I wondered who invented the Internet.
July 24, 2000 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I wondered who invented the Internet. Some people would say Al Gore, but even after reading parts of the history of the Internet (first link), I can't figure it out. I think the "USSR" prompted us to do it when they launched Sputnik. Is this really the case?
posted by eyesandfists (16 comments total)
There's no easy answer to that; it's like trying to decide who built the first automobile.

A fairly common starting point often pointed to is the deployment of the Arpanet in the early 1970's.

The difficulty is defining just what "The Internet" is. No-one really knows, actually; it just sort of happened and suddenly someone noticed that a whole lot of networks were all connected together and someone else came up with a clever name for it, and there you are. There's really no clear instant when it suddenly came into existence.

However, it definitely doesn't go back to the late 1950's; whatever it is, it happened much later than that.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:15 AM on July 24, 2000

Well, I think the conceptual seeds go back to Babbage, really, which would mean that I'm arguing for the internet as a concept as of 1822. Both Babbage and Augusta Ada Lovelace saw the Analytical Engine as a device that could eventually be used to facilitate vast communication of sums over great distances using some sort of sonic conveyance. In other words, Analytical Engines would have been able to talk to each other.

However, I do realize that's stretching it. For me, the grandpa of the whole thing is our old buddy Vannevar Bush, whose As We May Think really does seem to be headed in an internet direction in July, 1945. Here's a quote:

A new symbolism, probably positional, must apparently precede the reduction of mathematical transformations to machine processes. Then, on beyond the strict logic of the mathematician, lies the application of logic in everyday affairs. We may some day click off arguments on a machine with the same assurance that we now enter sales on a cash register. But the machine of logic will not look like a cash register, even of the streamlined model.

Did Bush invent the internet or Hypertext? No. But he certainly helped inspire it. Many were the voices in that choir.
posted by Ezrael at 12:55 PM on July 24, 2000

Those are words I never expected to see...
"Did Bush invent the Internet...?"

posted by wendell at 1:00 PM on July 24, 2000

Bush didn't event the internet but it did help it to become widely used :P
posted by Mick at 1:12 PM on July 24, 2000

If you have the time, the book Where Wizards Stay Up Late is a nifty read.
posted by Aaaugh! at 1:22 PM on July 24, 2000

What most people think of as the internet is the web, since we do know who created hyperlinks/html there should be no mystery.
posted by thirteen at 2:32 PM on July 24, 2000

Dammit!, I don't know how I dropped this off my post.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Tim Berners-Lee inventor of the internet!
posted by thirteen at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2000

People are lazy. You should link to who this Tim Berners-Lee guy is. :)
posted by eyesandfists at 3:11 PM on July 24, 2000

But the internet is not the web, the web is a subset of the internet. I'd say the birth of the internet dates to the first packet switched communications in the early 60's. I never tire of telling the non-tech people at work that the net has been around for 30-40 years, the reaction is always as if I was saying the earth is flat. Since they perceive me as an all-knowing techno-geek (thier assumption!) they always think I'm pulling thier collective legs. And never mind trying to explain that the web isn't the net.
posted by quonsar at 4:52 PM on July 24, 2000

The Web is like a GUI for the 'Net. It's like the frame of a car.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:47 PM on July 24, 2000

Folks, it's all right there in the document cited: Sept-Dec 1969, as the first four hosts came online -- UCLA, Stanford Res. Inst., UCSB, U Utah.

More importantly, from a technical point-of-view... The Internet is defined by "Requests For Comment" (RFCs). These RFCs are what everyone builds their networks and software to (mostly, snicker) comply to. RFC number one came out on 7 April 1969.

I was shocked to see that BITNET was only from 1981, because I first used BITNET from Pomona College in 1982.

Oh, and if we're going to get into a primal cause theory (ie, ARPA was founded as a response to Sputnik), give credit where it belongs: beer. I don't know if it's Jared Diamond or someone else at UCLA, but there's at least one anthro guy positing that the real reason domesticated agriculture arose in the Fertile Crescent, setting up the chain reaction that leads to today's societies, was because our ancestors wanted a reliable source of beer. Which means frat boys are the root of civilization. Go Figure. :)

posted by aurelian at 5:50 PM on July 24, 2000

Wendell: No relation. No damn relation. Yeesh, I didn't even think of that. Yikes, I gotta go take a shower.
posted by Ezrael at 7:55 PM on July 24, 2000

I know the web is not the internet, but tell that to my mom. Wasn't all this covered in Triumph of the nerds 2.0? I would imagine the moment of conception was the moment the first 2 computers were connected together in separate locations. I love this thread, it is so nice to read peoples thoughts about the short wonderful history of the modern network.
posted by thirteen at 8:38 PM on July 24, 2000

I nominate (with tongue in cheek) E. M. Forster: "Only connect."
posted by holgate at 9:59 PM on July 24, 2000

The thing about beer being the cause of society (people drawing near the beer) : I heard that on NPR once. It made sense, but I wouldn't like to believe it. I'd like to imagine (in a happy place known as Lala-land) that people joined together to work together, find food, share heat, AND drink beer. (Lala-land.)

This has very little to do with the original subject, where the internet started. Of course, without society, there'd be no need for .. the net? I hope that is the correct usage. Correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by eyesandfists at 5:14 AM on July 25, 2000

I'm with Steven -- the internet is bigger than the invention of any one person. There are specific technologies that are key and some of those were the result of brilliant innovation by one or a few people, but ultimately the internet is what it is today because of the combined efforts of thousands upon thousands of people. TCP/IP? sendmail? WWW? each of these is important. Berners-Lee obviously gets a lot of credit for the early development of the web, given that all the parts were there, and nobody else saw to put them together. But even he was working on a completely different angle at the time. So much of it was just "we've got this here, and that there" and necessity became the mother of invention.
posted by dhartung at 12:44 PM on July 26, 2000

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