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Twenty years after he helped created the Internet, Dave Farber is working to keep it open to all manner of unconventional ideas -- inlcuding his own -- and pondering the next big thing in cyberspace. By Harry Goldstein

For weeks, my only contact with David J. Farber, Penn's Alfred Fitler Moore Professor of Telecommunications, was via e-mail, but now we had arranged to meet -- in the lobby of a midtown Manhattan office building during a late-December New York visit by Farber. The only pictures I had seen of him were dark faxes on which his image was blackened, indistinguishable, but I recognized him immediately, sitting in the lobby coffee bar, hunched over his super-compact Toshiba laptop -- sold only in Japan, he would later tell me;
his is one of the very few in existence with an English language keyboard. Such are the perks of being the grandfather of the digital empyrean, a designer of the Internet. A Geek God. As I approached, Farber rose to greet me, offering a meaty hand to grasp. He suggested -- no, directed -- that I get myself a cup of coffee before the coffee bar shut down for the evening, as if he knew I would need a heavy dose of caffeine to keep up with him. (He was right.)
Gregory Farrington, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, says that Farber, besides being "wonderful, a delight, endlessly creative, and fascinating," is also his own best promoter. His home page at includes everything from recent media coverage of Farber (articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer and People magazine), to academic papers ("Communications Technology and its Impact Between Now and 2010"), to downloadable audio clips of speeches, to pictures of his family and examples of "Farberisms," which he explains as figures of speech he has been famous for over the years ("A buck in the hand is worth two on the books," "A stop-gap measure is better than no gap at all," etc.)
Farber's work in establishing distributed computing networks in the 1970sthe foundation of today's Internet -- recently earned him the John Scott Award, established in the early 1800s to recognize important inventions and groundbreaking research in science, industry, medicine, and agriculture. (The press release is on his home page.) His vociferous advocacy of freedom of speech on the Internet, combined with his status as one of its primary architects, prompted Wired magazine to hail him as "the Paul Revere of the Digital Revolution." When Tom Kalil of the National Economic Council came up with a list of the top ten things the Clinton administration likes about the Internet, Farber ranked number seven. (See the People article). When President Clinton gave a speech at Penn last fall pounding home the theme of a digital bridge to the 21st century, he singled out Farber for special praise as "a pioneer of the Internet," which he could truthfully have said even if Farber were not also one of the co-chairs of Scientists and Engineers for Clinton-Gore. (Clinton's remarks are available -- well, you know where).
David Farber's rise from prodigy to counselor to governments and corporations has been powered by an uncanny ability to recognize opportunities and an unflappable confidence in the substance of his own vision. How Farber came to be so highly regarded in the high-tech community is also the story of how Western society now finds itself on the verge of a new and to some, Farber included, frightening world. Continued ...
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