Through the internet looking glass
Fernando Kuipers, professor at TU Delft and scientific director of the Do IoT Fieldlab, gave his inaugural speech ‘Through the internet looking glass’ yesterday. In August 2021, Fernando Kuipers has been appointed professor of Internet Science at the Faculty of EEMCS, where he has been working since 2000. His research focuses on analyzing and improving Internet and communication infrastructures. In his inaugural speech – the first lecture at which a professor assumes office, presents himself to the community and speaks about the interpretation of his chair – he reflected on his work, research and the current state of the internet.
But what does the path to professorship actually entail? “It relates to how you teach, publish, how you are perceived in the field and by your peers. The more leadership you show and responsibility you take, the further you develop in this process.” The ambition to progress in the academic world already became clear during his studies. And the TU Delft environment suited him well: “After my PhD, I could immediately become an assistant professor and thereby skipped the step of post-doc that most take. Still, I think it is important to gain experience outside your own university. I acquired such experience through sabbaticals, including in 2009 at Technion in Israel with Prof. Ariel Orda and in 2016 at Columbia University in New York, with Prof. Gil Zussman.’
The title ‘Through the internet looking glass’ is a reference to the book ‘Through the looking glass’ by Lewis Caroll; a sequel to the earlier book ‘Alice’s adventures in Wonderland’. In this sequel story, Alice finds herself in another world after having stepped through a mirror and there she experiences a variety of adventures. “The book is not in my top ten list, but I enjoyed having a creative spin on it while at the same time being able to use such a book title functionally.” Like Alice, we have access to another (virtual) world – the internet – with our computers and smartphones as a “looking glass”. Fernando argues that these two worlds, the virtual and physical, are increasingly blending. Currently, transmitting images and sound is very common. With Virtual Reality, a 3D dimension is being added to this. The next step is the transmission of touch and smell via the Internet. Research and development of innovations in this field are in full swing.
Keeping data and networks secure and available is becoming increasingly important. “We tend to pay a lot of attention to hacks or other malicious intent, but the chances of human error are many times higher,” Fernando says. He outlines that a tiny human error can have huge consequences. For example, a nationwide network could go down, the accessibility of emergency services, or other essential services could be at stake. In addition to accidentally causing a major outage, robust networks are also important in case of a natural disaster or other catastrophes. Systems to prevent outages of such scale have not yet been developed and adopted for this purpose.
However, you can also think of a “looking glass” as a magnifying glass: for measuring and studying the internet, Fernando and his team have developed software that allows the network to adapt itself to what is happening in the network. Reflecting on the current state of the internet, he believes there is room for improvement in terms of transparency in how data are handled and how protocols and algorithms interact. This is one reason why establishing collaborative partnerships, such as the Do IoT Fieldlab, is important to him: “I strongly believe in collaboration. Even beyond the boundaries of universities. The complexity we are facing now is best tackled with an interdisciplinary team.”
After the inauguration speech, the visitors enjoyed the high tech demos, provided by TU Delft scientists and by companies. Some with working prototypes, others with models: all the innovations are in some stage of development, aiming to create future services that contribute to a better, more sustainable and safer society. With assistance of Do IoT Fieldlab’s partner MCS, a mobile 5G kit was operational to demonstrate the extreme low latency and high bandwith in data transfer.
For more information and publications, please watch the recording of the inauguration and visit Fernando Kuipers’ website.