Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What Lay People Should Know about the Internet – History of the Invention (technical)

by Zad Datu

At the brink of the Space Race, on October 4th 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1 defeating the United States’ Project Vanguard to launch the first manmade satellite into orbit. Soon after in the following December 6th, Vanguard TV3 was launched. But just after four feet of ascend about two seconds after liftoff, the rocket fall back to the launch pad exploding and destroying itself damaging the launch pad along with it.

In response to the Sputnik Crisis and the spectacular televised failure of Vanguard TV3, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the US Department of Defense was formed, now known as DARPA. The agency’s emphasis was initially centred to space, ballistic missile defence, and nuclear test detection. But it too had its focus on computers.

Many revolutionary technological inventions like the radar, the jet engine, and scientific innovations like the discovery of atomic fusion, were inventions fuelled by the features and capabilities which war necessitates. In the case, the Cold War necessitated to the Internet.

How it All Began
J.C.R. Licklider of MIT was the man with the vision. In 1962, he was chosen by the director of ARPA, Jack Ruina to join the agency to create and manage a programme for funding research to improve the military’s use of computer technology. He became the first director of the Command and Control Research Department at the agency, now known as the Information Processing Technologies Offices (IPTO). This was when he first wrote his memos on the Intergalactic Network or Galactic Network – the first ever concept of what is now known as the internet. He is especially famous for writing two papers, which were Man-Computer Symbiosis published in 1965 which speaks of the aims “let computers facilitate formulative thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs”, and The Computer as the Communication Device published in 1968 co-written by the successor of his successor, Ivan Sutherland, Robert W. Taylor.

Joseph Carl Robnett J.C.R Licklider Lick had the first vision of an Intergalactic Network now known as the Internet.

One of the first and most crucial inventions which lead to the development of the internet is packet switching, the process which breaks information or various numbers of data into ‘packets’ of data, which are then sent through the network or communication line individually. The term ‘switching’ refers to the discontinuity of the transferring of these packets through the network. A connected network of computers have many pathways to move information from one station to the next, and if a computer somewhere in the network disconnects, these independently travelling packets would individually find other routes to get to its target location, and this is what is meant by discontinuity. As all these packets reach their target, they are assembled back together as how they were before they left its source.

Lenoard Keinrock (left) in published a paper on digital message switching in 1961. Paul Barand (centre) and Donald Watts Davies (right) and independent invented packet switching in the early 60s.

The packet switching concept was a parallel invention in the early 60s first developed by Paul Baran of RAND (Research And Development) in the U.S. within the timeframe of ARPA in which he called ‘message-blocks’, and independently by Donald Davies at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK, in which he called ‘packet-switching’.

As an electrical engineer at RAND, Barand was asked to research into the survivability of the communications network for the U.S. Air Force. It was his 1964 paper titled On Distributed Communications which documents the breakthrough concept of packet switching. The paper describes the robustness of the communication system, whereby no matter how much damage was done to individual components of the network, without a central control and as long as the end-to-end communication is not lost, the information will still pass through. This was upmost important to military use as the Cold War was still ongoing. Although, there was an earlier research and a published a paper of relating field mostly on digital message switching in July of 1961 by Leonard Kleinrock titled Information Flow in Large Communications Net whom later played a major role in ARPA.

Lawrence G. Roberts (right) was persuaded by Robert William Bob Taylor (left) to join ARPA to become the ARPA IPTO Chief Scientist in December 1966.

In October 1966, Lawrence G. Roberts of MIT and head of Lincoln Laboratory published a paper titled Toward A Cooperative Network Of Time-Shared Computers. Roberts was persuaded by the third director of ARPA, Robert Taylor to leave MIT and join ARPA. Initially resisting, in December that year, he finally gave in as the ARPA IPTO Chief Scientist in December 1966. In 1967 Roberts, Baran and Davies became aware of each other’s work at an Association of Computing Machinery conference where they met and the term packet-switching was adopted. This is where ARPANET programme (ARPA Network programme) was first conceptualised based on Roberts’ paper and the packet switching technology.

It is August 30th, 1969 that marks the birth of ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, hence also the birth of the internet as well. An IMP (Interface Message Processor) was successfully delivered from BBN (originally Bolt, Beranek and Newma), a high-technology company which provides research and development services, to Klienrock’s Network Measurement Centre at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) becoming the first node of the ARPANET. The next nodes to emerge was SRI (Stanford Research Institute) and UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). Then more and more nodes emerged adding on to the network at a rate of around one per month. This was virtually unknown until the International Conference on Computer Communication in Washington DC in October 1972. By then, the ARPANET is no longer just about military use, and BBN from then until now remains a defence contractor for ARPA.

Competition between the Networks
The next field of the application of computing network after military use is education. Many institutions and universities started to develop their own network. Many other networks beside the ARPANET were developed for the purpose of quick data sharing, some of which are still extensively used until today and some no longer. ALOHAnet, for example, went into operation in 1970 at the University of Hawaii under the leadership of Norman Abramson which later connected to ARPANET in 1972, but it is no longer in use today. But Ethernet, which refers to the widely and still used today Local Area Network (LAN), is based on ALOHAnet’s protocol. BITNET, developed in 1981 by Ira H. Fuchs of City University of New York and Greydon Freeman of Yale University too faded away but did have a fare share of success around 1991 to 1992. But in the following years, it was later outnumbered by the number of connections to the successor of ARPANET, the Internet. By year 2000, BITNET’s remaining heritage mailing lists in regular use was a Blues music discussion group. Although, in 1988, BITNET did merge with another network the, CSNET (Computer and Science Research Network) to form CREN (Corporation for Research and Educational Networking) which is still somewhat in use today.

