Happy Birthday, Internet

On Oct. 29, 1969, around 10:30 P.M., a message from one computer was sent over a modified phone line to another computer hundreds of miles away. Some say the Internet was born that day. UCLA computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock, who was there, gives his account.

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IRA FLATOW, host:

From NPR News, this is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. On October 29, 1969, at 10:30 p.m., a couple of computer scientists were huddled around two computers spaced 400 miles apart, one at UCLA, the other at Stanford Research Institute. They were able to send a message from one machine to the other. And even though the computer immediately crashed, what they achieved 40 years ago was perhaps the moment the Internet was born.

Here to recapture that moment was one of the guys in the room that night. Leonard Kleinrock is a distinguished professor of computer science at UCLA. Welcome to the program. Dr. Kleinrock, are you there?

Dr. LEONARD KLEINROCK (Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Los Angeles): Yes, I am.

FLATOW: Hi, how are you?

Dr. KLEINROCK: I'm fine, thank you.

FLATOW: Can you bring us - tell us what you guys were doing in that room that night?

Dr. KLEINROCK: Well, we were about to experiment with the first connection between two computers on this fledgling Internet, and in order to do so, we needed to send a message from Machine 1 to Machine B, 400 miles away, as you said, to the north of us. We basically - all we wanted to do was to log in from our computer to the second computer on the Internet, and in order to do that, you have to type L-O-G, and the remote computer will type the I-N for you because it knows what you're doing. So we also had a telephone connection, as well as the data connection of this new network, and we sat there, and we typed the L. And we asked the fellow at the other end, we said, you get the L? And the response was yup, got the L. Type the O. You get the O? Got the O. Type the G. Get the G? Crash. As you said, that remote computer crashed. So the first message ever on the Internet was lo, as in lo and behold.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: And do you, do most computer experts now consider that to be the moment, you know, the Mary-had-a-little-lamb moment for the Internet?

Dr. KLEINROCK: Well, there's a few other times when you could think about the Internet coming to life. A month before that, in September, on September 2, the first packet switch - we now call these things routers - was connected to that computer I referred to in our laboratory at UCLA over a 15-foot cable, and bits began to move back and forth. So I like to say that's the day when the infant Internet took its first breath of life. But it was not yet doing what it was planned to do, namely to connect computers together. It's on that October 29th date when I like to say the infant Internet uttered its first words. The first message went, just as we say that the telegraph was invented when Samuel Morse sent that wonderful Biblical message: What hath God wrought? And sequence - that sort of sequence has occurred many time in new-technology emergence.

FLATOW: Tell us what this new technology of packet-switching was compared to the old technology.

Dr. KLEINROCK: Well, it began when I was a graduate student at MIT. I was surrounded by computers, and I recognized one day, those computers would need to talk to each other. The only network that could support communications at that time in any sense of the way was the telephone network run by AT&T. And it uses a technology called circuit switching, as opposed to what we're about to describe as packet switching.

In the circuit switching, the problem is it holds the connection between the two communicating parties, you and me for example, for the entire duration of that conversation. And even if I take a coffee break or you decide to step out for a moment, the line - communication path is still reserved for our use and it's being wasted.

In voice communications, that happens about a third of the time, and that's quite acceptable. But with data communications, the communications path is idle perhaps 99.99 percent of the time. I recognized we could not afford to use such a network as inefficiently as that.

So we had to find a way - and I did as a student at MIT - find a way to share those resources. When you take your coffee break, then in fact someone else can use the line. The idea of demand access, where it's only being used when you have data to send, and when you're not, someone else can grab it. So the way we did that was to present this data message that you want to send to the system, the system chops it up into little pieces called packets, and each packet hops its way through the network until it finds its destination. Each packet may take a separate path. At the other end, those packets are put together, and the message is delivered, as if a letter were chopped up into a number of postcards and each one sent through the U.S. mail system separately.

The key idea here is that if there's no packet to be sent at a particular part of the path, other packets from other users can use that particular part of the path. No portion is wasted if there's some work to be done, and that's called packet switching.

FLATOW: And how does - how do the packets know where to go, and how do they know how to be reassembled on the other end?

Dr. KLEINROCK: So each packet has an address. It says I want to go from New York to Los Angeles, and I'm going to go through Chicago and Denver, perhaps. And how does it know to go through Chicago and Denver? Because there is in the network a control procedure, which is constantly checking which links are giving good performance. And when a packet arrives in Chicago, Chicago will say well, the best next hop is to Denver and not to Dallas. So there's intelligence in the network, which is constantly probing where the good paths are, and it selects them on a demand basis, which one can take this packet best next.

FLATOW: That's why there's some delay when you're loading your computer - you're loading your Web browser, trying to reassemble all those packages?

