Yoda: Early History of the Internet

IO History
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Imagining the Internet’s

Quick Look at the Early History of the Internet

President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) after the Soviet launch of Sputnik I in 1957. Eisenhower believed in the great value of science, and formed ARPA in 1958 in a quest for “the scientific improvement” of U.S. defense. This project employed, at one time or another, some of the finest engineers and scientists of the late 20th century. The early emphasis was on missile-defense systems and the detection of nuclear bomb tests. It wasn’t until 1962, when J.C.R. Licklider arrived on the management team, that ARPA began investigating the idea of networked computers.

In the early 1960s, Licklider, Leonard Kleinrock, Paul Baran, Lawrence Roberts and other research scientists came up with the ideas that allowed them to individually dream of and eventually come together to create a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly and easily access data and programs from any site. Licklider jokingly called it an “Intergalactic Computer Network,” but he and his team began to seriously build the ideas and the technology that turned out to be the Internet. By 1964, some researchers had begun using their enormous mainframe computers to occasionally trade information by an early, informal form of e-mail – but the purpose wasn’t to formulate a research network; they were just trying to get their work done efficiently. In the early 1960s, Baran and British scientist Donald Davies both proposed the idea of sending blocks of data – packets – through a digital network. Roberts and many others got down to the serious business of taking this concept, combining it with other researchers’ proposals and building a real network in 1967, 1968 and 1969.

1969– Critical work on the first real network was being completed, and information had to be shared between far-flung research groups. Steve Crocker, a young computer scientist, wrote a long memo – the first of what came to be called a Request for Comments (RFCs). These are, to this day, the accepted way in which computer networking engineers and scientists suggest, review and adopt new technical standards. Since the day Crocker wrote the first Request for Comments, thousands more have followed. RFCs are a rich source of history about the development of the internet. The researchers also established a name for themselves at this time – the Network Working Group. The democratic way in which decisions were made by these pioneers became a basis for the free-speech, free-exchange format of the internet. ARPANET went online in an extremely basic format in late 1969, connecting four major universities: the University of California at Los Angeles, SRI at Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Utah. This rough system gave computer scientists and engineers the opportunity to begin refining ideas for a more efficient, reliable communications network. They had a lot of work to do in the years to come to get the “bugs” out, brainstorming, trying and failing, exchanging RFCs and improving the system.

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