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The Internet and the Role that the US Military and Al Gore Played in its Development

Origin of the internet. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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Unlike the lightbulb or telephone (thanks Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell), the internet was not created by a single individual – no disrespect to Tim Berners-Lee, Paul Baran or J.C.R. Licklider. Instead, it is a collaboration which spanned across three generations, and one which arguably began in the 1930s with a hypothesis by Paul Otlet, a Belgian social scientist.

Otlet hypothesized about a radio signal-powered television network, named Radiated Library, designed to distribute encyclopedic data to home users. However, the American military did play a huge role in the development of the internet, and it can even be argued that without them, the internet as we know it today would have never been invented.

The American military and the internet

The military’s involvement with the internet effectively began during the early days of the Cold War. Military strategists, concerned with the vulnerability of conventional communication methods in the event of a thermonuclear war, were desperate to invent an alternative communication medium that could endure heavy radiation and nuclear winter, among other threats.

The Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), under the leadership of J.C.R Licklider, with the support of military-funded scientists in universities around the United States, was the primary agency tasked with the ambitious project and it made enormous strides towards the development of this new communication medium in the 1960s.

Their collective efforts eventually led to the commissioning of the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which proved to be a massive success following documented communications between two nodes located at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and Kleinrock’s Lab at UCLA in October 1969. Within three months, two functional additional nodes were added to the network, located at the University of Utah and the University of California. For all intents and purposes, the ‘internet’ was born in 1969.

The BBN Interface Message Processor (IMP), displayed at the Computer History Museum, performed the packet routing for the ARPANET transmission between UCLA and SRI on October 29, 1969. The prototype router was powered by a Honeywell 516 minicomputer containing only 6,000 words of software in its petitite 12K core memory. Image courtest of Carlo Nardone.
The BBN Interface Message Processor (IMP), displayed at the Computer History Museum, performed the packet routing for the ARPANET transmission between UCLA and SRI on October 29, 1969. The prototype router was powered by a Honeywell 516 minicomputer containing only 6,000 words of software in its petite 12K core memory. Image courtesy of Carlo Nardone.

The evolution of ARPANET into the internet

In the following years, various military-funded programs continued to enhance the strength and utility of the young network. The most notable improvements came from the invention of the packet switching network in 1970 by Leonard Kleinrock and the TCP/IP protocol in 1972 by Robert Kahn.

While British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee would go on to achieve fame by creating a user-friendly browser interface to the technology, which ushered in wide-scale global adoption, it is important to remember that his entire work was built on top of an existing infrastructure developed mainly by the American military.

Less well known, and significantly more ridiculed, is the involvement of former U.S. vice president Al Gore in the early growth of the internet. While comedians and political opponents have quite successfully convinced the majority of Americans that Gore was merely boasting, the fact is, he was very deeply involved with promoting the internet to the masses, most notably through his 1991 High-Performance Computing and Communications Act. So while he did not invent the internet, he most certainly played a part in introducing it to the masses.

 

Song of the day: RIVVRS – I Will Follow You

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