Dr. KLEINROCK: Well, no. The packets, as you say, are - they're reassembled at the destination. That's not where the delay is. The delay typically is in the speed of the line from the end of the network to your device or, more often, in your operating system.

FLATOW: And what does the router do? Is that what you helped invent, the modern-day router?

Dr. KLEINROCK: Yes. I invented the concept of demand access, one example of which is packet switching, and along with that this idea of distributed control, distributed responsibility for deciding which are the good paths, and let's select them on a dynamic basis. Right now, where's the best way to go?

And the interesting thing is, when I started looking at this problem, I said, I want to build large networks, not small ones. So we cannot give the control of this large network in the hands of a single node or a single location. I had to distribute that function across the entire network. So everybody's smart, everybody's looking for good paths, and they're constantly being found as traffic arrives to be re-sent and re-upped.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number, also Twittering, @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I, if you'd like to join us. Also in Second Life, you can find SCIENCE FRIDAY. Talking with Leonard Kleinrock, distinguished professor of computer science at UCLA and one of the pioneers of the Internet.

Was there the thought in people's minds in those days of actually using - sending email and messages, or was it just for exchanging data?

Dr. KLEINROCK: In fact, the original purpose was simply to share resources between computers so that if you had an excellent graphics-processing capability and I wanted to use it, I would log onto your system through the network and use your graphics by logging on. This was data exchange. It was also there for people-to-computer exchange, so I could reach out. What I never anticipated - and by the way, there is a written, published press release that came out before this network was deployed in which I do provide and articulate a vision - I never anticipated it would come to be that this was a network of people communicating with each other, the social networking. And email didn't come in until 1972. Once it did, it was clear to me, ah, this is about people communicating, not about machines talking to each other. But it took two years before that recognition was made clear.

FLATOW: You know, this seems to be, seems to mirror the history of communications in general. The newer inventions were made for businesses. You know, even the telephone was not invented - or supposedly to be invented for people to talk to one another. It was to send, you know, data down the line or information. The idea that, you know, people would be talking on the phone and making money on that was kind of very foreign at the time. Alexander Graham Bell was laughed at for that reason.

Dr. KLEINROCK: There was no economic model here, and it was, in fact, for science purposes. These exchanges were between scientists who were conducting research in computer science and other areas of interest.

FLATOW: Is there any way to predict where this is all heading?

Dr. KLEINROCK: So there's two parts to that question. One is what are the applications going to be. And the best thing we can do, we can predict that it will be impossible to predict those new applications that are coming because we've had a sequence of surprising applications throughout the history of the Internet. Email was the first, the Web, Google, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Nobody saw those applications coming. They hit us on the side of the head. We can anticipate those applications will probably arise in the domain of mobile computing, in location-based applications, in video delivery. But I can tell you what my vision of the infrastructure increase and modernization will be. I believe we're going to be able to take cyberspace out from behind the screen of your computer and bring it into your physical environment, in the walls of your room, in your desk, in your fingernails, in your eyeglasses, in your automobile.

Now when you look into a room, the room will know you walked in and it will say, Ira, what can I do for you? And you can have a conversation with it. It may respond with voice, with a hologram, with a display. And this technology will be made possible by deploying embedded technology in your physical environment.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. KLEINROCK: And this technology will provide the Internet access for you. It'll be sensors and actuators and logic and cameras and memory displays based on today's MEMS and nanotechnology. So we're going to end up with basically a pervasive global nervous system�

FLATOW: Right.

Dr. KLEINROCK: �across this planet.

FLATOW: It'll be like I'm at the holodeck�

Dr. KLEINROCK: Yes.

FLATOW: �on �Star Trek.�

Dr. KLEINROCK: That's - it's all going to be - and it's going to be invisible. You won't see it - you have to - you won't have to fuss around with clumsy interfaces, which we have today.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let's get a call in from Larry(ph) in Wyoming. Hi, Larry.

LARRY (Caller): Hey, how are you doing?

FLATOW: Hi there. Go ahead.

LARRY: Anyhow. Well, I was first going to ask about, you know, your perspective of Al Gore's role in helping getting the Internet going, but I figure a better question for your knowledge would be if you think the United States is going to be able to transfer successfully to IP Version 6 or if they're going to have the same problem that they've had transferring to the metric system where, you know, most of the world's using the metric system now and we're still using ASC(ph) or whatever where it seems most of the world is using IP Version 6. And most of the US is still using IP version 4.

FLATOW: All right, Larry. Thanks for calling.

