09/02/99- Updated 03:17 PM ET


Who really invented the Net?

4 'forefathers' differ on who deserves credit

By Bruce Haring, USA TODAY

What lies ahead?
The Net's founders predict its future
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"Nomadic computing, providing access while you're on the road so that the Internet services you see when you're someplace else are no different than what you have back in your office."
--Leonard Kleinrock
"Radio-based links into the Net will be very typical. If you have a question, you'll whip out your Palm Pilot with a radio link and go on the Net and pull the data out."
--Vinton Cerf
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"Many sites in the research community will have access at gigabyte speed to the Internet. You'll see the increasing introduction of wireless access, so people don't have to feel tethered to the Net. And we're going to see increasing content."
--Robert Kahn


"The Internet will become the pervasive network for the world's telecom traffic. Voice and video will transfer over to it in the next five to 10 years. Clearly, you're going to have video on demand, radio or TV, that can have millions of different sources or special subjects that (small numbers) care about."
--Lawrence Roberts

The date was Oct. 29, 1969. The laboratory of professor Leonard Kleinrock at the University of California at Los Angeles was about to give birth to the Internet.

Kleinrock's research assistant, Charley Kline, was wearing a communications headset as he sat at a terminal hooked to an interface message processor, the first computer network switch. On Kleinrock's command, Kline spoke with a colleague at Stanford University in the Bay Area, the other end of the long-distance, high-speed line.

"All we wanted to do was (type the words) 'log in,' " recalls Kleinrock, whose groundbreaking research in network data-packet switching led to the historic moment.

Kline typed the "L." Stanford acknowledged that the letter had been received.

Kline typed the "O." Also received.

Kline typed the "G."

The system crashed.

The first message sent across the Net turned out to be quite appropriate -- either the biblical word "lo" or, phonetically, a version of "hello," Kleinrock says.

An hour later, they got the system up and running and completed the experiment as planned. The Net was born -- at least, some contend it was.

In the 30 years since, millions of messages and files have traveled across the worldwide computer network that sprang from that humble beginning. Kleinrock, with Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf and Lawrence G. Roberts -- the three other men considered key to what today is known as the Internet -- will speak Thursday at a UCLA symposium devoted to the medium's birth, its current state and its future.

Kleinrock is still at UCLA and also is head of a company called Nomadix, devoted to computer use beyond the desktop. Kahn is president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, a not-for-profit organization devoted to research for the nation's information infrastructure. Cerf is MCI's senior vice president for Internet architecture and technology, and Roberts is president and CEO of Packetcom.com, a communications-switching research firm.

Though they share a crucial role in shaping electronic communications, the four will not be on the same screen regarding certain Net issues, including who can properly lay claim to "fathering" the Internet.

Kleinrock's experiment made his computer the first node of the Advanced Research Projects Agency's ARPANET, the world's first major packet-data transmission network. Conceived in the United States' scientific scramble after the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite, ARPANET was a single network linking some of the nation's research computers.

As time went on, other networks were built. Many contend that the ability to link from any computer into any network (research that began in the 1970s and was fully implemented in 1983) is what forms the Net we know today.

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For those who subscribe to that Internet creation theory, Cerf and Roberts, who co-designed the architecture for the collective network system and its basic communications protocols, TCP/IP, are the true fathers of the Internet.

Because the issue is clearly a matter of perspective, the founding fathers have reached something of an uneasy standoff on the issue.

"I think that the old arguments that will come up at the (UCLA) conference and have come up over and over is everybody is claiming responsibility for everything at this point," says Roberts, who was the designer and developer of ARPANET.

But one thing all agree on is that the Internet was not conceived as a fail-safe communications tool in case of nuclear war, a much-promulgated myth over the years. The Rand Research Institute was developing a study shortly after ARPANET's birth that has been confused with the research-oriented ARPANET and subsequent developments.

Nuclear war "wasn't the reason we did anything," Roberts says. "That story is just wrong."

Despite such myths and disputes, the four "forefathers" share a pride in the commerce, entertainment and other opportunities that have sprung from their research.

And one regret.

"I didn't get to play with this stuff until I was 28," laments Cerf, echoing his colleagues.

"I often envy the kids who are 8 years old and hacking the Net. They got to do it 20 years before I did. I had to go off and invent it."

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