Kahn and fellow pioneer Vint Cerf, co-developers of the TCP/IP protocols, were in the UK to receive honorary fellowships from University College London as part of the Internet Society of England's celebrations on the 30th anniversary of the internet.
"Whereas most internet identifiers locate wires and machines, we are moving into the era where we can give identities to groups of bits, bit structures and data structures," said Kahn. "This new approach, based on semantic identifiers, will enable the abstraction and management of digital objects.
"This will have huge implications for many collaboration application areas, such as digital cash or dynamic, interactive books and magazines," he added.
Kahn defined the internet as "a global information system, where the applications and information are as much a part of it as the underlying communications and switching".
Cerf, senior vice president of technology strategy at MCI, said this broad definition poses regulatory issues, especially for content liability.
"For regulatory purposes it is important to appreciate the layered structure of the internet, with different businesses constructed in different layers," he said. Therefore, ISPs, which simply switch packets of data around, should not be liable for content.