Unlike many things we take for granted these days, like a light bulb or perhaps the telephone, the invention of the internet cannot be attributed to one single inventor. It is something that has evolved through the years and is now one of our the most important recreational, transactional, and educational pastimes.
We can pinpoint the beginnings of the internet by going back to the Cold War when the Americans used it as a weapon. For many years, it was used as a method of communication between researchers and scientists, for them to share their data with one another. Today, it is used for just about anything and, for some, life without the internet would be unthinkable.
Enter the Sputnik
October 4th, 1957. The Russians, then known as the Soviet Union, launched Sputnik. This was the first man-made satellite, sent into orbit, to circle around the earth. It was a failure; all it dis was tumble around in outer space, with no real direction, sending back the odd bleep from the on-board radio transmitters.
Failure it may have been, the USA still saw it as a threat, a warning that they needed to take notice of. While some of the brightest minds in the USA had spent their time designing televisions and cars it would seem that the Soviets had been directing their energies elsewhere – on something that would help them win the Cold War.
It took the launch of this satellite to make America sit up and think. Subjects such as chemistry and physics began to appear on the school syllabus. Government grants were provided for corporations to invest in research and development.
The Federal government began to form new agencies and, so, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was born. Alongside NASA another Department of Defense Agency appeared. The Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA for short, was set up for the development of space-age technology – rockets, computers and weapons.
ARPAnet is born
One of the main concerns with Sputnik from the point of view of the scientists and the military experts was the effect a Soviet attack could have on the telephone system. The biggest fear was that the whole system would be destroyed in one fell swoop, leaving the Americans without any form of communication.
In 1962, J C R Licklider, an MIT and ARPA scientist came up with a solution. He proposed a “galactic” network, a series of computers that could communicate with each other, which would allow government leaders to talk to each other even if the telephone system were destroyed.
In 1965, yet another MIT scientist came up with something called packet switching, a system of sending information from one computer straight to another.
The way that packet switching works is it breaks data into smaller blocks before sending it on its way. Each block, or packet, can then find its own route to its destination and, without this system, the entire network would still have been open to attack.
In 1969, ARPAnet, as the system became known, sent its very first message. It was called a “node to node” communication and it went from one computer, housed at UCLA inside a research lab to another one in Stanford. At that time, each computer was about the size of a small house.
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The message they sent was very short and very simple – LOGIN – but it still managed to bring down the ARPA network and the Stanford computer received only the first two letters of the message.
The Growth of the Network
By the time 1969 had ended there were 4 computers connected to ARPAnet but, throughout the seventies, the network began to grow, In 1971, the University of Hawaii’s ALOHAnet was added to the network followed a couple of years later by those from the London University College and Norway’s Royal Radar Establishment.
As these networks began to multiply it started to become difficult to integrate them all into one universal global network, called the “internet”. By the end of the seventies Vinton Cerf, a computer scientist, had found the solution to this by coming up with a way for all of the computers on these mini-networks to talk to each other. It was called “Transmission Control Protocol” or TCP for short.
He later added another protocol into the mix called “internet protocol” and that is what we know today as TCP/IP.
The Beginning of the World Wide Web
This protocol turned the entire series of mini networks into one big worldwide network. During the eighties, scientists and researchers alike made use of this new network to send each other files and date, from one computer straight to another. However, in 1991, everything changed again.
Tim Berners-Lee, a computer programmer from Switzerland, gave us the World Wide Web. This was a system that could be used, not just to send data and files between computers but also as a place of information, a web if you like. This was somewhere where anyone could go to find information about things. This was the internet, as we know it today.
Since then, the internet has evolved beyond recognition. In 1992, at the University of Illinois, a group of researchers and students got together and produced Mosaic. This was the world’s very first internet browser, a very sophisticated one for its time, although later its name was changed to Netscape. Mosaic made it easy to search the internet for information; it let users see pictures as well as words, both on the same page for the very first time.
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Mosaic also allowed users to use things like scrollbars and links that you could click, to navigate their way around the web. In the same year, Congress allowed that the web could be used for commercial use of. Because of that, a number of companies began to set up websites, and e-commerce entrepreneurs started to sell goods and services on the internet and now, with social sites like Twitter and Facebook, it is a complete world of its own.