It seems that over the pond, the US press is finally admitting that its glorious government did not really invent the internet.
For years the US has trotted out what amounts to an urban legend that the Pentagon created the internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The legend has been used to explain why the US should control the internet domain system and not some international world body.
The legend was recently spouted by Barack Obama who used it as proof that the government really was important to the development of technology. He said that the internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all companies could make money off it.
However, according to the Wall Street Journal, some in the US have conceded that it was a lot more complex than that. By the 1960s technologists were trying to connect separate physical communications networks into one global network.
While the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network did work in this direction, it was not about 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 technologists in 2004 saying that what Arpanet had was not an internet. An internet is a connection between two or more computer networks and that was nothing like Arpanet.
Taylor said that the full credit should go to Xerox PARC labs, where he worked in the 1970s. It was there that Ethernet was developed to connected different computer networks for the first time.
Xerox PARC researchers realised that waiting for the government to connect networks was like waiting for Godot because ARPA was too slow and bureaucratic.
Xerox, having invented the internet, missed a major trick. It was only interested in selling photocopiers so its interest in Ethernet was only important because it meant a printer could be shared. It was Ethernet technology which connected networks together.
The real internet came along when Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the internet’s backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee created hyperlinks.