Transcript for 1. Genesis - the birth of the Internet

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered where the Internet came from, who invented it and why. So, I set out to see what I could find out.

There’s a lot of controversy about exactly where the Internet came from. So, when I was doing my research, looking at books, websites and magazine articles, I had to be careful to consider how trustworthy each bit of information was.

To help show how the Internet developed, I put together a timeline – or chronology – that you can look at on the Connected Earth website at www.connected-earth.com. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. Worried that the United States might get left behind in science and technology, President Eisenhower set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency (known as ARPA) in 1958. ARPA carried out top secret defence research, including work on computers.

Lots of people think that the Internet was a military project, designed to survive a nuclear war – but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, the birth of the Internet was largely because academic researchers needed to share knowledge with each other.

In 1962, Joseph Licklider of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT) published a paper on the idea of networked computers, which he called the ‘Galactic Network’. He became the leader of the ARPA computer team and was involved in work exploring the concept of sending messages between computers in small electronic ‘packets’. Separately, in 1964, Paul Baran of the RAND Corporation published research for the US Air Force, which was also about communicating using packets of information. Lastly, research at the National Physical Laboratories in Britain, came up with similar ideas for computer networking and they called it ‘packet switching’. These three teams worked separately until 1967 when they had a meeting and shared their ideas. Their common vision eventually grew into the Internet we know today. So how did this vision become a reality? The ARPA team was spread across several American universities. ARPA staff decided to test out these new ideas of computer networking by connecting all their computer systems together in a simple, uniform way.

In 1969, ARPAnet was born, linking the first four ‘nodes’ at the University of California in Los Angeles, the Stanford Research Institute, the University of California in Santa Barbara and the University of Utah. Because of the special structure of ARPAnet, messages could travel through it using many different paths.

By the time ARPAnet was revealed to the public in 1972, the network had spread to around 50 universities and research centres across the United States. In 1973, ARPAnet went global, when its first international connections were made with University College London and NORSAR, a research centre in Norway. With so many people working on similar research projects, they needed a way of communicating with each other directly, to share and compare information. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson created email. He’d been working on a messaging program for ARPAnet staff and also on an experimental computer program called ‘CYPNET’, which transferred files between linked computers. Ray put the two ideas together and email was born. It was Ray who chose the ‘@’ sign for email addresses. As email became easier to use, there was no turning back. As fast as ARPAnet spread, so did email. The revolution had begun!