Dr. KLEINROCK: So that�

FLATOW: What about the Al Gore question? Was�

Dr. KLEINROCK: Oh, sure. The Al Gore question is an interesting one. Al Gore was a very important contributor to the expansion of the Internet. In the late 1980s, he was, perhaps the most knowledgeable person in Congress. He would visit us all the time. We would hold meetings. He understood the technology of the Internet better than any other person in Washington. And in fact, there's a report I wrote talking about a national research network, and I testified for his congressional subcommittee.

He convinced the first President Bush to sign into law as his final act the High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991, which allow academia, business and government to cooperate to deploy a much highest speed backbone network. So his contribution was to bring government, additional government funding to enhance the backbone network. He did make a contribution and it was very important. But it was much later than the birth of the Internet, it was some 20 years later.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. So to say that Al Gore helped invent the Internet would not be far from the truth in terms of keeping it going.

Dr. KLEINROCK: He certainly was a contributor in keeping it going and enhancing it, but, you know, certainly, he was not there at the birth.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255. We're talking about the birth of the Internet this hour on SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow with Leonard Kleinrock.

Anything surprising that has happened over the years that surprised you?

Dr. KLEINROCK: Yes. In fact, in those early days, the culture of the Internet was one of trust, openness, shared ideas. You know, I knew everybody on the Internet in those days and I trusted them all. And everybody behaved well, so we had a very easy, open access. We did not introduce any limitations nor did we introduce what we should have, which was the ability to do strong user authentication and strong file authentication. So I know that if you are communicating with me, it's you, Ira Flatow, and not someone else. And if you send me a file, I receive the file you intended me to receive.

We should've installed that in the architecture in the early days. And the first thing we should've done with it is turn it off, because we needed this open, trusted, available, shared environment, which was the culture, the ethics of the early Internet. And then when we approach the late �80s and the early �90s and spam, and viruses, and pornography and eventually the identity theft and the fraud, and the botnets and the denial of service we see today, as that began to emerge, we should then slowly have turned on that authentication process, which is part of what your other caller referred to is this IPV6 is an attempt to bring on and patch on some of this authentication capability. But it's very hard now that it's not built deep into the architecture of the Internet.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And what about network neutrality? What do you think -thoughts on that?

Dr. KLEINROCK: So network neutrality is a very key issue these days. The question is: Should there be a controlling body that determines what kind of content you receive, bases pricing on what it is instead of how much communications resource it uses? I believe that the government and the corporate world should not determine what content I can receive or how it's charged. I should pay for bandwidth, but not for the fact that it's a video of this or that. Whether I pay for the type of content depends upon the content provider and me, except there should be some controls in the case of some - of proven abuse. I believe in a very open, free network except where there is abuse occurring, which is clear and significant.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255. Scott(ph) in Davenport, Iowa. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT (Caller): Hello, Ira. How are you today?

FLATOW: Fine. How are you? Go ahead.

SCOTT: Oh, great. I just wanted to point out: I heard an interview on NPR last night with one of the gentlemen that had actually helped send the first message across the ARPANET. And he told the same story that they did the L and the O and then the G crashed. They went - the worked the bugs out, came back a little while later and tried it again. So the first three letters successfully sent across the ARPANET were L-O-L.

FLATOW: Is that�

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Is that - Leonard, does that jibe with what you know?

Dr. KLEINROCK: That's correct. The L-O was the first attempt and the second attempt was to start that over again with an L-O-G. So that is correct. But you have to understand, if you think about what Alexander Graham Bell and Morse and even Armstrong did, they - those guys were smart. They had the public relations ready, the media, and they had a powerful message to send. We didn't. We weren't that smart. But the message we ended up sending, the lo, was prophetic...

SCOTT: I just think it's quite appropriate that L-O-L were the first three letters (unintelligible) sent across the ARPANET. And thank you very much.

FLATOW: You're welcome, which are probably still the most popular three letters still sent across the Internet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Wow. That's interesting. Do you think that we're going to get control of all of these forces, Leonard, that are trying to turn this into just a, you know, bunch of junk?

Dr. KLEINROCK: Well, right now I think the Internet is approaching teenage and it's behaving like a teenager: It's mischievous, it's unruly, it's unpredictable. The dark side is a manifestation of that. Now, if you think you can control and modify and improve the behavior of a teenager as they pass from teenage to young adulthood, the answer is an optimistic yes. But along the way, they can go wrong. And whether or not we succeed in maintaining and basically subduing some of this bad behavior is a really difficult open question. It - you know, when you get the forces of the crime syndicates using the dark side of the Internet then you have a problem in how you're going to control them. It's well beyond the Internet.

FLATOW: All right. Leonard, I've got to go but I want to thank you for all of those insights and happy anniversary to you.

Dr. KLEINROCK: Thank you very much, Ira.

FLATOW: Leonard Kleinrock, distinguished professor of computer science at UCLA. We'll be right back after this short break. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

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