Is the Internet old or new? According to Tom Leighton PhD ’81, the founder of Akamai, the Internet is just getting started. His opinion counts since his firm, launched in 1998 with pivotal help from Danny Lewin SM ’97, keeps the Internet speedy by copying and channeling massive amounts of data into orderly and secure places that are quick to access. The National Inventors Hall will recognize their work as 2017 winners in May.
“We think about the Internet and the tremendous accomplishments that have been made and, the exciting thing is, it’s in its infancy,” says Leighton in an Akamai video. Online commerce, which has grown rapidly and is now denting mall sales, has huge potential, especially as dual screen use grows. Soon mobile devices will link to television, and then viewers can change channels on their mobile phones and click to buy the cool sunglasses Tom Cruise is wearing on the big screen. “We are going to see [that] things we never thought about existing will be core to our lives within ten years, using the Internet.”
A poignant feature of the award is that the honor is not limited to Leighton. Lewin was pivotal to the early development of Akamai’s technology but died as a passenger on an American Airlines Flight that was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Lewin, a former Israeli Defense Forces officer, is credited with trying to stop the attack.
Ultimately Leighton, Lewin, and their team “developed the mathematical algorithms necessary to intelligently route and replicate content over a large network of distributed servers,” which solved congestion that was then becoming known as the World Wide Wait. Today the company delivers nearly three trillion Internet interactions each day.
The NIHF describes their contributions as pivotal to making the Internet fast, secure, and reliable. Their tool was applied mathematics and algorithms and they focused on congested nodes identified by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Wed and an MIT faculty member with an office near Leighton, an MIT mathematics professor. Leighton, an authority on parallel algorithms for network applications, holds more than 40 U.S. patents involving content delivery, Internet protocols, algorithms for networks, cryptography, and digital rights management. He served as Akamai’s chief scientist for 14 years before becoming chief executive in 2013.
Lewin, a doctoral candidate who served as Akamai’s chief technology officer, was an award-winning computer scientist whose master’s thesis included some of the fundamental algorithms that make up the core of Akamai’s services. Before coming to MIT, Lewin worked at IBM’s research laboratory in Haifa, Israel, where he developed the company’s Genesys system, a processor verification tool. He is named on 25 U.S. patents.
“It is a special honor to be listed among so many groundbreaking innovators in the National Inventors Hall of Fame," says Leighton. "And I am very grateful to Akamai’s employees for all their hard work over the last two decades to turn a dream for making the Internet be fast, reliable, and secure, into a reality.”