A Trip Back To The Future of The Internet
IRA FLATOW, host:
You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.
How well do you remember 1991? We're about to jog your memory. We're headed back almost two decades to the very first broadcast of SCIENCE FRIDAY. Although climate change was on the radar, it was another environmental problem that was making headlines.
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FLATOW: The United Nations Environment Program announced that the hole in the ozone layer is widening, and it now covers, in the words of the report - and this is amazing - almost all of North America, Europe, the Soviet Union, Australia, New Zealand, and a sizeable portion of Latin America, unquote. What is the threat exactly? What of the future? What can we do about it?
Our first guest is the man who started the whole thing. He's Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland, Donald Bren Professor of Chemistry at the University of California at Irvine. Almost 20 years ago, in 1974, it was Dr. Rowland and his colleague, Mario Molina, who first suggested that the propellant in spray cans, you know, the chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, as they've been called, were depleting the ozone. Let's welcome Dr. Rowland. Welcome to the program.
Dr. F. SHERWOOD ROWLAND (University of California): Good morning from California.
FLATOW: Give us a little bit of a primer about how this whole thing happened. I mean, who looks up in the sky and says, uh-oh, there's a hole in the ozone layer? How did you go about discovering this or postulating it?
Dr. ROWLAND: This started back in 1972 and 1973 with curiosity on the part of a laboratory chemist, namely me, about what would happen to the chlorofluorocarbon gases, which had just been discovered as being present in the atmosphere, essentially everywhere.
And so when Dr. Mario Molina joined my research group in 1973, we started out asking that question of trying to figure what would happen to these molecules. And one by one we eliminated the things which usually take molecules out of the atmosphere. It's - the chlorofluorocarbons are not soluble in water so they don't rain out, and they're transparent so the sun doesn't destroy them with visible radiation, and they don't react to the common oxidizing agents.
What they do do is go up into the atmosphere, up into the stratosphere, above most of the ozone layer. And when they get above most of the ozone layer, they can absorb short wavelength ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
Dr. ROWLAND: What this does is release chlorine atoms - chlorofluorocarbons contain chlorine, fluorine and carbon. And when they release the chlorine atoms, a long chain reaction in which one - each chlorine atom can take out 100,000 molecules of ozone enthused.
FLATOW: Wow. So there's a chain reaction sort of thing going on.
Dr. ROWLAND: It's the chain reaction that really does it. We put in - we meaning the people, the world - we're putting in then and are still putting in now about one million tons of CFCs per year into the atmosphere. And when you take one million tons of CFCs and multiply by a chain length of 100,000, you can see how man can become a competitor with the natural processes, where the ozone depletion is sufficient from man's use of chlorine compounds to compete with the natural processes that remove ozone.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Before people get confused - because there two semi-related subjects that I know - I've always run into people getting confused between the greenhouse effect and the ozone hole. Is there any connection between the two?
Dr. ROWLAND: Both are consequences of the increasing amounts of trace gases in the Earth's atmosphere. And the increases in the trace gases are being caused by the activities of mankind. In the case of ozone depletion, chlorofluorocarbon molecules once destroyed, and then chlorine is released, can then attack stratospheric ozone, and that's the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole and the loss of ozone over the Northern Hemisphere.
The greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and the CFCs and nitrous oxide and methane, when they accumulate, they prevent the escape of infrared radiation from the Earth with the consequence that the Earth warms up. And that's the greenhouse effect.
FLATOW: Why is it the Antarctic? What - is there something about the cold region down there or the place on the Earth where it starts?
Dr. ROWLAND: It has to do with the characteristic or the meteorology of Antarctica or of the south - southern polar regions. The air which is over Antarctica at the beginning of the polar winter stays there all winter long, becomes very cold. And when it becomes cold, clouds can form the stratosphere, which is an unusual process. It doesn't happen over California or over New York or Washington. You don't get clouds in the stratosphere, but you do get them over Antarctica.
And the surfaces of these clouds trigger some reactions with nitrogen and chlorine compounds, which set up the chemistry for the first sunlight. And then when spring comes, the sunlight hits this chemistry. It releases the chlorine atoms, has it has - the chemistry has removed some of their usual curves, like the nitrogen oxide.
Dr. ROWLAND: And the reactions run wild for about five or six weeks.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Let me go to John(ph) in La Jolla, California. John, go ahead.
JOHN (Caller): Well, good afternoon or good morning, Ira. I must admit that I watch you every day on "Newton's Apple."
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FLATOW: Thank you.
JOHN: I'm a big fan, and there's no stuffed shirts here.
