What is it? The “Internet” (a/k/a/ the “net”) is simply the worldwide system of computer networks (connected groups) through which a user at any one computer can share information with and from another computer on the network. It may be a web page, e-mail, chat or some other interaction. (How much is shared and in which direction(s) depends on “permissions” between them, as established by the operating system software). It is, quite literally, a “network of networks”! [Enough information: You can stop reading right here!]
The actual, somewhat legalistic, definitely and intentionally confusing, definition of the Internet comes from the Federal Networking Council (“FNC”; see Associations):
“Internet” refers to the global information system that – (i) is logically linked together by a globally unique address space based on the Internet Protocol (IP) or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons; (ii) is able to support communications using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons, and/or other IP-compatible protocols; and (iii) provides, uses or makes accessible, either publicly or privately, high level services layered on the communications and related infrastructure described herein.
What does it do? The Internet is a truly amazing thing. You no longer need an encyclopedia to find the answer to virtually anything. You can browse or Google the answer - at any time, any place. Check your spelling - automatically, on the fly. You don’t have to remain on hold waiting to deliver a telephone message to someone else. You just text them or e-mail them. You don’t have to drive to your office to work. You can connect from home. Or from anywhere. You can get your favorite music or videos right from home. Or rent programs which you can use without installing on your computer. And lots more...
How did it develop? Fear about nuclear war. In the 1960s, U.S. engineer Paul Baran and his Welsh scientist counterpart Donald W. Davies became concerned about the possibility of nuclear war and how it could be survived. While working for the Rand Corp., a think tank, Baran wrote an influential paper endorsing the view that “the possibility of war exists but there is much that can be done to minimize the consequences.” Out of that, Davies and Baran came up with a big idea: Messages could be chopped into chunks, send through a network in a series of streaming transmissions, then reassembled by the destination computers quickly and efficiently. The mission was a rugged communication system with redundant links that could still function in the aftermath of a Soviet strike, preserve governance and potentially launch a counterattack. Davis’ vision was more peaceful - that packet sending would allow users to share the same telephone line and increase productivity. The idea was then put into practice developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA or DARPA, depending on which years you are referring to), a division of the U.S. Defense Department in 1969, then known as ARPANET. Its original aim was said to be to create a network that would allow users of a university research computers or government agencies to be able to “talk to” each other. The first connection, in 1969, was between three universities in California and one in Utah, but later linked over 100 universities and military sites, the forerunner to today’s Internet. Little known fact: It was actually illegal for commercial entities to connect to the Internet until 1991 (until then, doing so was limited to government and university use). AOL, the first ISP, went on line in 1992. [Washington Post, 5/31/15, Steve Case: The Internet is About to Change Again.]
Because messages needed to be routed or re-routed in more than one direction, a technology known as “packet switching” (dividing messages into multiple smaller “packets” which can then be individually “routed” and then re-assembled at the receiving end) was developed so that the network could continue to function even if parts of it were destroyed in the event of military attack or other (e.g. nuclear or cyberterror) disaster. (While this was commonly believed to be one of the primary missions of ARPANET, it was never true; it was allegedly the result of a misinterpretation of a RAND study on the subject. The main purpose was actually to communicate between educational and government computer systems.) Next, the TCP/IP protocol had to be created to manage the resulting packet switching chaos. The TCP is responsible for verifying the correct delivery of the data, detecting any errors in its transmission and requesting re-transmission until all the data is correctly and completely received. The IP is responsible for moving the data from node to node on the networks based on assigned 4 byte destination addresses. Also very important was the development of BGP (“Border Gateway Protocol”), which helps routers decide how to send giant flows of data across the vast mesh of connections that make up the Internet. Essentially, because there is no “map” of the internet, BGP gives routers the information they need to pick the best possible avenue for data traffic. Of course, since this routing involves huge amounts of traffic, the converse is that, if it is hijacked, the damage will be exponentially greater. [The slang name for BGP is the “three napkin protocol,” because that’s how many napkins it took three engineers in 1989 to scribble down the solution over lunch in an Austin, TX restaurant.]
