On October 29, 1969, professor Leonard Kleinrock and a team at the University of California at Los Angeles got a computer to “talk” to a machine in what is now known as Silicon Valley. The event gave birth to a network that later became known as the internet. They hailed it at first as a boon to equality and enlightenment, but with a dark side that has emerged as well.
As UCLA marks the anniversary, Kleinrock opened a new lab devoted to all things related to the internet. It particularly mitigates some of its unintended consequences on the internet which some four billion people worldwide use.
“To some point it democratizes everyone,” Kleinrock told AFP. “But it is also a perfect formula for the dark side, as we have learned.”
So much is shouted online that moderate voices are drowned out and extreme viewpoints are amplified, spewing hate, misinformation and abuse, he contended.
“As engineers, we were not thinking in terms of nasty behavior,” said Kleinrock, 85. “I totally missed the social networking side. I was thinking about people talking to computers or computers talking to computers, not people talking to people.”
The new Connection Lab will welcome research on topics including machine learning, social networking, blockchain and the internet of things, with an eye toward thwarting online evils.
Kleinrock expressed particular interest in using blockchain technology to attach reputations to people or things online to provide a gauge of who or what to trust.
For example, someone reading an online restaurant review would be able to see how reliable that author’s posts have been.
“It is a network of reputation that is constantly up to date,” Kleinrock said. “The challenge is how to do that in an ethical and responsible fashion; anonymity is a two-edged sword, of course.”
Businesses being bad
He blamed many of the internet’s ills on businesses hawking outdated or unneeded things, violating privacy to increase profit.
Instead of clever lone hackers that vexed the internet in its early days, bad actors now include nation states, organised crime and powerful corporations “doing big, bad things,” Kleinrock lamented.
“We were not the social scientists that we should have been,” Kleinrock said of the internet’s early days.
He regretted a lack of foresight to build into the very foundation of the internet tools for better authenticating users and data files. “It wouldn’t have avoided the dark side, but it would have ameliorated it,” he said.
He remained optimistic about encryption, blockchain or other innovations solving the internet’s woes.
“I do still worry. I think everyone is feeling the impact of this very dark side of the internet that has bubbled up.”
Kleinrock said, “I still feel that the benefits are far more significant; I wouldn’t turn off the internet if I could.”