Overcoming Doubts to Change the World
By Angela Farren ’13
On Monday, February 11, Robert Kahn, co-founder of the TCP/IP Internet network protocol, conducted the lecture, “Past, Present, and Future of the Internet,” before a group of Lehigh students and faculty in Neville Auditorium.
The LU/UN Partnership, the computer science and engineering department, Library and Technology Services and the Global Union co-sponsored the event.
The lecture presented the evolution of the Internet, from when it emerged in the form of the 16-bit ARPANET (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) to its transformation into a global technological necessity.
“When we started working on the internet,” said Kahn, “no one thought it was a good idea.”
Kahn earned his Ph. D. from Princeton University in 1964, worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories, and then became an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1972, after he started working at the Information Processing Techniques Office, he started considering the possibility of connecting networks.
Seniors in his field warned him that there was no future there, but he could not subdue his intellectual curiosity.
Kahn was convinced of the need to develop an open-architecture network model, where any network could communicate with any other network, independent of individual hardware and software configuration.
“The bottom line is that it was an interesting research challenge,” said Kahn. “I wanted to know how you get computers, networks, protocols and applications to work together.”
After several years, his research led to the development of the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol that allowed for the routing of data packets and Internetworking, also known as the Internet.
Emma Diehl ’13, an English major, said it was inspiring to see how Kahn’s interests, though initially frowned upon by his superiors, ultimately transformed the world.
“Before going into the lecture, I knew nothing about the creation of the Internet,” said Diehl. “To hear Dr. Kahn explain the intricacies of the inception of creating networks was unreal.”
Kahn said he never foresaw the positive impact the Internet would have on society. For example, there was a major economic boom in the 1990s that can be attributed to Internet activity. Companies used it to make their businesses more effective; it allowed for marketing and sales to transcend national boundaries and reach customers across the globe.
The Internet helped bring about the globalized world we live in today. So where will it take us in the future?
“No one can imagine all the kinds of innovations that are likely to show up,” said Kahn. “We know how important wireless has become, we know things are moving toward faster and higher speeds, and we know social networking is taking over, but that’s about it.”
Kahn argued that the future of technological advancements is impossible to predict. It’s either a linear derivative of the innovations made now or the question simply can’t be answered.
Kahn concluded his lecture by urging students to take advantage of the technological foundation that has been laid before them.
“The future of technology lies in the hands of every individual sitting in this room,” he said. “What was done in the past is simply the starting point.”
February 21, 2013