After the establishment of the Internet backbone came the concept of e-mail, then the “World Wide Web” (WWW, see Tim Berners-Lee, below) and, necessarily, web browsers, specialized software which provides the most popular way for the rest of us to find information on the Internet. E-mai., the first real “killer app” for the Internet, came along in about 1972; it took only a year to be responsible for about 75% of Internet traffic. Finally, everyone had a practical use for he Internet. Many of the original computer systems from the early days of the Internet (including ARPANET, which was decommissioned in 1989) eventually took on WWW addresses. Later came the internalnets, intranets, the semantic web, and other more recent developments like the Internet of Things, in this dynamic and constantly evolving concept.
Note That The Internet is NOT the same thing as the World Wide Web (“WWW”). The Internet is the worldwide physical computer hardware “backbone” or “network of networks” over which the WWW (which is the virtual network of sites) is run. So, the WWW is “inside” the Internet. You can use the Internet without using the WWW. For example, you can send a text message, use a phone app or send e-mail, all without using the WWW. But you need the WWW to access manywebsites via their URLs, which you can locate by using a web browser. Also, there are other addresses which are not part of the WWW, and which must be located and accessed differently. See dark web, deep web.
Security & Speed: Also, as the Internet grew, the issues of speed and security developed. The telephone lines over which the communications were transmitted were primarily owned by AT&T. The so-called “Bellheads” at the telco were constantly clashing with the “Netheads” who wanted the faster transmission speeds via a core that was only concerned with transmission (i.e. those packet switch networks operate without central authority), leaving the security to the transmitters and recipients, the opposite of the then-existing telephone system, which had an intelligent core micro-managed by the phone company, but dumb “edges” in each and every home and business. Over time, cable networks, DSL and FIOS upped the network speed (more recently Fibre), and encryption of the packets also increased security (click HERE for more). But the Government (read: NSA) and military still impose their oversight on the Internet, so transmissions aren’t completely safe from them.
Who controls the Internet? No one entity. ICANN and IANA control the issuance of names/addresses and domains as well as ports used over the Internet. ISPs have essentially independent control over providing access to the internet and other subscriber attributes. Various governments and other entities (see immediately below) can blacklist or whitelist URLs or entire domains. Interestingly, in June, 2016 a major milestone in Internet use, the principle of net neutrality, reached a key turning point when the D.C. federal appeals court held that the Internet is basically like a giant telephone network and the companies that provide service, like Comcast and Verizon, must offer the same protection as the telecoms offer to their customers. The affirmed FCC “bright line” rules expressly prohibit blocking or slowing down internet connections for some classes of customers. So, starting with this decision, the FCC will be writing regulations on it’s own, in uncharted waters. [For more, see the historical discussion in LAWS.]
Government or Religious Regulation: Of course, because there is no central control over the Internet, countries and groups have been left on their own to regulate what is transmitted. Entire countries like China routinely block some or all internet access for the “protection” of their citizens. Other groups have relied on pronouncements, such as those denouncing the use of the Internet by their members as against their “life principles” (e.g. the Amish or or Muslim clerics) by declaring social networking like Snapchat not “Kosher” (Orthodox rabbis in Israel) or by expressly prohibiting them (like selfies with cats) because they are too “Western” (Saudi cleric Saleh Bin Fawzan Al-Fazwan), or because using another person’s Wi-Fi internet without permission is stealing, prohibited by Islam. (Actually a Fatwa, according to Dubai’s Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department, also Ali Al Hakami, a member of the High Scholar’s Commission, a senior religious body which advises the Saudi King). (Or consider the United Arab Emirates ban on traveling to Mars (??)) In Indonesia, clerics issued a Fatwa against certain emotions, saying that could be seen as LGBT friendly. (Of course, the Islamic State also once declared (during the insurgency in Syria) that women should not be allowed to sit in chairs (!!))