CSNET started its development in 1979, lead by L. H. Landweber and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which helped introduce and popularised what was fast becoming the internet outside ARPANET to universities around the world. These universities naturally chose ARPANET’s network protocol, TCP/IP, which played a crucial role in ARPANET’s success. CSNET led directly to the development of the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET). NSFNET was later officially dissolved on April 30th, 1995. Although, it did retained a core research network for research only use called the Very High Speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS).

Other networks which remain active until today are FidoNet and USENET. FidoNet is an amateur electronic mail network with over 15,000 mail nodes world wide, most publicly accessible Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) incorporated as a company in 1986. By 1998, FidoNet had about 30,000 nodes world wide, and it remains active into the 21'st century. USENET was developed in a similar manner to the other networks after ARPANET, where Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott, graduates from Duke University wanted similar capabilities of the mailing list on ARPANET for universities which weren’t doing research with the by-then-called DARPA, where in 1973, ‘D’ was added to stand for Defense and Research Project Agency. USENET was originally developed to share files between computers, but evolved into a net-wide hierarchy of the eight major categories plus a catch-call.

The advantage which ARPANET had over other networks is it being affiliated to BBN. What made ARPANET a stronger competitor among the networks were the invention of the E-mail and the development of the TCP/IP protocols, both advancements were from BBN developed in the 70s for ARPANET. This lead to other networks developing similar mailing and protocol systems of and for their own. Both E-mail and TCP/IP later became the standards of their type in the 80s. This one decade long duration of development to standardisation shows the resistance of other networks to make a switch from their own convention to the ARPANET’s convention.

ARPANET to Internet
The email was invented by Ray Tomlinson under BBN for ARPANET as part of a small group of programmers who were developing a time-sharing system called TENEX and was making improvements on a single-computer electronic mail programme called SNDMSG. The world’s first messages between two computers connected only by a computer network, the ARPANET, were sent in late 1971. The next release, TENEX, went out in early 1972 and included the version of SNDMSG with network mail capabilities. He develops the ‘user@host’ convention, choosing the ‘@’ sign arbitrarily from the non-alphabetic symbols on the keyboard. Other later networks with emailing capabilities chose other characters, and it was not until the late 1980s when ‘@’ finally become a worldwide standard.

Raymond Samuel Ray Tomilson invented the E-mail and implemented the famous '@' standard where the first email was sent in 1971.Vinton Gray Vint Cerf (left) and Robert Elliot Bob Kahn worked together under Lawrence G. Roberts to invent the TCP/IP protocol in 1973.

In 1973, Robert Kahn from BBN and Vint Cerf from Stanford joins the DARPA, to work for Lawrence Roberts in connecting ARPANET with other networks. By September 1973, the two gave their first paper on the new Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) at an International Network Working Group meeting (INWG meeting) at the University of Sussex, England. The term “internet” was adopted in the first RFC (Request for Comments) published on the TCP protocol, RFC 657. In technical terms, internet referrers to any network using the TCP/IP protocol.

Sooner, many other networks develop their own protocols, and it was only in 1984 onwards was when TCP/IP started its way to become world the standard. The US Department of Defence made the TCP/IP the standard for all military computer networking, which provided the protocol a higher profile and stable funding, and Dan Lynch and the Internet Architecture Board held a three day workshop on TCP/IP for the computer industry attended by about 50 researchers and 250 vendor representatives in 1985 which lead to several development of TCP/IP networking products by various companies. This is what lead to the development of the modern internet.

Before and Beyond
The previous services which the internet advanced from were of course those in the field of communications such as the electric telegraph, telephone, wireless telegraphy more commonly known as radio, and television. But as it did so from telegraph to telephone, telephone to radio and radio to television, the newer technologies simply outclassed the previous but not replace it, except for telegraphy-to-telephones. Although telephones completely made telegraphy obsolete, the submarine communications cables linking continents which used to carry telegraphy traffic now carries telephone traffic. Subsequently, the internet utilises and integrated with these telephone lines. In fact and clearly, the whole existence of the internet relied on the existence of telephones.

How the internet allowed the sharing and access of information with speed changed how the world operates.

Map of the internet (from Wikipedia)
Transforming mailing from the traditional use of using ink-and-paper for the content, and on-foot, vehicles, ships and aeroplanes for the sending, to electronic data for contents and mouse-clicks for the sending; from physical-travelling-to-purchase-products, to online shopping; from the tangible newspapers, to online news; from brick-walled three-to-four-stories libraries and archives, to search engines – Google especially; from personal paper-and-ink logbooks or diaries, to public electronic logs – web-logs, shortened to a more easily and quickly pronounced ‘blog’; from  text blogging, to online video blogging (vlog) with the video sharing website – YouTube; from board games, to massive multiplayer online and to virtual worlds – World of Warcraft and Second Life respectively; from paper printed encyclopaedias, to free easily accessible online encyclopaedias opened to be edited by anyone – Wikipedia; from conventional socialising, to online and virtual social networking – especially Facebook, becoming the world’s identity registry; and from online social networking, to frequent instant personal, company, media, news and celebrity updates via the phone – Twitter; the internet has truly transformed human civilisation into a Global Village.

If there is a technology in the line of communications which can surpass the internet, one could only speculate of a technology which provides network coverage across the solar system and beyond.
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