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A Milestone in Technology

By UCLA Chancellor Gene Block

Published Jan 1, 2020 8:00 AM

The network we now know as the internet had its beginnings at UCLA. And we’ve made a long journey down that superhighway.


“Today, of course, our lives have been transformed in so many ways thanks to the supercomputers we all carry in our pockets," UCLA Chancellor Gene Block says. Photography by Ted Catanzaro '84.

As UCLA celebrates our 100th anniversary, we also recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of a milestone in technology that forever changed the world.

In 1969, UCLA was one of the first universities connected to the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) — a network designed by universities, businesses and the government that allowed them all to share files electronically for the first time. UCLA was the first to be selected as a “node” on the network, and on Oct. 29, 1969, UCLA Professor Leonard Kleinrock and his graduate students were preparing to send the first message — the word “login” — over what would become the internet.

From a nondescript classroom in Boelter Hall, they entered the first two letters — “LO” — before the network crashed and went dark. But the message was received up at the Stanford Research Institute, and a new era had officially begun.

Professor Kleinrock and his team could only begin to imagine how that moment would change the world, just as UCLA alumnus Vinton Cerf M.S. ’70, Ph.D. ’72, could never have known where the first internet protocol would take the network when he helped write it.

Today, of course, our lives have been transformed in so many ways thanks to the supercomputers we all carry in our pockets. This past fall, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering hosted a wonderful conference to honor the legacy of that first online transmission and stimulate a discussion of where we are headed in the future.

Professor Kleinrock was joined by Cerf, now Google’s vice president and chief internet evangelist; Apple Vice President of Software Technology Guy Tribble; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; and The New York Times journalist Katie Hafner, among many other distinguished guests, for a day of fascinating panel discussions and presentations.

As much as today’s internet has revolutionized how we connect, access knowledge and help one another, the conference focused on some vexing problems we must now address, including privacy issues, propaganda and data theft.

“I have to wonder what happened to the internet I knew,” Professor Kleinrock told the crowd assembled at Royce Hall this past fall. “We’ve lost our way. We have to find some way to fix it collectively. How did we get from there to here?”

Things changed in 1994, he said, shortly after the World Wide Web was formed and the first spam email went out. Suddenly, people saw an opportunity to exploit the internet for personal gain.

Today, online transactions and interactions have become such a natural part of our lives that we cannot undo that progress. But we must work collectively, in the spirit of the idea that launched ARPANET, to find workable solutions that ensure a more open internet for all.

Looking back at this discovery and all of the other life-changing breakthroughs that UCLA has achieved over the past 100 years, I have no doubt that the talented researchers and students who work and study here now and in the future will play a lead role in making the internet, and society, even better for future generations.