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Hacking the elevator's controller

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Why the Internet is designed with security flaws
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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We had this thing called the ARPANET which was the precursor to the Internet. And then when the Internet came out which was the ARPANET that we would let other people onto it was just as we were starting Thinking Machines. And I remember we introduced the 'dot com' convention and you could register things. And so I actually got to register the third domain name. The first one was BBNN, it was the people who developed the internet. The second one was Symbolics. And then it came time for me to register, and I could have any name I wanted. And so I picked 'Think.com' which is still registered as the third oldest domain name.

And I remember thinking at the time, I was like, wow, maybe I should register some others because people, you know, a lot of these others people are going to want. Maybe I should get some other, you know, good ones. And then I thought, oh, that wouldn't be very nice to register a domain name that I wouldn't actually use. So I didn't. But that was kind of, you know, the spirit of things back in those days. We were all trying to be nice to each other, we all knew each other. Which is also why the Internet is designed with the security flaws it has because we all did know each other, we kind of trusted each other. So it was designed to be a network among trusted peers.

And we all were pretty trustworthy. If somebody did something bad like used up too much bandwidth you'd talk to them and say, okay, well I'll do it at two o'clock in the morning when you're not using it. It was a small number of people. I mean, I still have my internet directory from, I don't know, actually quite a few years after it was going, my ARPANET directory and it's about that thick. It's that thick because it had the names, addresses and telephone numbers of everyone who had an email. And it was indexed twice. Once by the email address and once by the actual name. So...

And there were two other Dannys on the internet besides me. Danny Cohen and Danny Barbara. And I still know both of them. But, you know, that was... We all knew each other. So it was funny seeing it all grow beyond our wildest speculations and expectations.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Internet, ARPANET, domain, directory, trust, security

Duration: 2 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017