JOHN: My wife and I were very concerned about the effects, and also the linking with global warming. Her home is in England and it's about 500 years old right on the coast. And if some of these effects do happen, it seems like the home will be gone in a very short time (unintelligible) so what I'm wondering are, what are the social implications? Have they been studied? And the second question is, when will these issues become politically realistic, or should I say economically important?
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Okay. Thank you very much. Go ahead. Dr. Rowland, do you want to answer?
Dr. ROWLAND: Yes. Well, the question about - there are two questions there. One has to do with ozone depletion and the other one has to do with the greenhouse effect.
Dr. ROWLAND: As far as ozone depletion is concerned (unintelligible) become very much politically realistic. There's an international convention that was established in September of 1987 called the Montreal Protocol, which called then for a diminution in the amounts of CFCs put into the atmosphere each year. They called for a 50 percent cutback.
This was modified in 1990 to call for 100 percent cutback by the end of this decade. And in the light of the further development of ozone depletion and the recent announcements, this timescale for quitting putting the CFCs into the atmosphere has been moved up by many people into 1995, 1997. One problem with this, of course, is that the CFCs have very long lifetimes in the atmosphere, and so the - those which are in the atmosphere are going to stay for a long time. Well, the ozone hole will be with us essentially all through the 21st century.
FLATOW: So this is something - we have really altered the chemistry of the planet in a certain sense.
Dr. ROWLAND: We have certainly done that.
FLATOW: Before we answer the second half of the question, let me bring in someone who might want to jump into the fray here and give us an answer on the political and social side. I want to bring in Michael Oppenheimer. He's senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington. And he's in the studios in Washington. Welcome to the program.
Dr. MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER (Environmental Defense Fund): Thank you.
FLATOW: Do you remember the question that was asked about the societal implications?
Dr. OPPENHEIMER: Yeah. I think there were two questions asked. One had to do with the greenhouse effect and sea level rise, concerned about the home in England. And it's - if that house is close to the coast and near sea level, then there could be a problem in future decades, because global warming is expected to rise the level of the sea something on the order of a couple or three feet over the next 100 years. On the East Coast of the United States, every foot of sea level rise will take away more than 100 feet of beach on a typical beach. I don't know what the situation is where your house is, but there will be s lot of coastal loss.
Dr. OPPENHEIMER: With regard to the - when this affects politics and has - and about the social implications, yes, there have been voluminous studies about the affects of both global warming and ozone depletion on society. There's no question that particularly in countries like the developing countries that lack ability to adapt to such large and rapid changes that they are going to be large economic and social consequences.
In the United States, it's enough said that fast global warming will be costly to adapt to. In any event, natural eco-systems like forests simply cannot adjust to these changes and we can expect large losses in biological diversity and in natural eco-systems. But even on the global warming front, there is - we have entered the real world of politics because just as the treaty process for ozone depletion has been progressing, there has now been convened a similar process which we hope will have a similar outcome...
FLATOW: So you were happy about the other treaty. I mean, you were...
Mr. OPPENHEIMER: Well...
FLATOW: ...sound satisfied with that.
Mr. OPPENHEIMER: We're happy in the sense that the world has gotten around to doing something about it. It's a bit late and it seems these days that the more we do, we soon find out that it wasn't enough. And that's because I think we let 10 or 15 years slip between the time Sherry Roland and Mario Molina identified the problem and the time we finally took it seriously politically. With global warming, we seem to be taking the problem a little more seriously. We, meaning the people of the world, not the United States government.
Before the effects are clearly manifest and a treaty is being negotiated, we only hope that the U.S. government will shift position and take some political leadership on this matter.
FLATOW: Are you all hopeful? I mean, are you hopeful that there is a way out of this? Dr. Rowland, are you hopeful?
Dr. ROWLAND: I think that there's no way out of what we've already done. We lost six or seven years in the early 1980s when we were lax about trying to do further regulations. I am hopeful now that what we are doing will limit the ozone depletion destruction that we're going to have during the 21st century. But as I said before, it's going to get worse for another 20, 25 years and then gradually get better through the 21st century. But what we're trying to do now is to limit that as much as possible.
FLATOW: All right. Michael Oppenheimer?
Mr. OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, I would add to that what I hope people will take away from this experience is that when we're dealing with the global environment, global eco-systems, it really doesn't pay to take risks. Because we took it easy in the late-'70s and through the mid-'80s on this problem, didn't take the threat seriously enough, we were essentially sapped from behind by a big nasty surprise.
And now all we can do is play catch-up, get rid of the chemicals. But we're going to suffer damage. There will be ultra-violet increases. There will be increases in skin cancer. We should take a lesson away, with these long time scale, effectively irreversible problems like ozone depletion or like global warming. We shouldn't take such risks. We should act in advance.
