Thirty-five years after computer scientists at UCLA linked two bulky computers using a 15-foot gray cable, testing a new way to exchange data over networks, what would ultimately become the Internet remains a work in progress.
University researchers are experimenting with ways to increase its capacity and speed. Programmers are trying to imbue Web pages with intelligence. And work is underway to re-engineer the network to reduce spam and security troubles.
All the while threats loom: Critics warn that commercial, legal and political pressures could hinder the types of innovations that made the Internet what it is today.
Stephen Crocker and Vinton Cerf were among the graduate students who joined UCLA professor Len Kleinrock in an engineering lab on September 2, 1969, as bits of meaningless test data flowed silently between the two computers. By January, three other “nodes” joined the fledgling network.
Then came e-mail a few years later, a core communications protocol called TCP/IP in the late 1970s, the domain name system in the 1980s and the World Wide Web — now the second most popular application behind e-mail — in 1990. The Internet expanded beyond its initial military and educational domain into businesses and homes around the world.
Today, Crocker continues work on the Internet, designing better tools for collaboration. And as security chairman for the Internet’s key oversight body, he is trying to defend the core addressing system from outside threats, including an attempt last year by a private search engine to grab Web surfers who mistype addresses.