The Year Ahead: 3 Predictions From the ‘Father of the Internet’ Vint Cerf


With the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine being administered, a return to normal feels within reach but normal will change.

In 2011, the movie "Contagion" eerily predicted what a future world fighting a deadly pandemic would look like. In 2020, I, along with hundreds of thousands of people around the world, saw this Hollywood prediction play out by being diagnosed with COVID-19. It was a frightening year by any measure, as every person was impacted in unique ways. 

Having been involved in the development of the Internet in the 1970s, I’ve seen first-hand the impact of technology on people’s lives. We are now seeing another major milestone in our lifetime—the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

What the "Contagion" didn’t show is what happens after a vaccine is developed. Now, as we enter 2021, and with the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine being administered, a return to normal feels within reach. But what will our return to “normal” look like really? Here are three predictions for 2021.

1. Continuous and episodic Internet of Medical Things monitoring devices will prove popular for remote medical diagnosis. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the practice of clinical medicine at least in the parts of the world where Internet access is widely available and at high enough speeds to support video conferencing. A “video consult” is often the only choice open to patients short of going to a hospital when outpatient care is insufficient. Video-medicine is unsatisfying in the absence of good clinical data (temperature, blood pressure, pulse for example). The consequence is that health monitoring and measurement devices are increasingly valued to support remote medical diagnosis. 

My Prediction: While the COVID-19 pandemic persists into 2021, demand for remote monitoring and measurement will increase. In the long run, this will lead to periodic and continuous monitoring and alerting for a wide range of chronic medical conditions. Remote medicine and early warning health prediction will in turn help citizens save on health care costs and improve and further extend life expectancy. 

2. Cities will (finally) adopt self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are anything but new, having emerged from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge in 2004. Sixteen years later, many companies are competing to make this a reality but skeptics around this technology remain. 

My Prediction: In the COVID-19 aftermath, I predict driverless car service will grow in 2021 as people will opt for rides that minimize exposure to drivers and self-clean after every passenger. More cities and states will embrace driverless technology to accommodate changing transportation and public transportation preferences. 

3. A practical quantum computation will be demonstrated. In 2019, Google reported that it had demonstrated an important quantum “supremacy” milestone by showing a computation in minutes that would have taken a conventional computer thousands of years to complete. The computation, however, did not solve any particular practical problem. 

My Prediction: In the intervening period, progress has been made and it seems likely that by 2021, we will see some serious application of quantum computing to solve one or more optimization problems in mechanical design, logistics scheduling or resource allocation that would be impractical with conventional supercomputing. 

Despite the challenges 2020 presented, it also unlocked some opportunities like leapfrogging with tech adoption. My hope is that the public sector sustains the speed for innovation and development to unlock even greater advancements in the year ahead.

Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. Cerf has held positions at MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, Stanford University, UCLA and IBM. Vint Cerf served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and was founding president of the Internet Society. He served on the U.S. National Science Board from 2013-2018.