FLATOW: It's like deja vu all over again. Hard to believe that was almost 20 years ago. That was Michael Oppenheimer who, at the time, was a scientist at Environmental Defense. And our other guest, F. Sherwood Rowland, went on to share the Nobel Prize for his ozone research four years later.
Stay with us. Our trip down memory lane continues. Up next, we'll find out what the Internet looked like in the early 1990s.
I'm Ira Flatow and you're listening to Science Friday from NPR.
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FLATOW: You're listening to Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. Up next, we dig deep into our archives, back to 1993. We made a little history that day when we broadcast Science Friday over the Internet. Back then, the Internet was a fledging network of computers mostly being used by academics or the military, a far cry from the millions of computer users hooked in today.
We actually slowed down traffic on the Net that day because so many people were trying to tune into our broadcast. I want you to pay close attention, though, to a reference to global warming. This was made over 17 years ago. And if you think global warming is new, you can hear us talk about it almost 20 years ago.
Just a reminder that this show aired in 1993, so we won't be able to take your calls. But here it is, a look back to the future of the Internet.
How do you describe the Internet? Well, to say that it's a network of over 10,000 computer networks is like describing the telephone system as billions of wires. It gives you some idea of how it's constructed, but not what it's used for. And that's what we hope to do this hour, to talk about the Internet and the creative things that can be done with this massive worldwide network.
And to just illustrate one creative idea, we are broadcasting this program, TALK OF THE NATION, Science Friday is going out live on the Internet. It's not going out as something somebody's typing very quickly and making a transcript and sending it out on a computer. No, our actual voices on this program. Our voices are going out to computer terminals around the world where people are able to hear it coming through their computers.
And this is unique. We're going to be able to hear some people on those computers talk back to us via the Internet, something that has never been done on radio before via the Internet. How are we able to do that? Okay, that's a good place to start.
Let me introduce the man responsible for hooking up the system for us today on the Internet. Carl Malamud is president of Internet Multicasting Service, which runs, among other things, Internet talk radio, a radio network that sends its programming through computers instead of the airwaves.
Carl Malamud is sitting with me here in our New York studios. Welcome to the program.
Mr. CARL MALAMUD (President of Internet Multicasting Service): Thanks, Ira.
FLATOW: Tell me how you're able to get us on the Internet. What is happening with all these wires and things?
Mr. MALAMUD: Well, we've put you on in a variety of different ways. We want to illustrate that theres different levels of technology and you can play in the game with cheap technology. We've got a couple of computers right here in the studio. We've got a cellular modem, so we're actually using radio waves to send electronic mail back and forth and a plain old modem that uses a telephone line. So that's way number one. We set up an electronic mail account for you and you, as you've seen, gotten over 300 mail messages in the last few days.
FLATOW: But in us going out over the Internet, you're taking this radio program and we're sending it out to a giant computer in California, right?
Mr. MALAMUD: And that's the fun part. What we have is, we have...
FLATOW: Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.
Mr. MALAMUD: Ron Frederick and his able assistant Steve Deering out at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. You know, that's where it all began. That's where modern computing really began. And what they've done is they've hooked up the Internet computer network to the world of National Public Radio, so that people sitting in front of their computers have a microphone and a speaker, and they're hearing you and they can talk back to the radio.
So it's as if you're sitting there listening to your radio, to your fireside chat and the president says something you don't like and you turn to him and say, well, that's nonsense and he hears it.
FLATOW: And in fact, they just told us before we went on the air that there are about a hundred people waiting to talk to us on the Internet, back...
Mr. MALAMUD: And they're all over the world. There's people in Australia. There's people in England. There's people in Sweden.
FLATOW: And you broadcast other things besides our radio program...
Mr. MALAMUD: I sure do. We broadcasted the hearings on encryption and privacy that Congressman Markey did a couple weeks ago. We have our regular rebroadcasters of the National Press Club luncheons, and so we put the Dalai Lama on the Internet. We put Senator Bob Dole on the Internet. And we do that on a regular basis. We are one of the three networks that regularly rebroadcast the National Press Club luncheons.
FLATOW: Have you ever done this interactive - on your network before, like we're doing today?
Mr. MALAMUD: Not with radio land. We did something called the Global Schoolhouse Project and we took kids all over the world and we gave them a chance to talk to White House officials and NASA officials using just simple Macintosh computers. But in terms of hooking up the land of the radio to the land of the computer network, first time it's ever been done, which is why we have people like Steve Deering at Xerox Park helping us. You know, Steve...
FLATOW: So, were making history here today?
Mr. MALAMUD: You bet, you bet.
