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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Net pioneer predicts web future
By Jo Twist
BBC News Online science and technology staff

Computer screen
Dr Mockapetris invented the DNS addressing system
The net is only in the Bronze Age of evolution, according to the pioneer who invented the Domain Name System (DNS).

In 1983, Dr Paul Mockapetris created the now familiar system which gives net pages names such as ".com" and ".uk".

Celebrating DNS's 21st birthday he says: "Ten years from now, we will look back at the net and think how could we have been so primitive."

All communication will be over the net, he predicts, and we will no longer need phone numbers, just web addresses.

"Ten years from now, we will wonder how it was so hard to find things on the network too," he told BBC News Online.

"At best we are at the Bronze Age, we are not even at the Iron Age stage in the network."

'Laboratory curiosity'

Dr Mockapetris came up with the DNS system 21 years ago while he was a scientist on the Arpanet project, part of Darpa (US Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency), which provided the basis of the net.

The system meant codes attached to information could be translated into easy-to-remember web addresses and domains, which people could own.

Dr Paul Mockapetris, creator of DNS
We have a notion about what nature should be like, the way it was 1,000 years ago for example, with no pollution. From the standpoint of cyberspace and the net, we don't have the benefit of any natural starting point so we have to construct the future
Dr Paul Mockapetris
The net, which he describes as once being a "laboratory curiosity", has come a long way in those 21 years.

Now, as head scientist and chairman of Nominum, a DNS management company, he has been reflecting on how the net has grown up.

"I think when we first started out there were several visions running around the world, and people converged on net technology," he said.

"One of things I always argued for was diversity, so that people could try different things.

"I'm pleased people have tried different things. But I didn't quite believe it would turn into such an industry."

Looking ahead to its next 21 years, there are much bigger steps to take in terms of access, security, and how information and people are located.

Number trouble

His anticipation of web addresses replacing phone numbers may trouble some.

But, he points out, technology can have such a powerful influence many people no longer memorise phone numbers anyway.

"It is quite possible that phone numbers will have disappeared and people will just use menus off their phone. I don't think there is particular value in having them."

A more unified system of identification could mean people do daily tasks, like paying bills, more easily and conveniently.

Searching and finding people are certainly the two areas that still need to develop further, according to Dr Mockapetris, and replacing numbers with web addresses will help that, he says.

"We have to make it an everyday system. We have to make it so that people don't see it, so that the surfing experience just happens," he thinks.

Access for all

Although advanced countries are at the point where most people have net access in one form or another, much still needs to be done so that every man, woman and child on the planet has it all of the time, he says.

Permanent net connection through broadband has meant the physical infrastructure is almost there, taking us a step towards the Iron Age.

Computer cable
Universal always-on access is still a goal
"I think the steps are that you construct broadband technology - and we have done that - then you give people a taste of that, with wi-fi hotspots in hotels, for example."

And that, he thinks, is when people start to want it everywhere.

Access for all brings with it the problem of security, however.

Part of the challenge for the net's next 21 years is to make sure people can be certain they are using the net safely.

At the moment, many net users are unable to recognise if the e-mail they have been sent from their "bank" is dodgy or not.

"Creating a model of when things are safe and not, will have to happen in cyberspace.

"We all know that walking in a dark park at night is more dangerous." The same kind of knowledge needs to be forged in cyberspace.

Essentially, net users have to be prepared to take responsibility for its future and the changes ahead.

"We have a notion about what nature should be like, the way it was 1,000 years ago for example, with no pollution," says Dr Mockapetris.

"From the standpoint of cyberspace and the net, we don't have the benefit of any natural starting point so we have to construct the future."

At the same time, what an individual person or society wants has to be balanced with what commercial interests say they want.

At best, the world is only halfway through the development of technology, he says.

"It was fun to be in on the Stone Age. But what comes next is even better."

What the net did next
01 Jan 04  |  Technology
Web's inventor gets a knighthood
31 Dec 03  |  Technology
Clinton honours Net pioneers
17 Dec 97  |  Science/Nature
30 years of the international internet
19 Nov 03  |  Technology


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