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The first data ever transmitted over Arpanet, the precursor of the internet, blipped from a computer at the University of California, Los Angeles to one at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto on Oct. 29, 1969.

That evening, the team at UCLA got on the phone with the SRI team and began typing “LOGIN.” “We typed the L and we asked, ‘Did you get the L?’” the UCLA computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock recently recalled. “‘Yep’ came the reply from SRI. We typed the O and asked, ‘Did you get the O?’ ‘Yep.’ We typed the G and asked, ‘Did you get the G?’ Crash! The SRI host had crashed. Thus was the first message that launched the revolution we now call the internet.”

The ability of networks to transmit data — as well as their tendency to crash, or otherwise behave unpredictably — has always fascinated Stephanie Wehner. “On a single computer, things will happen nice and sequentially,” said Wehner, a physicist and computer scientist at Delft University of Technology. “On a network, many unexpected things can happen.” This is true in two senses: Programs on connected computers interfere with one another, with surprising effects. And users of networks get creative. With the internet, Wehner noted, initially “people thought we would use it to send around some files.”

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