ARPANET: The Beginning of the Internet

In 1999, Vice President Al Gore underwent a great deal of scrutiny when he suggested, on an episode of Wolf Blitzer’s CNN “Late Edition” program, that he created the Internet. It’s a gaffe that people still mock him for today. Of course, Gore probably did not mean to say that he alone created the Internet, but rather that he had pushed for legislation that eventually helped foster the growth of such technologies (or, at least, one can only hope that that’s what he meant). That begs the question, however: if Al Gore did not invent the Internet, then who did? The answer, surprisingly, is not too far from Gore’s unforgettable blunder: the US Government.

In August of 1962, J.C.R. Lincklider of MIT introduced a concept that he called the “Galactic Network.” According to Lincklider, the Galactic Network would be a set of globally interconnected computers that could share information and data, and, surprisingly, Lincklider’s concept, the Galactic Network, is not much different from the Internet that we use today. That is perhaps the reason that Licklider, a true pioneer of computing, is now referred to as “computing’s Johnny Appleseed.”

Lincklider would later go on to work as the head of the computer research program at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the research branch of the US Department of Defense. While he was there, he met the men who would later succeed him as the heads of the computer research program, and whom he would also teach the value of his computer networking concept to—namely, MIT researcher Lawrence G. Roberts, Bob Taylor and Ivan Sutherland.

In 1966, Roberts expanded on Linklider’s ideas and designed an actual plan for a computer network, which he called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). It took Roberts and his team a number of years to develop all of the key components of the computer network, such as the packet switches called Interface Message Processors (IMPs), and to refine the overall architecture of the network.

In September 1969, a Network Measurement Center at UCLA was selected to be the first node on the ARPANET. Shortly thereafter, the Stanford Research Institute was also selected as an ARPANET node and the first host-to-host message was sent from the research institute at UCLA to the one at Stanford. As the months and the years went on, more universities were added to the burgeoning network. In 1972, Robert Kahn of UCLA gave the first public demonstration of ARPANET at the International Computer Communication Conference in Washington D.C. and showed all in attendance both ARPANET and the TCP/IP Protocol, the basis for the current Internet.

Since Kahn’s demonstration in 1972, the Internet has grown into the global network that Lincklider once envisioned in his writings on the Galactic Network. And even though Al Gore was not responsible for creating the Internet, the US Government that he was an official of, certainly did play an important role.

Author: Steven Bonhoeffer