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Shaping the Internet's Future 29 October 2019

The Invisible Internet

Editor’s Note: Fifty years ago today, on October 29th, 1969, a team at UCLA started to transmit five letters to the Stanford Research Institute: LOGIN. It’s an event that we take for granted now – communicating over a network – but it was historic. It was the first message sent over the ARPANET, one of the precursors to the Internet. UCLA computer science professor Leonard Kleinrock and his team sent that first message. In this anniversary guest post, Professor Kleinrock shares his vision for what the Internet might become.

On July 3, 1969, four months before the first message of the Internet was sent, I was quoted in a UCLA press release in which I articulated my vision of what the Internet would become. Much of that vision has been realized (including one item I totally missed, namely, that social networking would become so dominant). But there was a critical component of that vision which has not yet been realized. I call that the invisible Internet. What I mean is that the Internet will be invisible in the sense that electricity is invisible – electricity has the extremely simple interface of a socket in the wall from which something called electricity is provided reliably and invisibly. Well, the Internet is anything but invisible as yet. Its interface often includes a clumsy, sometimes tiny, keyboard, using a small screen displaying characters that may be smaller than my aging eyes can accommodate and applications that incorporate navigation tools which are clumsy, nonstandard, and frustrating.

Such an invisible Internet will provide intelligent spaces. When I enter such a space, it should know I entered and it should present to me an experience that matches my privileges, profile, and preferences. These spaces can be any location on earth, i.e., my room, my desk, my automobile, my fingernails, my body, my favorite shopping mall, London, or even the Dead Sea. Moreover, I should be able to interact with that space using human friendly interfaces such as speech, gestures, haptics and, eventually, brain-to-Internet interfaces. Indeed, what I am talking about is characterized by a pervasive global nervous system across this planet. The Internet will be everywhere and it will be invisible.

Technology is moving us forward toward such an invisible Internet as we deploy the Internet of Things in our physical space. It takes the form of embedded devices consisting of sensors, actuators, logic, memory, communications, microphones, speakers, cameras, and displays. This is where physical devices disappear into the infrastructure. Moreover, we are also beginning to deploy intelligent software agents acting on our behalf, and customized to our desires; they provide alerts, information, suggestions, and act on our behalf. They could also be useful in enforcing the privacy policy we expect to be applied to us when we access web-based services.

We recognize that such an environment is a highly distributed network of intelligent devices and agents and we may well see the application of blockchain-distributed ledger technology to help implement this invisible Internet.

What will the Internet look like in another fifty years? Explore the Global Internet Report and learn how you can help shape the Internet’s future.


Image of Leonard Kleinrock with the Interface Message Processor at UCLA’s Boelter Hall, where the first message was sent ©Tsutsumida Pictures

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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