kerr said. “Vint’s circle is much wider than one company or one geographical area,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We specifically downplayed the Google affiliation so as accomplish our tech objectives—and not give [the] impression [this] was a Google visit to make specific investments. [We’re] looking for new ideas and new connections.

“Generally, the idea of the meeting was to … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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