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History of the Internet
The history of the Internet has its origin in the efforts to build and interconnect computer networks that arose from research and development in the United States and involved international collaboration, particularly with researchers in the United Kingdom and France.
Computer science was an emerging discipline in the late 1950s that began to consider time-sharing between computer users and, later, the possibility of achieving this over wide area networks. Independently, Paul Baran proposed a distributed network based on data in message blocks in the early 1960s and Donald Davies conceived of pacet switching in 1965 at the National Physics Laboratory (NPL) in the UK, which became a testbed for research for two decades. The U.S. Department of Defense awarded contracts in 1969 for the development of the ARPANET project, directed by Robert Taylor and managed by Lawrence Roberts. ARPANET adopted the packet switching technology proposed by Davies and Baran, underpinned by mathematical work in the early 1970s by Leonard Kleinrock. The network was built by Bolt, Beranek, and Newman.
Early packet switching networks such as the NPL network, ARPANET, Merit Network, and CYCLADES in the early 1970s researched and provided data networking. The ARPANET project and international working groups led to the development of protocols for internetworking, in which multiple separate networks could be joined into a network of networks, which produced various standards. Vint Cerf, at Stanford University, and Bob Kahn, at ARPA, published research in 1973 that evolved into the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), the two protocols of the Internet protocol suite. The design included concepts from the French CYCLADES project directed by Louis Pouzin.
In the early 1980s the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded national supercomputing centers at several universities in the United States and provided interconnectivity in 1986 with the NSFNET project, which created network access to these supercomputer sites for research and academic organizations in the United States. International connections to NSFNET, the emergence of architecture such as the Domain Name System, and the adoption of TCP/IP internationally marked the beginnings of the Internet. Commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) began to emerge in the very late 1980s. The ARPANET was decommissioned in 1990. Limited private connections to parts of the Internet by officially commercial entities emerged in several American cities by late 1989 and 1990. The NSFNET was decommissioned in 1995, removing the last restrictions on the use of the Internet to carry commercial traffic.
Research at CERN in Switzerland by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989-90 resulted in the World Wide Web, linking hypertext documents into an information system, accessible from any node on the network. Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on culture, commerce, and technology, including the rise of near-instant communication by electronic mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, two-way interactive video calls, and the World Wide Web with its discussion forums, blogs, social networking, and online shopping sites. Increasing amounts of data are transmitted at higher and higher speeds over fiber optic networks operating at 1 Gbit/s, 10 Gbit/s, or more. The Internet’s takeover of the global communication landscape was rapid in historical terms: it only communicated 1% of the information flowing through two-way telecommunications networks in the year 1993, 51% by 2000, and more than 97% of the telecommunicated information by 2007. Today, the Internet continues to grow, driven by ever greater amounts of online information, commerce, entertainment, and social networking. However, the future of the global network may be shaped by regional differences.
Who Invented the Internet?
As you might expect for a technology so expansive and ever-changing, it is impossible to credit the invention of the internet to a single person. The internet was the work of dozens of pioneering scientists, programmers and engineers who each developed new features and technologies that eventually merged to become the “information superhighway” we know today.
Long before the technology existed to actually build the internet, many scientists had already anticipated the existence of worldwide networks of information. Nikola Tesla toyed with the idea of a “world wireless system” in the early 1900s, and visionary thinkers like Paul Otlet and Vannevar Bush conceived of mechanized, searchable storage systems of books and media in the 1930s and 1940s.
Still, the first practical schematics for the internet would not arrive until the early 1960s, when MIT’s J.C.R. Licklider popularized the idea of an “Intergalactic Network” of computers. Shortly thereafter, computer scientists developed the concept of “packet switching,” a method for effectively transmitting electronic data that would later become one of the major building blocks of the internet.
The first workable prototype of the Internet came in the late 1960s with the creation of ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. Originally funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, ARPANET used packet switching to allow multiple computers to communicate on a single network.
On October 29, 1969, ARPAnet delivered its first message: a “node-to-node” communication from one computer to another. (The first computer was located in a research lab at UCLA and the second was at Stanford; each one was the size of a small house.) The message—“LOGIN”—was short and simple, but it crashed the fledgling ARPA network anyway: The Stanford computer only received the note’s first two letters.
The technology continued to grow in the 1970s after scientists Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf developed Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP, a communications model that set standards for how data could be transmitted between multiple networks.
ARPANET adopted TCP/IP on January 1, 1983, and from there researchers began to assemble the “network of networks” that became the modern Internet. The online world then took on a more recognizable form in 1990, when computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. While it’s often confused with the internet itself, the web is actually just the most common means of accessing data online in the form of websites and hyperlinks.
The web helped popularize the internet among the public, and served as a crucial step in developing the vast trove of information that most of us now access on a daily basis.