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The Web at 40: Online world stills surprises 'Net pioneer

Sharon Gaudin | Sept. 4, 2009
Leonard Kleinrock remembers the day it began and knows what he'd do differently now

And it did work.

Today, the computer scientist said he envisioned much of what the Internet has become, although there are parts of it he never could have imagined. Even 40 years ago, Kleinrock saw the Internet becoming as easy to use as a telephone, with access to it from their homes and offices.

"I saw how it could affect business. I saw that business data, financial data, accounting data, orders, files would be moved back and forth," he added. "But, if you will, the casual use, the social as opposed to the business use, was not there in my mind. I'd never imagined that my 99-year-old mother would be on the Internet. And she was until she passed away two years ago.... The fact that it does penetrate so deeply into society and everything we do -- how we play and interact with people and reach out and form communities -- that it occupies so much individual attention" was unfathomable four decades ago.

Kleinrock said he's not on Facebook and doesn't Twitter , but he understands the appeal and the global allure of such apps. Instead, he's attached to his BlackBerry, sends and receives a lot of e-mail and is a big user of Google search.

"I love the fact that we are constantly being surprised by new applications that just come along and take over the network," he noted. "E-mail was unpredicted and it came in and, whoosh, it just took over. Then there was Napster, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, all the social networks... whoosh, they just took over. Nobody saw these things coming. What I love about the Internet is that it's an innovation engine. You see things come out of nowhere and they'll just catch fire."

Kleinrock, however, also didn't anticipate the dark side of the Internet -- the spam, viruses, identity theft and denial-of-service attacks. And if he could go back and do it all over again, he'd try to develop the network with those things in mind.

"When we started this network, we knew everybody in the community that was using it," he explained. "We trusted everybody. We had a sense of openness and sharing. Everybody could participate and share with others. We did not build in limitations and restrictions. We did not add something we should have and that's strong user authentication and file authentication. If someone said they were Joe Smith, there would be a way to prove it.... I would build in the ability to enforce strong user and file authentications and then I would have turned it off immediately so we could have this free, open access to allow the network to catch fire and grow. Then, I would have introduced it once it was needed."


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