Government Didn’t Create the Internet

Inter­est­ing fact uncov­ered in this op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal:

(H/T Instapun­dit.)

It’s an urban leg­end that the gov­ern­ment launched the Inter­net. The myth is that the Pen­ta­gon cre­ated the Inter­net to keep its com­mu­ni­ca­tions lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more inter­est­ing story about how inno­va­tion happens—and about how hard it is to build suc­cess­ful tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies even once the gov­ern­ment gets out of the way.

For many tech­nol­o­gists, the idea of the Inter­net traces to Van­nevar Bush, the pres­i­den­tial sci­ence adviser dur­ing World War II who over­saw the devel­op­ment of radar and the Man­hat­tan Project. In a 1946 arti­cle in The Atlantic titled “As We May Think,” Bush defined an ambi­tious peace­time goal for tech­nol­o­gists: Build what he called a “memex” through which “wholly new forms of ency­clo­pe­dias will appear, ready made with a mesh of asso­cia­tive trails run­ning through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.”

That fired imag­i­na­tions, and by the 1960s tech­nol­o­gists were try­ing to con­nect sep­a­rate phys­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works into one global network—a “world-wide web.” The fed­eral gov­ern­ment was involved, mod­estly, via the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Net­work. Its goal was not main­tain­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions dur­ing a nuclear attack, and it didn’t build the Inter­net. Robert Tay­lor, who ran the ARPA pro­gram in the 1960s, sent an email to fel­low tech­nol­o­gists in 2004 set­ting the record straight: “The cre­ation of the Arpanet was not moti­vated by con­sid­er­a­tions of war. The Arpanet was not an Inter­net. An Inter­net is a con­nec­tion between two or more com­puter networks.”

If the gov­ern­ment didn’t invent the Inter­net, who did? Vin­ton Cerf devel­oped the TCP/IP pro­to­col, the Internet’s back­bone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks.

But full credit goes to the com­pany where Mr. Tay­lor worked after leav­ing ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Sil­i­con Val­ley in the 1970s that the Eth­er­net was devel­oped to link dif­fer­ent com­puter net­works. Researchers there also devel­oped the first per­sonal com­puter (the Xerox Alto) and the graph­i­cal user inter­face that still dri­ves com­puter usage today.

GUI’s” became truly pop­u­lar when Apple cre­ated its Mac and Microsoft ‘stole’ Win­dows from them both around 1983 or 1984.  Before that, DOS and typ­ing ruled the world.

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