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October 1, 2012 | 1 comment

It was 4:00 in the morning, and Leonard Kleinrock was sitting inside MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory on the outskirts of Boston, hunched in front of a massive computer system known as the TX-2.

This was the early 1960s, and Kleinrock, an MIT graduate student, was designing a new means of sending information between the TX-2 and other computers of the day. But on this particular night, he was at the end of his rope. “I was tired. I was hungry. I was grumpy. And I had a bad taste in my mouth,” Kleinrock remembers. And then the TX-2 started to hiss.

The TX-2 was an experimental machine, and, well, this was the early 1960s. Kleinrock was worried the system was about to die on him. Just above his head, there was a small gap in the front of the system — an 8-inch by 1-inch hole where a panel had been removed for repairs — and as he looked through the gap, he suddenly realized where the hiss was coming from.

“I saw two eyes staring back at me through the hole in the console. It was that son of bitch Larry Roberts!” Kleinrock says. And in this case, “son of bitch” is a term of affection. Larry Roberts...

September 24, 2012 | 0 comments

Lawrence Roberts calls himself the founder of the Internet. And it’s hard to argue with him.

In 1966, the U.S. Department of Defense hired Roberts to design the ARPAnet, a computer network that would connect various research outfits across the country. He based the network on a brand-new concept called “packet-switching,” and thanks in large part to this choice, the ARPAnet would eventually morph into the modern Internet.

This past April, in recognition of his work, Larry Roberts was inducted into the Internet Society’s (ISOC) Internet Hall of Fame, alongside such seminal thinkers as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the web; Ray Tomlinson, the father of email; and Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, the fathers of TCP/IP, the fundamental protocols that underpin the Internet.

The irony is that Larry Roberts didn’t want to build the ARPAnet. As internet historian Jim Pelkey puts it, Roberts was “blackmailed” into taking the job.

In the early 1960s, Roberts was a researcher at MIT’s Lincoln Lab on the outskirts of Boston, where he built a system...

September 18, 2012 | 0 comments

Building a computer network in space, as Google’s Vint Cerf has proposed, is all well and good, but Toru Takahashi wants to foster better digital communication much closer to home. “Cerf is very eager for interplanetary communication, I think some kind of inner-mind communication is what’s needed,” says Takahashi with only a bit of leg pulling.

Takahashi, like Cerf, is considered an Internet pioneer and has spent decades promoting the internet and better communication in his native Japan. The power of the internet as a mode to bring people closer together is what drove the Internet Hall of Fame inductee to leave a career as a writer and editor in the early ‘80s and put his energy toward assembling the pieces of what would become the internet in Japan.

Unlike many of his peers, Takahashi came relatively late to the technology world. Trained at Tohoku University in the mid ‘60s in aesthetics and art history, he was introduced to technology when he took on a marketing job at the Laboratory of Innovation for Quality of Life, a sort of technology think tank. After the think tank, Takahashi landed at Digital Computer Limited where he managed UNIX workstations and the development of high-speed networks. “Everything was so fresh and attractive,” Takahashi says. “I learned UNIX, studied artificial intelligence, database technologies, everything was fascinating.”

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September 11, 2012 | 0 comments

The fundamental technology underpinning the Internet is called packet-switching. And Donald Davies was the first one to call it that.

In the mid-1960s, Davies was a researcher with Britain’s National Physical Laboratory, or NPL, when he started exploring a new breed of networking that involved breaking information into tiny messages, before shipping them from place to place. He dubbed the tiny messages “packets,” and after he and other NPL researchers unveiled a paper on this research, the name stuck — as did the technology. In a very big way.

At the time, others were developing similar networking techniques, including Paul Baran at the RAND Corporation, Leonard Kleinrock at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Larry Roberts with ARPA, the research operation funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, and all four of these efforts dovetailed as Roberts and ARPA spawned the ARPAnet, a packet-switched network that would eventually give rise to the internet.

“Kleinrock, Baran, Davies, and Roberts developed their [packet-switching] ideas pretty much independently,” says...

September 6, 2012 | 0 comments

Paul Baran set out to build a means of communication that could survive a nuclear war. And he ended up inventing the fundamental networking techniques that underpin the internet.

In the early 1960s — as an engineer with the RAND Corporation, the U.S. armed-forces think tank founded in the wake of the Second World War — Baran developed a new breed of communication system that could keep running even if part of it was knocked out by a nuclear blast. It was the height of the Cold War, and the nuclear threat was very much on the mind of, well, just about everyone.

Basically, Baran cooked up a system that could divide communications into tiny pieces and use distributed network “nodes” to pass these pieces around. If one node was knocked out, the others could pick up the slack. In 1964, he published a paper on this system — entitled “On Distributed Communications” — and a few years later, it would play into the development of the ARPAnet, the research network that would eventually morph into the modern internet.

Paul Baran passed away in March 2011, but his work lives on — in more ways than one. Earlier this year, he was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Internet Society’s (ISOC) Internet Hall of Fame, taking his place alongside such names a...