FLATOW: And we also have sent our messages in advance asking people to suggest to us creative things to do with the Internet and things that they already do on the Internet that they find very useful. For example, I have a mail message here. David Hanson sent me an Internet message and he said, during the Soviet push, I got firsthand accounts of the action from Moscow. And this is addicting, he writes. In a profession like teaching Russian politics, waiting for published journal articles is too great a penalty. So people were sending messages out of the Soviet Union and I've had a couple of these.
I have another letter from G. Ernest Anderson, another email message from the University of Massachusetts. He said that the RELCOM, the Russian Electronic Communication Headquarters in Moscow is telling him how to log on in mid-August of 1991 and then sending us stories of what people just in off the streets in barricades, what they saw, they did, they felt, getting email addresses, subsequently meeting these people during the little Russian coup that occurred.
Mr. MALAMUD: Oh, the Russian Internet was one of the key means of communication during that coup. It was a vital part of the tools that Yeltsin and others used during that period.
FLATOW: And this illustrates the global power of the Internet. I mean, people might ask, gee, I already belong to Compuserve, I belong to Dialogue or Geni or any of these things, what advantage does being part of the Internet give me that I don't have already with these other services?
Mr. MALAMUD: I consider Compuserve to sort of be part of the Internet in that you can send electronic mail, you can send messages. But to me, Compuserve is like the suburbs. And there's nothing wrong with the suburbs and I like strip malls and they're good things, but some people want the big city. And what you can do on a general purpose infrastructure, like the Internet, is new things.
With Compuserve, you can do what they told you to do, which is good. With the Internet, if some guy has a bright idea, like wants to do radio or wants to do WAIS or something like that, you can do it. You need to get the people that run the Internet because there are no people that actually run it. This is just a very loose cooperative of networks working together and you can do new things. You can build on them.
FLATOW: Well, let me bring in my next guest. He's someone who is leading the effort to build a practical system for users of the Internet to find and retrieve information. And there is so much information on there, you really need something to stand between you and it or it will flood in. Brewster Kahle, he's president of a company called WAIS that you just heard Carl talk about. He's also here with me in our New York studios. Welcome to the program.
You have software that resides on the Internet that makes it easier for people to use the system. Would that be correct?
Mr. BREWSTER KAHLE (President, WAIS): Yes. Absolutely. The basic idea is we put out some software about two years ago by posting it for free on the Internet and people all over the world have been downloading and using it, creating new collections of information in 12 countries. There are now 420 things that you can probe from your desktop.
FLATOW: 420 databases you can get into...
Mr. KAHLE: Absolutely.
FLATOW: ...using the WAIS system.
Mr. KAHLE: Absolutely. And you can use your PC or your Macintosh or dial-up terminals. You can even send electronic mail to WAIS.
FLATOW: Let's go to the phones now because I think we have some very interesting calls here. Let's first now go to Gail(ph) in Miami. Hi, you're on Science Friday.
GAIL (Caller): Yes, hi.
GAIL: My name is Gail Clemic(ph). I'm a research librarian at Florida International University and I provide reference and research services to all different kinds of scientific and engineering researchers. And we've been finding that the Internet has just revolutionized the scholarly communication process, the way that colleagues confer with each other, convene electronically to chit-chat, to schmooze, to post a manuscript where they can all scrutinize it over the Internet. And it really has taken the place of people being in their offices and walking down the hallway to visit a colleague.
FLATOW: One person here on an email message I got on the Internet called it the universal water cooler. Maybe the coffee pot or something else is another metaphor, but that's the way you see it, as being very useful.
GAIL: Well, it levels the status. So you can be a beginning graduate student. You can be a leading expert in the field and you may all be part of the same discussion group. So you really level the playing field in terms of...
FLATOW: Do you work the Internet out of your library?
GAIL: We dont give all the patrons access. Right now, the research and the faculty, those members of the community do have free access at any time of the day or night. It's just supported through our computing services. But to undergraduates or public members of the community, they would not have access at this point.
FLATOW: All right. Thanks for calling.
GAIL: Thank you.
FLATOW: Thank you very much. Of course, a lot of people love to schmooze on the Internet. I mean - we got a letter from one person who said - here if I can find it. Oh, here it is. This is one of the unusual things I got. Let me see where I can get it from. From Meryl Guist(ph) - I hope I did justice to that name - who says, the Internet made a big hit down at the Rotary Club one recent luncheon.
I was called about an hour before the meeting and tabbed to do the sunshine report, a guest introduction that must include good, clean jokes. Of course, I didn't have any jokes. So he writes, Internet to the rescue. I sat down at the terminal and called up to find text on humor. I had a complete archive of jokes. She found a complete archive of jokes on the Internet in a matter of an hour. Saved somebody the embarrassment of having to find - this is a very typical story.