Unfortunate By-Product of Internet Usage: One side-effect of the always available internet through computers, laptops, pads and cell phones is the problem of “internet addiction”. See, for example, the film “Screenagers”. This recognized psychological issue of compulsive Internet use (not yet recognized as an official psychiatric disorder in the U.S., but already the subject of treatment in China and S. Korea) has resulted in a major problem for many Americans, particularly younger ones, causing them to drop out of school, withdraw from their families and friends, and complain of deep anxieties in heretofore traditional social settings. Common Sense Media, in a 2015 study, found that 59% of parents and 50% of teenagers themselves think that teens are addicted to their mobile devices, never turning them off, sleeping with them, constantly gaming, texting during meals and classes, etc. Centers such as reSTART (at the high cost of $25,000 for the 45 day program, not covered by insurance) have been created to deal with this adolescent problem.
SO WHO ACTUALLY INVENTED THE INTERNET?
Because of the number of people involved in this process over a long period of time, there are many differing accounts about who did what and when. In order to answer this question, you have to resolve the disconnect (or, more accurately, the collaboration) between those visionaries who conceived of the IDEA of the Internet (the so-called “Fathers of the Internet”) and those who actually CREATED the physical Internet. * To complicate matters, there is some “overlap” between the two categories. Also, look at the separate entries for each person below (if they are highlighted in red), as they contributed to more than just the one category.
Those who conceived of the idea of the Internet, the so-called “Fathers of the Internet” were the following:
J.C. R. Licklider: 1915 - 1990. A MIT researcher who, in August, 1962 discussed his concept of a “Galactic Network” globally connecting computers which could access and share data. He went on to be the first director of the computer research program at DARPA, where he continued his work on this concept.
Al Gore: 1948 - . Go ahead and laugh, but without his efforts, the Internet may not have come about. He never claimed to have “invented” the Internet. While he was a legislator (D-TN) in 1991 he did, however, push Congress to pass The High-Performance Computing Act (a/k/a the Gore Act), which actually paved the way for a privatized, commercialized internet that could evolve outside of Government control, as it does today. His vision was very important in the evolution of the Internet.
Robert E. Kahn: 1938 - . Before he worked on the invention of TCP/IP, he envisioned the concept of ARPANET that became the Internet.
Vint Cerf [1943 - ] and Tim Berners-Lee [1955 - ]: Both had visions of how to transform the Internet (at that time DARPANET) into a tool for the masses and not just for government and big business communication and sharing systems. Later, they helped transform these visions into reality. (Cerf is now an executive at Google.)
Those who actually created the Internet and their contributions:
Leonard Kleinrock [1934 - ]: An MIT researcher who in 1961 devised the concept of using packet switching rather than circuit switching (then used for telephones) for computer networking. He convinced another MIT researcher, Lawrence G. Roberts of the viability of packet switching, as did J.C.R. Licklider did by convincing Roberts of the possibility of networking computers into the Internet. He later worked at the Network Measurement Center at UCLA preparing the network measurement system for actually building ARPANET, and because of this UCLA became the first node on the ARPANET network. A second node was installed at Stanford Research Institute (“SRI”) led by Douglas Engelbart [1925 - 2013], the inventor of the computer mouse and other notable computer advances. Englebart and the SRI brought in the Network Information Center, led by Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler [1931 - ], which contributed host-to-name address mapping and other important functions. When the first message was sent from UCLA to Stanford Research Institute on October 29, 1969, the goal was to log in remotely, but the Stanford computer crashed after the message stopped at “LO”. Kleinrock was initially said to be crestfallen at the uninspiring nature of the message, but later reasoned that “LO” could be understood as the beginning of “Lo and Behold,” a much more inspiring message, which made him feel far better. (Much later, as the Internet increased in size, the Domain Name System, invented by Paul Mockapetris (of USC/ISI) [1948 - ] replaced the host table system.)
Robert E. Kahn: A computer engineer who, along with Vint Cerf, invented the Transmission Control Protocol (“TCP”), which revolutionized Internet communications. When Bolt Beranek and Newman (“BBN”) won the contract for development of the packet switches (then called Interface Message Processors, or “IMP’s), he worked with Frank Heart of BBN to devise the overall ARPANET design.
