History of the Internet


The Making of a Revolution

The Internet - Past, Present and Future


Al Gore said, "I took the initiative in developing the Internet." But we think he was exaggerating just a tad. The real seeds of the Internet were sown in California in the fall of 1969, when the first bits of digitized text were sent from one computer laboratory to another. Where was Al in 1969? On the other side of the country, getting his B.A. ingovernment from Harvard University.  Far more credit, therefore, goes to Leonard Kleinrock of the University of California at Los Angeles, who first described the technique known as "packet switching" in the early 60s, and to Larry Williams who worked with him. The "work" done by these two was mostly theoretical. The real construction work in 1969 was done by Frank Heart, whose Bolt, Beranek and Newman group (BBN) actually built the "interface message processors," small devices that connected bigger computers to telephone lines. Three years later, in October 1972, the ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) conference in Washington marked the establishment of a government agency devoted to furthering progress of this network. Still under debate is how much of this work was funded by the Department of Defense, which was attracted to the concept because the distributed nature of its operations made it far less vulnerable to attack at any individual locations. In other words, because the network had no head, no nuclear attack could kill it. Some important steps in Internet development were

Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet (the local area network) in 1973.

In 1983 ARPAnet's protocols were replaced by TCP/IP, which was written by Robert Kahn, among others.

Allan Weis helped build the first Internet backbone for IBM in 1987.

And the first indexing was done in 1989 at McGill University.

But the Internet had little effect on most people's lives until the invention of the World Wide Web. Give Tim Berners-Lee credit for that. He was working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland in late 1990, when he conceived of combining hypertext and networking. He's worked tirelessly on it ever since, and now heads the World Wide Web Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Vint Cerf founded the Internet Society in 1992 and is now working with NASA on expanding the Internet to Mars! In May 1995 the National Science Foundation ended sponsorship of the Internet and commercial applications filled the gap. Enter America Online, Prodigy, Compuserve, Netscape and more and more. . . . . That's the past, of course. You know the present. And the future looks bright! Internet access will continue to be faster, wider and cheaper. There will continue to be disparities between those fortunate enough to have the newest, fastest equipment and those lagging behind. But the world as a whole will benefit. The Internet will be always on. . . . .like the TV in some homes. The types of communication over the Internet will expand and will include audio, video and text, whatever is required. Knowledge will be easy to come by. Intelligent use of knowledge will mark the difference between those who succeed and those trail behind. Time will become increasingly valuable, for it cannot be expanded by the Internet. So people will use the Internet to save time. Commuting and business travel will decline. Shoppers will rely increasingly on the Internet and less on the mall. Education will come through the Internet, delivered by forward-thinking educational institutions, both established and new. Machines of all types, from cars to refrigerators to air conditioners will be connected to the Internet, saving us time and improving our efficiency. The Internet will accelerate the worldwide trend toward fewer languages (to the dismay of the French, among others). English has the upper hand now, but Chinese has a chance to become dominant in Asia. There will be a continuing loss of cultural identities as the Internet crosses barriers and allows a rapid exchange of ideas as well as an increase in worldwide commerce. But if this homogenization brings greater understanding among people and reduces friction and conflict, it will be worth it. Before long, the Internet will be ubiquitous, more prevalent than television, radio, and telephony combined. People will wonder how they ever got along without it!


from the Cabot Letter, 2001