Leonard Kleinrock never imagined Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube that day 40 years ago when his team gave birth to what is now taken for granted as the Internet.
“We are constantly surprised by the applications that come along,” Kleinrock said as he and others at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) were preparing to throw the Internet a 40th birthday party.
“It’s a teenager now. It’s learned some things but it has a long way to go. It’s behaving erratically, but it’s given enormous gratification to its parents and the community.”
On October 29, 1969 Kleinrock led a team that got a computer at UCLA to “talk” to one at a research institute.
Kleinrock was driven by a certainty that computers were destined to speak to each other and that the resulting network should be as simple to use as telephones.
“I thought it would be computer to computer, not people to people,” Kleinrock said in a nod to online social networking and content sharing that are hallmarks of the Internet Age.
“I never expected that my 99-year-old mother would be on the Internet like she was until she passed away.”
A key to getting computers to exchange data was breaking digitised information into packets fired between on-demand with no wasting of time, according to Kleinrock.
He had outlined his vision in a 1962 graduate school dissertation published as a book.
“Nobody cared, in particular AT&T,” Kleinrock said. “I went to them and they said it wouldn’t work and that even if it worked they didn’t want anything to do with it.”
US telecom colossus AT&T ran lines connecting the computers for ARPANET, a project backed with money from a research arm of the US military.
Engineers began typing “LOG” to log into the distant computer, which crashed after getting the “O.”
“So, the first message was ‘Lo’ as in ‘Lo and behold’,” Kleinrock recounted. “We couldn’t have a better, more succinct first message.”
Kleinrock’s team logged in on the second try, sending digital data packets between computers on the ARPANET. Computers at two other US universities were added to the network by the end of that year.
The rest is history.