Mr. KAHLE: Oh, absolutely. You can find jokes. You can find Shakespeare. You can find even useful information.
FLATOW: And it could come from anywhere in the world and you really don't know where it's coming from. I remember I was using the Internet and I looked for something on orchids and I got a response from Australia. It just blew me away, someone who's hard to impress. It was just unbelievable.
Mr. KAHLE: The new communities that are coming up around the Internet are the most fascinating for most of us. We're starting to become good friends with people weve never physically met. And the idea that it's actually gonna keep us in our homes and make it so we don't have to travel I think is actually absolutely false. We're starting to get on planes more to actually go and put a face behind some of these connections that we've been making, these global villages rather than one global village that we're constructing.
FLATOW: All right. Let's go to the Internet and take our first call on the Internet. Steve in Stockholm, Sweden. Hi. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
STEVE (Caller): Yeah. Hi there. It's nice to be here and (technical difficulty) here in Stockholm. And I'd like to say...
FLATOW: Breaking up a bit.
Mr. KAHLE: That's probably one of the longest links to get over to Sweden. And what we find is, as we go through slower and slower lines to get across the ocean, it makes it harder to move the audio through.
FLATOW: Oh, so there's a lot of compression going on here or...
Mr. KAHLE: There's compression and there's packet loss because, remember, this is not a dedicated line. This is part of the general purpose infrastructure.
Mr. KAHLE: So we're sending voice, but someone else may have started a big database search at the same time...
FLATOW: Oh, I see. Let me see...
Mr. KAHLE: ...and that might interfere.
FLATOW: Let me see if Steve is - Steve still there in Stockholm? Steve, we missed a little bit of what you were saying.
STEVE: Hi. I sure am. Hi. I am still here in Stockholm. I hope I'm coming through, and I want to say hello to Carl there.
Mr. MALAMUD: Hello, Steve.
FLATOW: All right, Steve, thanks for calling. Let's see if we can go to Tom in San Diego. We may get a little better line being a little closer. Tom, you're on SCIENCE FRIDAY.
TOM (Caller): Thank you. How does this sound?
FLATOW: Much better.
TOM: Good. I'm next to a construction site...
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TOM: ...which is sort of an open-ended problem. For me, the Internet has been very important for about the last decade. And now my children use it - two boys, seven and three - and they're getting ready for some electronic mail pen pals.
FLATOW: Now let's make it clear to everyone who's listening that you're not on the telephone, are you?
TOM: No, I'm sitting in front of a workstation, and I have a microphone and a speaker. And I can see a list of the people who are getting ready to talk. And I can hear your voice.
FLATOW: Hmm. Is this something that only someone with a big computer can do?
TOM: The computer I've got is about the size of a phonebook. It's a UNIX workstation. It's about an $8,000 investment. And while I'm doing this, I'm also reading electronic mail and doing a little programming, waiting for my turn.
FLATOW: Hmm. And how much email do you get on the Internet in your normal day? Do you get a lot of...
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TOM: Anywhere from 20 to 130 messages a day, sometimes 200.
Mr. MALAMUD: You're a lucky person.
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FLATOW: Why do you say that, Carl?
Mr. MALAMUD: Oh, I get a good 3 - 400 mail messages a day coming in because of Internet talk radio, people having questions.
FLATOW: And you're talking to so many people around the world that you really -it gets to be a glut of information. My father-in-law, Bert(ph), said that it's - he compares it to - he just read an article in the paper about it - to the "Sorcerer's Apprentice," where all those brooms came back, all that water. You don't ask for all that stuff, and suddenly it comes back and you don't know what to do with it.
Mr. KAHLE: Well, you know, that's true. But on the other hand, if you go into a library and look at that library and say, I'm going to read every single book because it's there, you've got a glut of information, too. And one of the things we're learning how to do is how to ignore information. And that's one of the most important things the Internet will let you do.
Mr. MALAMUD: In fact, these glut of email messages that we both send and receive, we're starting to become accountable for at least knowing that it's out there. So being able to move through it is trying to keep this information anxiety - people from being overloaded. It's what the computers are being used for instead of just transporting the stuff to us.
FLATOW: Thanks, Tom, for calling. Let's go to Pat in Central Wisconsin. You're next on SCIENCE FRIDAY. Welcome.
PAT (Caller): I'm so excited. I have to tell you, I look on this kind of technology as being the opportunity to end the geographic isolation that people like myself feel, you know, in rural areas, where sometimes you don't go out for months, you know? I think that this is media of the people. And when you're talking about a glut of information in the media we're using now, we get a glut of that, but it's all been filtered through the reporters. I think this is media of the people. And one of the new things that I hope this technology can do is really redesign government. I see an enormous potential there. And I'll listen to the radio now, and thank you for the program.
