EET: What's the premise of your book?
Metcalfe: Just a collection of columns with some fierce rebuttals. The title comes from a series of columns predicting that the Internet would collapse in 1996. I actually quantified the nature of the collapse and was only off by a factor of eight but I ate the column anyway. [In a stage appearance, Metcalfe put the column in a blender with some water, and ate the resulting mixture with a spoon.] For many people, I'm better known for having eaten my column in 1997 than for having invented the Internet.
EET: What did the book say about the Internet's future?
Metcalfe: I had written a column on the seven or eight ways in which it would collapse; one of them was security, and that's certainly true. And then spam.
EET: Are there solutions to spam?
Metcalfe: There are two. One is economics, the other is permission. These were left out [of the original Internet], and now we're having to retrofit. Putting some economics around e-mail would greatly diminish spam. Permission means you can't send an e-mail to someone without their permission. And since e-mail should be strongly encrypted at all times, e-mail filtering is really the wrong way to go, since you shouldn't have third parties reading your e-mail. The best option is a combination of economics and permission.
EET: What about security?
Metcalfe: I wrote the first RFC [request for comment] about how the Internet is vulnerable to security attacks. It was a warning. We forgot to put security in, and one of my pieces of advice is that anonymity should not be the default, as it is now. Source-field packets are not inspected routinely, and they should be. There should be ways of achieving anonymity in certain circumstances, but it shouldn't be the default. It's the cause of spam, the viruses, the worms and the denial-of-service attacks. All rely on anonymity.
EET: Is that being addressed?
Metcalfe: No. It requires that the router vendors start inspecting source fields, and I believe some of that has already started I think Juniper's routers inspect source fields. But no one turns it on.
EET: Why not?
Metcalfe: Maybe they're not as smart as I am.
EET: Do you still predict the collapse of the Internet?
Metcalfe: I never predicted the fall of the Internet. What I predicted were collapses, which are outages. I even quantified it: I predicted a "gigalapse," or 1 billion lost user hours in a single outage, and the biggest one that year was 118 megalapse pretty close to a gigalapse, but not quite, which is why I ate the column.
The Internet remains fragile, but it has inherent resilience. My dire warnings were somewhat exaggerated. The Internet is getting better all the time. We're moving to video this decade video mail, videoconferencing, video-on-demand and video merchandising. Our children are currently stealing CDs, but they'll be stealing DVDs soon.