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A HISTORY OF COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS: 1968 -1988

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Leonard Kleinrock

Leonard Kleinrock

In 1963, Leonard Kleinrock earned his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He had earlier earned his MSEE (1959) from MIT and his BEE (1957) from the City College of New York. His roommates at MIT, Larry Roberts and Ivan Sutherland, shared notable dissertation Advisors, Claude Shannon and Marvin Minsky, and demonstrated their dissertations on the same day using the TX-2 computer at Lincoln Labs that they, and others, had shared for the last three years. Kleinrock describes his dissertation, and thus demonstration, as: “devoted to the study of communication networks, and it basically laid out the analytic formulations for the performance evaluation of what we now call packet networks. It also looked into the design issues; how you do capacity assignment, routing, topology design, etc., of these networks.” McGraw-Hill published his dissertation in 1964 under the title: "Communication Nets; Stochastic Message Flow and Delay." In addition to a continuing prolific output of technical articles and another book, Kleinrock maintained a heavy academic load including twenty-six graduate students by 1988. Three will play important roles in this history: Steve Crocker, Jon Postel and Vint Cerf.

When Kleinrock’s secretary confirmed an interview date and time, she made it clear that he had to leave at 1:00 PM to catch a flight to Washington D.C. So when I was in the UCLA Engineering offices to conduct another interview, I made sure I could weave my way again through the buildings and hallways to arrive on time. (Although Kleinrock alludes to “my review committee,” it was more formally the National Research Network Review Committee that he chaired and was comprised of eighteen highly regarded scientists. The Committee authored the influential report: Toward a National Research Network that was published by the National Academy Press before year-end 1988.) I was unfamiliar with Kleinrock until I started interviewing others, when it quickly became obvious that he should be included on the must interview list. I was nervous, but he soon made me feel comfortable and he was very forthcoming with information and supportive material. I wish we had had more time to talk, but I think an interested reader will find Kleinrock’s remarks and perspective very valuable.

I was fascinated that Kleinrock had an interest in entrepreneurialism. He mentions two companies in this interview – TTI and Linkabit – and I further discovered that he helped found the Computer Channel in 1988. I easily inferred that he had “ bitten the bug” and would start more companies in the future. I also learned that he has a great sense of humor: see the story of how he met “Howie” Frank, for instance.

Keywords: MIT, UCLA, Arpanet, network topology

Leonard Kleinrock Interviewed by James Pelkey 4/27/88