Q&A: An Internet Pioneer Moves toward Nomadic Computing

In reporting the story titled "The Earth Will Don an Electronic Skin," Senior Writer Neil Gross caught up with Leonard Kleinrock, co-inventor of packet switching technology, which became the bedrock technology of the Internet. Thirty years ago in September, Kleinrock managed the team that set up the first node of the Internet at the University of California at Los Angeles. Kleinrock is currently a professor of computer science at UCLA. He is also the founder of a nomadic computing and communications company called Nomadix, located in Santa Monica, Calif. Their conversation covered everything from nomadic computing to the sciences of complexity. Here are excerpts from that interview:

Q: What aspects of the Internet really excite you these days?
A: The Internet is an entire social phenomenon. One of the first things we put on the Internet, way back when, was E-mail. That just took over the network. It wasn't a planned, controlled, or monitored event. Watching it happen, I began to get an inkling that people-to-people interactions would drive this thing. A good example is the Motley Fools site. Its strength comes from interaction among people.

Q: How did you act on that awareness?
I redirected my career plans and formed a company to take advantage of the strong move toward nomadic computing. We are moving out of cyberspace and into physical space, into smart spaces. The environment will be alive with technology, with new capability, and much of it will be hidden. We will no longer be bound to desktop computers.

Q: What set of problems is your company trying to solve?
A: Here's one example: When you move from office to office, or go on the road, you lose connectivity and access to your network administrator. If you bring your laptop to my office, it can't run. It's not configured right. It has to deal with a different IP address, a different proxy, a different domain-name server, a different gateway. Nomadix is about providing the capability for your computer to adapt to a new environment automatically, using wireless technology.

Q: What will such nomadic technology look like in 10 years?
A: A lot of the technology will be hidden. The thermostat does a wonderful job. It controls heat. You don't have to throw logs on the fireplace. The same thing will happen with your computing needs.

Q: Sometimes the Internet seems to be taking on a life of its own. If we think of it as a complex adaptive system, a system that develops and evolves on its own, what kinds of things could go wrong?
A: Suppose we rely on complex systems to obey goals that we set for them. Hopefully, they will obey, but that's not a given. If the goal is poorly stated or corrupted, how will we be aware that the system is trying to accomplish something we did not intend?

In the early days of ARPANET, even when we had only three machines, we were able to uncover logical errors in the routing protocol, or the flow-control protocol which would cause network failures. Those errors are hard to detect ahead of time, especially as the system gets more complex. It's easy to detect the cause of a massive crash or degradation. But complex systems have latent failure modes that we have not yet excited. There is always potential for deadlocks, crashes, degradations, errant behavior. This is almost a fact of life. As systems get more complex, they crash in incredible and glorious ways.

Q: How do we cope with that?
A: What you want to have is a self-repairing mode. One of the principles is that a properly distributed system repairs itself. If one part fails, other parts continue to function. The brain does this well. The immune system does, too. There's redundancy. The environment is distributed.

Q: Where does the Internet go from here?
A: We will have a huge number of devices serving us, all connected to one another, and to the Internet. The environment will be alive with technology. There's going to be two-way interaction. As you move, you and the devices attached to you will become aware of the environment. You will discover the environment. And the flip side is, it will discover you, become aware of your presence, your needs. Profiles will come up on computers you touch. As you move around, it's a world of interactivity.

Q: But there's a dark side, in terms of privacy?
A: Yes, privacy is one of the scarcest commodities around. And it's getting more and more scarce. If you carry a pager or cell phone, the world knows where those devices are at all times when they're on. A pager is constantly probing the environment.

Q: Is there a solution to the privacy conundrum?
A: You probably will choose to keep fewer things private. The only way to get around the problem is to make things public.

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·14: The Earth Will Don an Electronic Skin

ONLINE ORIGINAL: Q&A: An Internet Pioneer Moves toward Nomadic Computing

VIDEO Cherry Murray, Head of Physical Research Lab, Bell Labs
(Needs G2 Player)

Sante Fe Institute

Dr. Leonard Kleinrock's web page

Dr. Leonard Kleinrock's personal history of the internet

30th Anniversary, birth of the internet at UCLA

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