Lawrence G. Roberts [1937 - ]: Having been convinced by J.C.R. Licklider of the viability of interconnecting computers and Leonard Kleinrock of the use of packet rather than circuit switching, in 1965 he worked with Thomas Merrill to interconnect two computers in geographically separate areas, showing that they could run programs and retrieve data together. The theory converted to reality, he went to DARPA in 1966 where he developed his plan for ARPANET. Later, he designed and optimized the network topology for the creation of the ARPANET, working with Howard Frank and his team at Network Analysis Corporation.
Paul Baran [1926 - 2011]: Parallel to and independent of the work of Lawrence G. Roberts, Baran at the RAND group had developed a procedure for packet switching on military voice networks in 1964. [The word “packet” was actually adopted from another parallel and independent course of research being done at NPL.] His work paralleled that of Welsh scientiest Donald W. Davies.
Ray Tomlinson [1941 - ]: With BBN, he wrote the first software for sending and receiving e-mail over the ARPANET. Shortly thereafter, Lawrence Roberts expanded the software with utilities to file, list, forward, respond and singly read messages which we see today.
Vint Cerf: Starting in 1973, while he was at Stanford, he worked with Robert Kahn, after the development of the ARPANET, to develop the protocol that would meet the needs of an open-architecture network environment with consistency and reliability. The Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (“TCP/IP”), which is still used to this day. TCP/IP was a communications protocol, as opposed to the NCP originally used in DARPANET, which was more like a device driver. Final development was a collaboration between Cerf (at Stanford), Tomlinson (at BBN) and Peter Kirstein (at UCLA). This development underscores the intent that the Internet not be designed for any single proprietary application, but instead as a general infrastructure suitable for all applications, including many not yet even developed.
Tim Berners-Lee [1955 - ]: While associated with CERN in 1990, he developed the concept and the reality of the World Wide Web (“WWW”) as a wide area network (“WAN”), which expanded the Internet from a network of government, education and big-business computers to PCs and Macs, through the use of web browsers. While previously the Internet allowed computers to talk to each other, the WWW created a way to browse between them and access information. He was knighted for his contribution.
The Roberts link in this glossary puts these people in perspective much better. For a much more detailed history, click HERE . Network has a brief historical perspective about how the evolution of the Internet has dramatically increased the usefulness of computers. See also, Minitel, and The Internet of Things. Also, Godwin’s Law and Rule 34. And ICANN, above, which administers the Internet.
* When you think about it, this is a fairly common theme: There’s almost always a distinction between the inventor and the people who make that invention popular, profitable and historically transformative (think Industrial Revolution, Digital Age, etc.). For example, Thomas Edison may have invented the incandescent bulb, but he didn’t build the electrical grid that put them in everyone’s home. The tycoons who built the intercontinental railroad didn’t invent the locomotive, they just made it useful to the masses. Similarly, in computers, while the mouse was popularized by Apple, it was actually invented by Douglas Engelbart. Linux may have been invented by Linus Torvalds, but it took purveyors like Red Hat to popularize it. The optical disk was invented by James T. Russell, but popularized much later by Philips and Sony. Dr. Nakamats invented the floppy disk, but it took IBM to popularize it for use with PCs. In addition to the invention, it is also a matter of timing: The Newton pad didn’t take off, but the iPad did many years later; Microsoft’s
SlideShow didn’t do well, but Apple’s new Touch Bar looks like it will. And look at all of those inventions from Bell Labs in the 60’s, like the laser and the cell phone which years later became commonplace when promoted by others (e.g. the transistor was a major invention but it didn’t take off until the semiconductor chip came to exist to hold all those transistors.) If you must keep score, Dr. Nakamats has already invented more (3218) inventions than Thomas Edison (only 1093), Steve Jobs (313) or Bill Gates (9) and has also earned the IG Nobel Prize (albeit for his research on nutrition).
Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Internet was also “invented” by a somewhat different group than those who made it useful and commonplace.