FLATOW: All right. Thanks for calling. If it means anything to you, Pat, we actually got an email message from Jack Gill(ph), Office of Media Affairs at the White House, who heard about our program and wanted to thank us for doing it. So there are people who are interested. And the White House has a box on email that they...
Mr. KAHLE: You bet. White House is very interested in using the Internet these days. And it's really encouraging to see the steps that they're taking. These are people that really want to open up the government and, you know, at least be able to communicate with people.
FLATOW: And, you know, if you want to get on the Internet, you can go through the more or less sites that are available to everybody - CompuServe, GEnie, America Online. You can - there is a gateway through their - that mail, is there not?
Mr. KAHLE: Oh, absolutely.
FLATOW: You don't have to be an email user at this time. You can send mail back and forth.
Mr. KAHLE: Absolutely. And there's also things called free nets and public access systems, and they're coming in all over the place. There's public access internet nodes showing up in many, many cities.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Let's take another call from the Internet. Okay. Let's go to the University of Delaware. I think it's Ahjid(ph). Is that your name? Ahjid, are you there?
AHJID (Caller): Ah, yes. I'm there.
FLATOW: Hi. How are you?
FLATOW: How are you today? I notice that we cannot speak at the same time. It makes it little more difficult. So I'll just ask you. Do you have a comment you'd like to make?
AHJID: Being a graduate student with the access to the Internet, we have (technical difficulty) variety of (technical difficulty). One such thing "Dungeon and Dragon" games, where (technical difficulty)...
FLATOW: So you like to play these games on the Internet, and you can play them with two people, one on each end of the Internet? All right. We're having a little - yes, go ahead.
Mr. MALAMUD: The Multi-User Dungeons are very popular, so called MUDs, on the Internet. And it's actually more than just two people. You can get whole crowd - hundreds of people will go and gather in this virtual worlds, typing to each other. And you don't know - quite know who you're talking to.
Mr. MALAMUD: But they're great fun. They're set up around - sometimes university structures are there - a bar, and you just hang out and have a good time with the other people that are hanging around in the bar.
FLATOW: Let me ask you about this audio problem that we're having with the Internet a little. It seems to me the Internet is in a very crude stage. I asked both of you today. Brewster, you described the road we're on, and the Internet is...
Mr. KAHLE: It's a - if we're moving toward the data superhighway, right now we're on a rough and bumpy road. You get saddle sore and dusty by moving over it.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And it's a very - we're in the very early stages of what we might think that data superhighway that we keep hearing about will be...
Mr. KAHLE: Well, but it is a road. And I think one of the reasons it's so crucial that we invent - invest in this infrastructure - and it's an infrastructure. It's like a telephone system or a road system. And in the early days of radio and the early days of the telephone of roads, they were hard. I mean, roads were things that people at first were, you know, had difficulty using. There were toll roads. And it was hard to get them constructed. And it took a while to get that system to work.
Mr. KAHLE: And I think it's crucial over the next 20 or 30 years that we begin looking at that and investing in that infrastructure.
FLATOW: We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back to hear more from our 1993 show, "On the Future of the Internet," this in our 20th anniversary year of SCIENCE FRIDAY. So stay with us.
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FLATOW: Welcome back to SCIENCE FRIDAY. Let's listen more to our archived 1993 show on the on the future of the Internet.
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FLATOW: Let's go now to the phones and go to Helen in San Diego. You're next on SCIENCE FRIDAY. Welcome, Helen.
HELEN (Caller): Good morning.
FLATOW: Good morning.
HELEN: Thank you for taking the call.
FLATOW: Thank you.
HELEN: I'm an older woman and I'm strictly a print person. And I've had a question for years on this use of computer information. How do you determine whether you're getting information, misinformation, disinformation? You know, if you read a book, you look at the bibliography. There's perhaps a foreword by someone you know. You had some - some way of calculating the believability of what you're reading. With this information flooding over from - flooding in from all over, how do you know what you're getting?
FLATOW: Good question. Let me - Brewster, you want to tackle that?
Mr. KAHLE: Yeah. Basically, the same sorts of things happen in the computer world as it does in the print world. You trust who told it to you. So if you wanted to know wanted Clinton wants to say, you actually go to the Clinton server at the White House and you ask it.
I've got a window up right now and I can ask - find out what his economic policy is, and that's coming from the White House. So I'm going to trust that as oppose to necessarily going through a lot of intermediary steps. What the Internet allows you to do is go directly to the source.
