Leonard Kleinrock visits Politecnico di Milano

The “father” of the first network connections attends an event on the past, present and future of the Internet

No workshop on the early days of the internet, present-day issues and the future prospects of the Internet would be complete without the contribution of a “pioneer” in communication between computers: Prof. Leonard Kleinrock, who gave a fascinating speech on network optimisation and congestion control.  Along with other speakers, Kleinrock also commemorated Prof. Mario Gerla, a Polimi graduate who recently passed away, with whom he worked on the first developments of the Internet.

Leonard Kleinrock is Professor Emeritus in Computer Science at the University of California (UCLA) and is considered one of the fathers of the Internet. In 1962, while still a PhD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he developed the mathematical theory of packet networks, the technology that underpins the Web. He then became a professor at UCLA and in 1969 the first message between computers was transmitted from his host computer, the first node of the internet. The team that he led in the 1970s, which included Prof. Gerla and Prof. Fratta who later became a professor at our university, played a fundamental role in developing ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. 

A visionary, Kleinrock back in 1969 forecasted the future widespread diffusion of information technologies and the Internet across the world and wrote in a press release, “Right now, computer networks are still in their infancy. But as they grow and become more sophisticated, we will likely see the diffusion of ‘information technologies’ which, like current electric and telephone utilities, will serve individual houses and offices across the country.”

As well as numerous international awards and recognitions, in 2007 Kleinrock received the National Medal of Science, the highest honour conferred by the President of the United States for his achievements in the field of science. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the major international scientific associations. 

During his address to the Politecnico, Kleinrock explained how best to manage network congestion: simple, important and general results to understand that the best outcome is achieved by respecting the rule: “Keep the pipe just full, but no fuller”. Find out how much data traffic the network can support without problems arising and use this information to not overload the flow or underuse its capacity.

Responding to questions on the future of the Internet, he expressed concern about network attacks, which could destroy the very essence of the Internet, turning it into a closed system controlled by just a few people. Despite these fears, Kleinrock said he is still hopeful that advanced security systems will be developed. “One solution could be homomorphic encryption which enables the encryption of data and programmes and prevents them from being decrypted until they need to be read. Another possibility is defining an architecture where elements crossing the network do not reveal either their origin or destination, important information for anyone trying to penetrate the system. In terms of infrastructure, however, the direction is clear: IOT, mobility, nomadic computing… All this will probably lead to a global system where the Internet will be everywhere and invisible, a bit like electricity.” Kleinrock then underlined how it is almost impossible to forecast the applications of this evolution, like what happened with email, Napster, YouTube and social networks. “And this is great. We have created a system that will continue to surprise us with new functionality and is basically a formula for future generations to create new applications, continually stimulating creativity and innovation.”