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UCLA was the first node on the Internet, and under Kleinrock’s supervision, graduate student Charlie Kline sent the first message. By comparison, “Watson come here!” sounds like the Iliad. Kline was attempting to log in; he got as far as the L and the O and the system crashed.
And now we come to Internet Origin Myth Number 1: No, it wasn’t designed to survive nuclear attacks. Kleinrock, who participated in the History Channel’s special on the Internet, sighs, “Even the History Channel confused that, unfortunately. I’ll tell you where that comes from: Paul Baran at RAND was studying [the survivability] problem, and he came up with the concept of packet-switching after I did. His report came out in ’64; my work was in ’61-’62.” Kleinrock’s work, not Baran’s, was used as the underlying technology for the ARPANET. Nobody has yet definitely researched how the nuke survival myth made it into popular culture, although there’s a theory it had to do with researchers looking for more funding.
And now for Internet Origin Myth Number 2: Of course, Al Gore wasn’t “the Father of the Internet” — but he doesdeserve credit as its rich uncle. Kleinrock is sympathetic to Gore, and grateful for his role: As a senator, “Al Gore did some great funding of the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, which Bush signed as his last act,” Kleinrock says. “Gore was very important in providing significant funding, which launched the gigabit-network initiative and gigabit testbeds; I testified for him and wrote papers for the network. He was very important in that; he just made a slip when he talked about ‘creating the Internet.’”
Internet Origin Myth Number 3 is a grander misconception: that this was all some utopian, academic vision about shared community. ARPA was an engineer’s paradise — nobody had any glorious ideas about changing society. That came later, and not from the technical pioneers. As Kleinrock says, “We didn’t see the community side of it. People had access to computer utilities, but not so much access to each other. It’s only in ’72 when e-mail came on — and then I said, ‘Ahhh, this is about community! Not about machines talking to each other.’”
But in the year 2000, Kleinrock has concerns beyond community. “The speed of light is too slow,” he says in all seriousness. “Once we got to gigabit networks, we bumped into it. In free-space it takes 15,000 microseconds to cross the U.S. at the speed of light — that’s an eternity when you’re talking about nanosecond speeds. It’s mind-boggling — the speed of light is too slow.”
But the speed of light is less of an issue than the protocols, the software architecture, which is still the same stuff that was written back in the Kennedy administration, with four decades of ad hoc updates pasted on. Now, a ’62 ’Vette may be a beautiful thing. But would you really want to take an SUV head-on in one?
The network that Kleinrock envisioned was supposed to carry text and rudimentary graphics files, not enormous multimedia files of bootlegged copies of Pamela Anderson’s honeymoon video and every film that was turned down by Sundance. Nevertheless, Kleinrock explains, there is hope: The Internet relies on a modular structure. The protocols that govern it are stacked in layers, each layer hooking into the one below and above it, like a column of Lego blocks. And as with Legos, you can pull out one piece, make changes to it and put it back without affecting the layers above and below.
But in these days of intense concern over the vulnerability of Web sites, Kleinrock offers this historical caveat: “Security was not a high-priority item — it’s never been. To patch security on later is hard, you can’t start over again.” The problem is that although the modular structure allows for changes, you have to roll out all of those changes over the entire Internet, and as Kleinrock warns, “There’s already 100 million machines out there.”
So the hardware will increase, and the protocols will survive, but what about the culture? To hear Kleinrock describe the early days, before extortionistic denial-of-service attacks and land-grabbing patent claims, is almost painful. It’s engineering before The Fall. “In my design, I had the notion of an egalitarian network with distributed control. Deep down in the bowels of the technology you have that idea, and then it also came out at the cultural level. Ideas were freely shared, nothing was possessed or owned or proprietary. It was a wonderful community of people who trusted each other.”
There is one place these ideals still thrive — in the open-source movement that produced the Linux operating system. In his influential book The Cathedral and the Bazaar, programmer and open-source theorist Eric S.Raymond writes, “Open-source software is not a new idea; its beginnings go back to the beginnings of the Internet 30 years ago.”
Of course, not everybody is out there hacking Linux. My father and Dr. Kleinrock are the same age. Dad is gamely trying to master the Internet (“Karen, this stuff is a damn pain in the ass!”), while Kleinrock, 40 years on, is still working on ways to make that cry less frequent.