The roots of the Internet

The roots of the Internet

May 17, 2022

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The Internet has an answer to (almost) any question or problem. Let’s say you need to connect with distant relatives/friends, fill up the pantry from home, listen to some music, watch your favorite series, or just want to spend your free time scrolling infinitely through social media apps… In any case, the Internet has got your back.

Most of our lives are flooded with endless online surfing. Nevertheless, how many of us actually know how the Internet was invented despite its influence on our everyday life?

Every year, May 17 is dedicated to Internet Day and simultaneously World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. More than a post, today we pay homage to this revolutionary technology, telling you more about the Internet’s roots, back in the sixties.

The Internet has a military background

The roots of the Internet can be traced back to the United States in the 1960s. During that moment, the world was experiencing a tense period due to political polarization between the USA and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Both global forces were armed with lethal nuclear weapons. People lived in constant fear and the “conflict” had grown to a point that threatened the world order established after World War II.

In 1957, when the USSR launched the Sputnik 1 satellite, the U.S. Defense Department realised that they needed to develop a system able to share information that could not be impacted by a Soviet nuclear attack. This ultimately led to the creation of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a connection of computer terminals that created the first computer networking. ARPANET initially connected four independent network nodes: the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Stanford Research Institute (SRI), the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of Utah.

“LO”: an emblematic message that changed history forever

The research of the best engineers and scientists in the country created the precursor to the modern-day internet. On October 29, 1969, computers at the UCLA and Stanford Research Institute connected for the first time. Leonard Kleinrock, a professor of computer science and pioneer of the mathematical theory of packet networks, and UCLA’s student programmer Charley Kline sent the first message across ARPANET at 10:30 pm to Stanford University researcher Bill Duval.

The message was supposed to be “LOGIN”. However, the connection crashed the moment the duo typed the second letter, forever changing the way that knowledge, information, and communication would be shared. “LO” holds a special place in history and in our hearts.

The Internet was created in a bar in the heart of Silicon Valley

Yet, ARPANET faced one major challenge: it had to be accessible anywhere! In its early stages, ARPANET wasn’t mobile and communicated only over fixed links. Just out of curiosity, UNIVAC 1 (UNIVAC stands for Universal Automatic Computer) is the first digital commercial computer to catch the eye of the American public in 1951. It was a room-sized giant that used 5000 vacuum tubes, weighed about 13.154kg, and could perform about 1000 calculations per second.

Getting computers to connect to one another – networking – was a challenge. But getting various computer networks to communicate with each other – internetworking – was a whole new level.

January 1, 1983, is considered the official birthday of the Internet due to the establishment of Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). Thanks to this suite of communication protocols, several kinds of computers on different networks could now “talk” to each other. But much has led to this point.

In this context, we can say that the Internet was also invented in a small beer garden. Rossotti’s (these days it is called the Alpine Inn Beer Garden), a former frontier saloon, is the place where it all happened. On August 27, 1976, we could find a group of seven men and one woman sitting at a picnic table with a computer terminal.

The team was led by Don Nielson who collaborated with SRI, a major ARPA partner. On that fruitful summer day, the small group was responsible for a great experiment that implemented the flexibility that characterizes the Internet. An antenna on a van’s roof parked outside Rossotti’s (California) transmitted packets as radio signals to an antenna at the ARPA office in Boston, in a similar way to today’s Wi-Fi networks.

Who knew that beer could actually fuel great ideas?!