Interviewed by John Papageorge
Larry Roberts has done more for world communication than just about anyone on the planet. And as the father of the Internet and the creator of e-mail, he's probably the best person to guide his network child into adulthood.
Roberts, winner of the 1981 Erickson Award, began thinking about creating a computer network way back in 1962. Although he was convinced the concept of computers communicating with each other would be "the next step of evolution for the computer field and the next major step for mankind," not everyone shared his enthusiasm.
Congress didn't understand. Phone company executives told Roberts that transferring information over the Internet via a concept called packet switching would "blow up in his face." Even the academic and research communities didn't want anything to do with a publicly accessible Internet system. "They wanted it all to themselves," Roberts recalls.
As it turned out, packet switching was more effective than circuit switching by a 15-to-1 economic ratio. And the Internet far surpassed its original concept, which was simply to interlink software and data between terminals. It has become the most powerful communication tool to have emerged since the printing press.
Roberts, however, knows that everything is not hunky-dory. If measures aren't taken to correct a flow-control problem on the Internet, it's heading for a crash. "It's a bad scenario," he says, "because as the volume on the network grows, the speeds of everything have to go up. But the network is losing more and more data in the oscillation peaks, so the efficiency goes down as the speed of the network goes up."
Considered the elder statesman of the Internet, Roberts is passionate about the means to extend age and improve performance. "The thing I have concluded," he says, "is that evolution really has tried to get rid of us after childbearing age. It doesn't really need us around, given the old caveman scenario. There are 15 things that I've identified that are programmed to kill you. I've chosen the best supplement for each thing."
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