FLATOW: You go to prime sources instead of reading a newspaper. You can go to the source the newspaper (unintelligible)...
Mr. KAHLE: Absolutely.
Mr. MALAMUD: Well, but we're also getting publishers on the Internet - certain publishers you know do good books.
FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And Helen, I understand your concern, because if there are so many sources of information, you want to know who to trust on the Internet. And you have no way of knowing who these people are, do you?
HELEN: That's right. I suppose the sheer volume is one of the things that puzzles me. The main thing you do with information is make some judgment or use of it. And when there's such a flood of it, I would think you might get people knowing more than they knew what to do with.
Mr. MALAMUD: Well, it's the same thing with any source of information. When I walk into the Library of Congress, I'm pretty awed by looking at all those books. And I have to figure out a way to navigate through that maze.
HELEN: Very true.
Mr. MALAMUD: To me a computer network's no different than that.
FLATOW: But you also have a research librarian or someone there who can sort of give you the pointers of how to go.
Mr. MALAMUD: Same thing on the Net.
FLATOW: There is something like that on the Internet?
Mr. MALAMUD: There's software and there's people. I mean, you can always - what I do a lot of times - when I see a huge archive of information...
Mr. MALAMUD: ...I send electronic messages to somebody and say, well, you know, what should I look at? What's important? Or I use the automated tools that are out there to start searching through and narrowing it down. That's one of the big things that WAIS does, is helps you seep through information efficiently.
FLATOW: And there's a lot of information that is standard. Standard information like reference libraries (unintelligible) you know, you go to a library and say I can't get to the library, how can I find out something about some information? Okay?
FLATOW: Thanks for calling. Now, someone who is on the Internet like you, what do you see on the screen? What is happening on the screen at that point?
Mr. KAHLE: Well, right now all I'm seeing is basically a dumb screen, a list of messages and I can read them. Now, when I'm at home on my work station, I get a nice graphical interface and I can point to things.
FLATOW: It's a little more like a Macintosh that you have running over there.
Mr. MALAMUD: Yeah. I've got a Macintosh here that's got a nice graphical user interface that's hooked right into the Internet.
FLATOW: So anybody who's used to using a computer screen and getting mail on a computer screen, or CompuServe, will just - will have about the same sort of results by using the Internet. They will look the same on their screen.
Mr. MALAMUD: Absolutely.
FLATOW: Of course it is a little more - it's a little cruder in these days on the PC, because you don't have that graphical interface that he's using. But there is - are there programs on the PC that will give it a graphical interface?
Mr. KAHLE: Oh, you bet. Absolutely.
Mr. MALAMUD: There's a half a dozen programs that run under Windows and give you a nice touchy-feely interface. I'm of the old school of computers. I like to do it the hard way.
(Soundbite of laughter)
FLATOW: My guests this hour are Carl Malamud, who's president of the Internet Multicasting Service. Over his network NPR SCIENCE FRIDAY is being carried this afternoon. And Brewster Kahle, who's president of WAIS Incorporated.
All right. Let's go to the phones and the Internet. Do we have any new messages?
Mr. MALAMUD: We are flooded with new messages.
FLATOW: Anything of real interest on...
Mr. MALAMUD: Well, a lot of people are saying what a great show you're doing here.
FLATOW: Oh, we get that all the time. That's not of interest...
Mr. MALAMUD: But people are coming in with questions. And we just got a mail message from somebody saying they're seeing some record usage on the Net. Everybody wants to talk to you.
Mr. MALAMUD: That's one of the reasons we're getting such bad audio response.
FLATOW: I see, it's clogging - it's really clogging the system.
Mr. MALAMUD: Well, this happens on occasion. We're - you know, audio and video is big stuff, and that's one reason we need to get that infrastructure in place so that we can do these kinds of applications.
FLATOW: We're too successful, that's the problem. Okay. Let's try again on the Internet again. To Dave(ph) in Pasadena. Dave, are you there on the Internet?
DAVE (Caller): Yeah, I am. Can you hear me?
FLATOW: Loud and clear.
DAVE: Wonderful. How's it going, everybody?
Mr. MALAMUD: Just fine. How you doing?
Mr. KAHLE: Great.
DAVE: I'm sitting here in front of my workstation, kind of listening to all the stuff talked about on the program. And I was real curious as to if anyone had a timetable for this kind of stuff reaching the public access, like you know, everyone that has cable getting an Internet feed or, you know, it being as common as let's say telephone.
FLATOW: When is it going to be a worldwide practical network?
