interesting = I = Internet address

Internet n.

The mother of all networks. First incarnated beginning in 1969 as the ARPANET, a U.S. Department of Defense research testbed. Though it has been widely believed that the goal was to develop a network architecture for military command-and-control that could survive disruptions up to and including nuclear war, this is a myth; in fact, ARPANET was conceived from the start as a way to get most economical use out of then-scarce large-computer resources.

As originally imagined, ARPANET's major use would have been to support what is now called remote login and more sophisticated forms of distributed computing, but the infant technology of electronic mail quickly grew to dominate actual usage. Universities, research labs and defense contractors early discovered the Internet's potential as a medium of communication between humans and linked up in steadily increasing numbers, connecting together a quirky mix of academics, techies, hippies, SF fans, hackers, and anarchists. The roots of this lexicon lie in those early years.

Over the next quarter-century the Internet evolved in many ways. The typical machine/OS combination moved from DEC PDP-10s and PDP-20s, running TOPS-10 and TOPS-20, to PDP-11s and VAXes and Suns running Unix, and in the 1990s to Unix on Intel microcomputers. The Internet's protocols grew more capable, most notably in the move from NCP/IP to TCP/IP in 1982 and the implementation of Domain Name Service in 1983. It was around this time that people began referring to the collection of interconnected networks with ARPANET at its core as "the Internet".

The ARPANET had a fairly strict set of participation guidelines - connected institutions had to be involved with a DOD-related research project. By the mid-80s, many of the organizations clamoring to join didn't fit this profile. In 1986, the National Science Foundation built NSFnet to open up access to its five regional supercomputing centers; NSFnet became the backbone of the Internet, replacing the original ARPANET pipes (which were formally shut down in 1990). Between 1990 and late 1994 the pieces of NSFnet were sold to major telecommunications companies until the Internet backbone had gone completely commercial.

That year, 1994, was also the year the mainstream culture discovered the Internet. Once again, the killer app was not the anticipated one - rather, what caught the public imagination was the hypertext and multimedia features of the World Wide Web. Subsequently the Internet has seen off its only serious challenger (the OSI protocol stack favored by European telecoms monopolies) and is in the process of absorbing into itself many of the proprietary networks built during the second wave of wide-area networking after 1980. By 1996 it had become a commonplace even in mainstream media to predict that a globally-extended Internet would become the key unifying communications technology of the next century. See also the network and Internet address.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

The Internet

The Internet was first developed by the US military as a way of decentralising data systems for security reasons. It made it possible for all types of computers to communicate with each other and has grown into the biggest network in the world, connecting millions of computers and sending data back and forth across the world at any given time.

The Internet has drastically changed the way information is accessed, with information not needing to be on your own computer, or even a computer nearby, but on any file server in the world just so long as it is connected to the internet. The “Information Superhighway” is an appropriate name for the internet, as the way data travels in networks around the world is comparable to the way cars travel; constantly, and in different directions and speeds; and with only one objective; to get to it’s destination.

Most universities and educational institutions in the first world have adopted use of the internet as an important part of the information process and also publish catalogues of information as well as massive e-libraries such as those found at the University of Pennsylvania (http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/ ) and University of Texas(http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Etext.html) As you can imagine, these are fantastic resources for librarians.

Impact on Society

There are many social, ethical and moral issues surrounding the use of the internet. Because its use is widespread throughout the world a breach of local law might be made while accessing content from another place on the globe where it is legal to do so. Privacy is another key issue, especially if personal information is published in directories that can be accessed by anyone. Internet fraud is becoming less common but still exists, as was demonstrated recently after the September 11 World Trade Centre attacks, with fake Red Cross banners popping up asking for donations by credit card. Privacy and anti-virus programs need to be updated constantly to keep up with internet pirates and virus writers. The US government estimates the damage to government and business systems caused by hacks and viruses to run into the billions, and even wants a new network independent of the internet to keep confidential government information secure. Regulation and censorship of the internet is a difficult task that just gets more difficult; as privacy software gets better, invaders of privacy get smarter. The internet is a tool that is utilised by many different people for many different purposes. The reasons for use are as varied as the users themselves: communication, education, recreation, information, exploitation, the list goes on.

There are many things to be discussed on the topic of the "internet", and an exhaustive study of all the connotations and denotations of the "internet" is certainly beyond me, there is one aspect of the internet that I can address: its origins, and the purpose for its introduction.

Ironically, the internet has been a great source of both misinformation and the debunking of that information. And one of these pieces of information is the "urban myth" that the internet was created to survive a nuclear war, as well as the urban myth that that belief is merely an urban myth? Confused yet? Good.

The development of the internet can only be understood in context, and that context is the great development of computer technology between World War II and about 1973, the date of the Mansfield Amendment. Those were confusing years in the United States: there was a combination of peace and prosperity, together with paranoia and preparation for war. The United States government, through agencies including Defense, Energy and NASA, poured money into research, in corporations and universities. This research helped move technology forward, so that computing and information technology became commercially available, and the cycle fed on itself. But the keystone to the development was arguably always national security, and national security in the 1950s was arguably mostly in terms of nuclear war. So the background of any technology during this era was in some ways about nuclear war.

But then we get down to the specifics. The Internet, and even the Arpanet, were not designed all at once, and the specific technologies that make them up were designed at various points for various reasons. Sometimes, those reasons are not very clear.

  • Packet Switching, one of the basic technologies behind the internet, and a technology with redundancy as its goal, was first introduced in 1962 for the Rand Corporation. I find the abstract of the paper interesting:
    A discussion of the problem of building digital communication networks using links with less than perfect reliability.
    I think "less than perfect reliability" is one of the best euphemisms ever for "just had several thermonuclear weapons go off near them". But the original paper on packet switching was more about the idea for reliability, not about implementing it in any immediate circumstances.
  • DARPA and what it did: DARPA, or ARPA as it was sometimes called, was the "advanced research projects angency". The military had many different ways of doing research, both internally and externally, and some of these were designed to be specific to a certain service or problem. If the Air Force had been specifically looking for a way to build up redundancy between strategic missile bases, that problem would have been handled by an in-house team, and dealt with a specific problem. The fact that the internet was designed by ARPA means that it was probably more under the category of general research, rather than solving any specific problems.
  • Within DARPA, the internet and related technologies were the brainchild of J.C.R. Licklidder, whose stated position was the head of Behavioral Sciences & Command and Control research at DARPA. Licklidder didn't seem to be the type of person to let his job title hold him down, but it seemed he was more interested in psychology and human interactions than technical problems. It seems that his interest in the internet was more in how humans share information, rather than in the technical problems of data transfer.

As I said, there were many other technologies that had to exist before the internet did, and many or most of them came directly or indirectly out of military research. However, the evidence seems to be that the internet was not "built to order" to survive a nuclear war. However, it is inconceivable that military researchers, working in the 1950s and 1960s, could have been working on an intensive communications system and not be thinking about nuclear war. So, as with so much else on the internet, the truth value of the internet's origins and original purpose will remain debatable.

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