April 16, 2024 #1 Local News, Information and Event Source for the Century City/Westwood areas.

The Guy’s a Genius, What Can We Say?

Leonard Kleinrock

At age 6, Leonard Kleinrock made a crystal radio by wrapping copper wire around an empty toilet paper roll. “This is magic,†he thought, as he listened to broadcasts from faraway places.

He got the instructions for building his little radio out of a comic book.
By the time he got to graduate school at MIT, it was Kleinrock who was writing the books.

Kleinrock as a young scientist

His PhD thesis, “Message Delay in Communication Nets with Storage,†dealt with a problem that nobody was paying much attention to in those days; that computers couldn’t “talk†to other computers.

Kleinrock came up with the idea for something called “packet switching,†which means sending information over long-distance wires in small bursts of bits and bytes. This work created the building blocks of the modern Internet although nobody really knew it at the time.

He had a feeling he was on to something.  Although he predicted the profound changes wrought by the modern computer, few were interested at the time. AT&T responded with a “Thanks, but no thanks.â€

Kleinrock received the National Medal of Science at the White House recently.

Eventually, a group called ARPA (Advanced Research Project Agency), a branch of the Defense Department formed by President Eisenhower in response to Sputnik, agreed to back Kleinrock and several others who wanted to pursue the challenge of getting computers to communicate with one another.

Kleinrock came to UCLA in 1963 and joined the faculty of what later became the Computer Science department. He rose to department head in the nineties and today, at age 74, still serves as a professor.

Kleinrock stands next to the first internet router.

Kleinrock described what it was like sending the first message from UCLA to Stanford Research Institute (SRI) at 10:30 p.m. on the evening of October 29, 1969. He and his associates began to type in “LOGIN†to get their session started.

After they typed in the letter “L,†they asked their colleagues at SRI, who were connected to the UCLA team by telephone, if they had received the “L.â€

Yes, they had, they reported.

Then they typed in the “O.†Yes, they got that, too.

Their excitement grew. But at the letter “G,†SRI’s computer crashed. And that was it – at least for this first test drive.

So the first word ever sent over the Internet was “LO.â€

“Lo and behold,†laughed Kleinrock. “That’s kind of the story here, isn’t it?â€

In the 1960s, computers were as big as commercial refrigerators. Kleinrock still has the original computer over which the first Internet message was sent.

In 1989, 20 years after the first experiment, Kleinrock offered this computer to the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian wasn’t interested. They didn’t know what the Internet was.

It took another five to ten years before people began to grasp that the Internet was about to revolutionize how we live and work.

Kleinrock teaches at UCLA

Kleinrock and his colleagues chose to share their innovation instead of “fencing it in with patents.†Their openness allowed fellow researchers to build on their revolutionary work which has benefited us all.

Kleinrock and his team had a pretty good idea that the infrastructure they were creating would be big someday. But, he added, he is still constantly amazed at all the new and exciting ways people come up with to use it.

“Today’s Internet innovators are more motivated by the promise of financial rewards than we were,†he said.

Back in the days when he and his colleagues were developing the basis for all this, there were few secrets. Computer scientists from all over the country readily shared information. Had it not been that way, it would have been a lot harder to connect all the dots, said Kleinrock.

People were open and trusting before SPAM and identity theft existed. It never occurred to them to build in safeguards against such things.

As the technology continues to evolve, Kleinrock, who was just awarded the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony (this is the nation’s highest scientific honor, bestowed on eight scientists a year), said the Internet will be “invisible and everywhere†– running our appliances, controlling our room temperatures, connecting our earpieces to our phones, communicating with our cars, our pacemakers – everything.

Kleinrock does not seek special credit for any of this. He’s quick to name names of the fellow scientists who were with him on the ground floor.  

Today he is happy spending more time with his wife of 41 years, Stella, four grown children and six grandchildren. He studies Japanese, Karate and loves teaching today’s most promising graduate students.

“I’m very gratified to have been a part of all this,†he chortled. “They actually pay me to do this.â€

It looks like the last laugh will be Kleinrock’s as well.

Now, curators from the Smithsonian call Kleinrock regularly asking for the computer that was used to send the first message over the Internet in 1969 – but now he won’t give it to them.

It will likely become part of an “Internet Museum†at UCLA that is under consideration.

Dr. Kleinrock’s inner six-year-old still has yet another crystal radio to build.

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