Mon, Nov 04, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Fifty years after Internet conception, dark side stirs fear

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

Leonard Kleinrock poses on Sept. 24 at his new lab under construction at the University of California Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, one month ahead of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Internet.

Photo: AFP

On Oct. 29, 1969, 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 — hailed 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 is opening a new lab devoted to all things related to the Internet — particularly mitigating some of its unintended consequences, which is now used by some four billion people worldwide.

“To some point it democratizes everyone,” Kleinrock said. “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 said.

“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.”

BUSINESS BEING BAD

He blamed many of the Internet’s ills on businesses hawking things that are outdated or unneeded, violating privacy to increase profit.

Instead of clever lone hackers that vexed the Internet in its early days, bad actors now include nation states, organized 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 the Internet’s woes being solved with encryption, blockchain or other innovations.

“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.”

WHAT KIND OF BEAST?

In the early days, US telecom colossus AT&T ran the lines connecting the computers for ARPANET, a project backed with money from a research arm of the US military.

A key to getting computers to exchange data was breaking digitized information into packets fired between machines with no wasting of time, Kleinrock said.

A grad student began typing “LOG” to log into the distant computer, which crashed after getting the “O.”

“So, the first message was ‘Lo’ as in ‘Lo and behold,’” Kleinrock recounted. “We couldn’t have a better, more succinct first message.”

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