An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Video: What Connectivity Means to the Inventor of Ethernet

  • Nicole Estvanik Taylor
  • Slice of MIT

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Robert Metcalfe 68, known for the invention of Ethernet and the cofounding of multibillion-dollar networking company 3Com, went online this June to talk with MIT alumni about connectivity.

In this Faculty Forum Online recording (above), the University of Texas at Austin professor lays out his aim: “to convince you all that the most important new fact about the human condition is that we are now suddenly connected. I’m going to try to convince you that connectivity is a thing worthy of study, and I’m going to enjoy the fact that the internet was here just in time for the arrival of Covid-19.”

First, he retraces his own experience as an internet pioneer: “MIT wanted to be on this internet thing. And so they looked for somebody who was good at sending bits, one at a time, down a long wire. That was me. So I got the job of building this beautiful device which put MIT on the internet in 1970.” A half-century later, he notes, 4 billion people and 8 billion “things” are online.

Metcalfe also explains the origins of his eponymous law, in which he sought to quantify the increase in value of a communications network as it adds members, and throws in “a slide in which I claim to have invented Wi-Fi also, just to annoy the Wi-Fi inventors.” Even as he enumerates the opportunities of connectivity, Metcalfe urges alertness to the dangers of sudden connectivity. “We should worry about the pathologies of the internet, and I do,” he says, adding: “Here we are, overwhelmed with the connectivity in the first 50 years in the growth of the internet, but the next-generation internet is already upon us. I call it the augmented video mobile gigabit internet.”

The talk, which included a live Q&A with its alumni audience, was moderated by Aviva Hope Rutkin SM ’13, news automation engineer for Bloomberg.

Watch the recording above, then revisit more archived Faculty Forum Online webinars and register for upcoming MIT Alumni Association virtual programming.

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