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Public Service Baked In

By Vint Cerf

Public service seems to be baked into the DNA of the Marconi Fellows and Young Scholars.

I thought about this at a meeting we held with the FCC in Washington DC in March. Our board was convening in DC and we offered to meet with FCC staff on any topic they wanted to discuss. We did this previously in 2014, in a mutually beneficial encounter.

The conversation this year, which included John Cioffi, Guilhem de Valicourt, Zvi Galil, Joseph Kakande, Bob Tkach, and me, focused on how the agency could more effectively monitor communications reliability and performance and how the agency might improve the public emergency alerting system. For several hours, we exchanged ideas with FCC staff members (not commissioners) in an informal meeting free of any political overtones. These issues have real ramifications for the public, as recent natural disasters have demonstrated, so improving the FCC’s ability to do its job could have important public benefits.

The FCC staff members agree. They recently requested a second meeting, this time to discuss applying blockchain technology to the communications sector–primarily for supply chain risk mitigation, but also to improve other long-known problems like secure inter-domain routing, secure naming, and inventory management. Several of our Fellows and Young Scholars have agreed to speak with them.  I am still skeptical of the hyperbole surrounding blockchain technology, so this is an important conversation.

This is but one example of how our board, Fellows, and Young Scholars lend their time, energy and intellect to efforts that benefit the public. That’s why we plan to include occasional features on their activities. Not all of them are technology-related. For example, Len Kleinrock has supported the Community Karate Foundation (he’s a black belt) for decades, promoting the health benefits of karate training.

Bob Lucky, whose history of advisory and technical committee memberships takes the better part of a page to list, has now turned to a more local challenge—redeveloping an abandoned US Army base, Fort Monmouth, near his home in New Jersey. He spent four years chairing the planning effort to turn the base into a new town, helped obtain federal government approval, and now chairs the redevelopment.

Like many of you, Marty Cooper has devoted substantial time to serving on advisory committees and boards at universities and government agencies. He is a member of the FCC Technological Advisory Council, chairing their antenna working group, a Trustee on the board of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Advisor to the Dean of Engineering at UC San Diego, and a charter member of TIE International, a group which mentors and honors young entrepreneurs. Yet he still finds time to serve on the board of the Cinequest Film Festival.

Our Young Scholars continue this tradition serving in both technical and social impact capacities.  Eric Plum supports student research projects at his former secondary school in Germany, supervising projects and building and maintaining a bilingual project database that has helped 166 student teams win 379 science competitions at the regional, state, national and global levels.

Junwen Zhang is on the technical subcommittee of the Optical Fiber Communication Conference (OFC), sponsored by the Optical Society (OSA) and on the technical subcommittee of the Photonics West Conference sponsored by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

Salman Baset represents IBM in external efforts to coalesce on an industry point of view on identity so that blockchain technology can support the 1.1B people in the world who have no officially recognized identity, helping to meet the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development goal of having a legal identity for each person on the planet.

I have written before about our Young Scholars’ Celestini Program, built to grow technical capability among students in developing countries by helping them apply technology to incubate solutions to problems that impact their local communities. Aakanksha Chowdhery, Guilhem de Valicourt and Joseph Kakande have spent countless hours starting this program in India and Uganda and it will expand this year to Colombia, Ghana and Rwanda.

This is only a tiny sampling of the interesting and important ways the Marconi Society continues to “benefit humanity.” I look forward to hearing about the service of others and we will feature more examples in the future. In the meantime, thanks for all that you do to keep the spirit of Guglielmo Marconi alive.