Mr. MALAMUD: There's a magic number in which a system is powerful enough that you can do useful things. And the magic number with personal computers is when the 83, 86s came out. Okay. The magic number with the Internet is 64,000 bits per second. And we have technology deployed around the country called ISDN...
Mr. MALAMUD: ...which allows you to get that in the home with today's existing wiring.
FLATOW: That's the rate of information.
Mr. MALAMUD: That's right. That's how fast it goes.
Mr. MALAMUD: The typical modem runs at 9,600 bits per second or less, and what we're talking about is a factor of fixed increase. And my theory is you hit that magic mark and things explode.
FLATOW: Dave, are you still there in Pasadena?
DAVE: I sure am.
FLATOW: What use do you most put the Internet to? What do you like to do with it or how is it most useful to you?
DAVE: Well, I kind of like to listen to music or I'd like to download libraries of the CD collections or whatever music. Let's say I find some song I really like, it'd be nice to go to like Sony or RCA or wherever these record companies are and download a particular song. And if I like it, you know, upload a credit card number.
FLATOW: I see. You're saying instead of having to go buy a CD, you could just download the CD on the Internet?
Mr. MALAMUD: We're not...
DAVE: Yeah. That'd be great.
FLATOW: That's a great idea. Thanks, Dave, for calling.
DAVE: You're welcome.
FLATOW: Let me just talk a little about the structure itself, because I don't think people understand about how you get information and what kinds of specific groups there are and how you could be put on a mailing list, right?
Let's say, for example, that you wanted to get all the - and since we've been talking about the White House today, all the press releases coming out of the White House. Now, theoretically, on the Internet, you should be able to put yourself on a mailing list. So anytime a press release is released from the White House or something comes out, it's automatically sent to you. Is that not how it works?
Mr. MALAMUD: Absolutely. If you want to do that or you could just leave them there and search and figure out when there's something worthwhile.
FLATOW: So you could get then all the press releases from every congressman, every senator, every committee...
Mr. MALAMUD: Not yet, but soon, soon.
FLATOW: I mean, but theoretically, that's how it would work?
Mr. MALAMUD: That's what I want to see, absolutely.
FLATOW: But you can do that now with other interest groups, right?
Mr. MALAMUD: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.
FLATOW: There are mailboxes that you can be - and this is where the glut comes in. You could be on the mailing list for so many mailboxes, every time they issue a mailing list and you get a press release or any kind of release, you're getting thousands of these a day?
Mr. MALAMUD: But that's why you want your personal computer sitting between you and that glut. You want your machine to be working for you, finding the right stuff for you.
Mr. MALAMUD: There's just way too much out there already. So, going and filtering through, searching, finding just the issues that you care about, your machine is starting to know a lot about you and knows what you like, what you don't like, what it is you read, what you didn't read.
We're finding that, also, the government's communicating better with itself, God forbid, where the USGS, NASA, Environmental Protection Agency and NOAA are all working together to figure out whether we're warming up. And they're using the Internet to do this.
FLATOW: Let's now go to Paul(ph) at the MIT Media Lab. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
PAUL (Caller): Yeah. Hi.
PAUL: My general question is, what happens to copyrights and copyrighted material when all this information is available over the net? In other words, how do you reward a creator or someone who writes a piece of fiction if you can just get one copy and then it's distributed from there?
FLATOW: Brewster, you want to answer that?
Mr. KAHLE: I deal with publishers all the time, and this is a real issue. What - how do we go and use this as a publishing medium when somebody can just pass the word, and just take whatever they'd pull down and pass it to somebody else and you'd have an original?
Well, the basic approach that we're taking on the Internet is to try to centralize the distribution so that if you are the creator of the work, why not go and ask you for your work? That way, you can charge whatever you'd like or restrict it based on who it is you want to give it to or not. If you were to go and take that from somebody else and then start republishing it and making money on it, then there are laws to kick in. That's not to say that it won't happen.
But the idea is to make it easy for people to obey the law and use the Internet as a direct contact between the creator and the consumer, as opposed to a lot of the store and forward, which is what we've had back in the old days when we used the phone systems to hop along through things like Usenet.
FLATOW: Quickly, about 10 seconds.
Mr. MALAMUD: I've got - I got a different approach. I've got advertisers. That's how I make my money. Rather than charging my listeners, I just get my money upfront.
FLATOW: All right. I'd like to thank my guests, Carl Malamud, president of the Internet Multicasting Service who made possible our broadcast today on the Internet, and Brewster Kahle, president of WAIS Incorporated.
Also, special thanks to Ron Frederick and Steve Deering of Xerox' Palo Alto Research Center for helping connect us to the Internet. And thank you for all of you folks on the Internet who got through and the hundreds who were not able to get through to us today. Thanks for participating.
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