Thursday September 2 2:51 AM ET
Internet: Rocky Road To Information Superhighway
By Michael Miller
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It started out 30 years ago as a rocky, unpaved road
full of potholes and ended up as the information superhighway known as the
The Internet celebrates its 30th birthday Thursday with a special conference of
its proponents at the University of California at Los Angeles, especially those
pioneers who can remember its first days, when it was known as the ARPAnet and
users logged in rather than logged on.
While ``WWW'' now stands for World Wide Web, during those infant days the
acronym might better have meant wild, wacky and
Indeed, the forerunner of modern e-mail went wrong the first time around when
there was a system failure during the first ever attempt to link two computers,
according to UCLA professor Leonard Kleinrock, 65, the man largely credited as
being the ''Father of the Internet.''
In an interview with Reuters, Kleinrock said that on Oct. 20, 1969 a group of
computer scientists at UCLA were about to make history by getting their
computer to talk to another one at the Stanford Research Institute in northern
``We had a guy sitting at the computer console at UCLA wearing a telephone
headset and a microphone, talking to another guy at Stanford. When everything
was set up he was going to type the word 'log' and the Stanford computer would
automatically add 'in' to complete the word 'login.'
``So our guy typed the 'L' and asked his counterpart at Stanford 'Did you get
the 'L' and Stanford replied, 'Got the 'L.' Then they did the same for 'O,' and
then the whole system crashed!'' Kleinrock said.
But on reflection 30 years later, he feels that the first message ever sent
from one computer to another was symbolic. ''Put it into phonetics and you get
(h)'ello, which is really quite appropriate,'' he said.
The vital first step in getting a computer to talk to another computer was
taken on Sept. 2, 1969, when Kleinrock and his team succeeded in hooking up
their computer to a refrigerator-sized switch, or router, known as an
Interphase Message Processor. ``So at that time you had a computer talking to a
switch for the very first time, and without that you could not have computer
talking to computer,'' he said.
Although the UCLA conference honors Sept. 2 as the birthday of the Internet,
some people think the date should be Oct. 20, the first time one computer had
actually talked to another.
Kleinrock himself is not very sure. ``You could say that the Internet came to
life on either of those dates,'' he said. Certainly, no record was made of the
Sept. 2 event. ``No pictures, no nothing.''
The Internet, he said, was a child of necessity. Funded by the U.S.
government's Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPA), it was intended as a
network to give researchers at selected centers the ability to use each other's
``At that time, in the 1960s, ARPA was funding all kinds of research.... But
with everyone wanting their computers to be unique to their own needs the cost
was skyrocketing, so ARPA conceived of creating a network, so that if you had
something in your computer that I wanted I would simply log on to your machine,
thereby dramatically reducing the costs, hence the word ARPAnet,'' Kleinrock
In retrospect, he does not think he and his colleagues created a monster. ``You
can anticipate the computer-to-computer communications, you can't anticipate
the human-to-human communications,'' Kleinrock said. ``When e-mail came on,
that was the first clue that interaction between people was really the killer
He added, ``You have to weigh the good against the bad. Is there something we
can control? No. Pornography is a good example of that.''
Kleinrock stressed that he and his colleagues looked at creating the ARPAnet as
a technological challenge, not an ethical one.
``Were we thinking about the impact and the ethics? No. Did we try to lay down
some codification of how this thing should be used? No. Did we abrogate our
responsibility to think about that? Yes.
``We did not think about the potential dangers,'' he said. ''We talked about
bits and bytes and routers and switches. We did not talk about, 'Will little
Charlie do his homework on it or will he look at pornography?'''
But Kleinrock has no regrets. ``Would I do it again? You bet.''