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Paul Twomey speech at Vint Cerf Gala event, October 2007

7 December 2007
By Kieren McCarthy

Paul Twomey, ICANN CEO

Speech by ICANN CEO Paul Twomey at Gala event to Vint Cerf on Tuesday 30 October 2007 at Sony Studios, 10202 West Washington Boulevard, Culver City, Los Angeles.

Welcome everybody, so glad you’re here. Hello to everybody in the far corners.

Unfortunately, I’m going to be really dull and a bit more serious, at least for a little while. Vint, as you know, I’m originally trained as a historian, and I was glad to see there was a lot of old faces here – I was particularly please to see Ira Magaziner here, I’m certain he’ll have lots of stories from the beginning to share with us…

I’ve been struggling for months to figure out what I’m going to say tonight, and I thought we would try and celebrate something in a bigger context.

You know, the great intellectual adventure of the early part of the 20th century was nuclear physics. And in that nuclear period, there were a relatively small handful of physicists and mathematicians who eventually transformed how we understood matter, transformed relationships between countries… unfortunately they developed nuclear weapons, but, they did this most amazing job.

And in the second half of the 20th century some of those physicists and some of those mathematicians went on to the two next great intellectual odysseys of the 20th century, computing and networking, and life sciences and biology. When you read the history, particularly when you read the history of nuclear physics, and then you read the history of the Internet, what strikes me any way, is that you’ve got this instance where a relative handful of peers, that are very smart people dealing with ideas that are cutting edge at the same time, end up having this enormous impact for this rest of humanity.

So nuclear physics had its Rutherfords, its Einsteins, its Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Fermi, Leo Szilard, Kurchatov, Sakharov, Oppenheimer, Teller… these names that echo in history. And similarly there have been individuals who have played a key role in the growing group activity to transform the world of computing and networking: J.C.R. Licklider, Bob Kahn, Paul Mockapetris, Don Davies, Lawrence Roberts, Leonard Kleinrock… these names go on, a little before my time, but nevertheless when you think about this handful of people, who have had this amazing impact from the work they have done… well, the rest of us, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

But Vint, I think your contribution as well as being one of those people, reminds me a little bit of the Kurchatovs and the Oppenheimers in the sense that not only are you one of those great intellectual and technical leaders, but you’ve really been an amazing key administrative architect. You’ve been a person who’s been there at the time not only to do the inventing, but to ensure the invention embeds itself. Institutionally with DARPA, with the Internet Society, this incredible contribution you’ve made to ICANN in either the business model or an administrative leader, and as we would say in Australia, Mr MC, just a plain good bloke.

So we’d like to thank you for your contribution, we’d like to thank you for your contributions as chairman. I know you’re embarrassed about the whole idea of, as I said, being the father of the internet, I know you recognize yourself that it’s been a group activity of a core group, and that that many people are involved in making that happen. But I don’t think we should lose track of that commitment you’ve made in your life. Not only to see the internet get started, but very importantly to be there and put yourself on the line, to build the institutions and the structures and the patents, which have turned into a lasting phenomenon, which empowers literally billions of individuals on this planet. So we should thank you for that. [Audience applause.]

And at ICANN I think we’re very thankful to you for another reason, we’re thankful to you for leaving [laughter]… I’m particularly pleased… at least for the next three days until I have a new chair. We’re thankful for you specifically because what you’ve helped do, is take an organization that started literally on borrowed money and a credit card… and where’s Mike Roberts? He deserves a round of applause too [applause]… and you’ve helped provide leadership to enable this group of people and another 10,000 behind them, really help embed the DNS, the IP addressing system, the protocols, the way it works, embed an institution such that frankly now, we don’t need you and it’s time you left [laughter].

I think it’s a testament to you that you are able to move now and the organization can celebrate that. We can celebrate all of our own success, and importantly we have a confidence that for this generation, and for the next generation, and for the next generation, there is a basis sitting here that’s really going to put into real effect, for generations, the benefits that people like you and Bob and others, did back in the 60s and the 70s.

So let me finish where I started, because, I knew I had to give this speech. Levins is never going to let me get away with things. I wanted to get away from it and he said ‘no you’ve got to do this’. And I’ve been scratching as to what to say, and I was reading something that reminded me about this issue about the physics. It’s actually a quote by Edward Teller, the founder of the H-bomb about Robert Oppenheimer, the founder of the atomic bomb… I’m glad you don’t make bombs. I’m very pleased about that [laughter].

But it was an interesting quote, and frankly I thought some historian in the future, when they’re writing the story of Vint Cerf, could well quote the same quote. So what I did was grab the quote, because you know we historians always cheat, we just grab things, so I grabbed the quote and changed the names. But all I’ve done is change the name. Think about how applicable this is.

‘Throughout the years Vint knew in detail what was going on in every part of the organization. He was incredibly quick and perceptive at analyzing human as well as technical problems. Of the more than ten thousand people who are apart of the ICANN community, Vint knew several hundred intimately, by which I mean, that he knew what their relationships with one another were, and what made them tick. He knew how to organize, cajole, humor, sooth feelings, how to lead powerfully with out seeming to do so. He was an exemplar of dedication, a hero who never lost his humanness.

‘Disappointing him some how carried with it a sense of wrong-doing. ICANN’s amazing success grew out of the brilliance, enthusiasm and charisma with which Vint led it.’

Vint, although you left us now in the strong position to move forward, we will miss you, and our thoughts and love will be with you, as you boldly go where no deaf-guy geek has gone before [laughter]. And as you boldly go, we’d like you take the following gift from ICANN, or a gift from ICANN… I don’t know if it’s a following gift or a gift [laughter]. It sounds like it’s a gift.

It’s a collection of fine wines, from many of the places in which ICANN has met. May you drink universally [laughter]… and may the force be with you.



Vint Cerf


Kieren McCarthy