Work and World

Who Invented The Internet? And Why?

So, have you ever wondered who
actually invented the internet? Some people have become zillionaires
thanks to the internet. But all they did was invent clever
ways of using the internet. So the person who “invented the internet”
should be a gazillionaire equivalent to, say, God, shoudn’t they? Who should get the credit, then? Was it a British geek in a Swiss
underground lab? Maybe. Clever Americans threatened with
nuclear annihilation by the Russians? Nice idea. French scientists who decided to call
their computer network the “Le Internet”? Interesting. Or was it thanks to a myriad of smart
scientists working on something they knew was useful, but didn’t realize
would be so big? Well, let’s try and get some
facts straight. There’s the internet, a whole bunch of
computer networks connected to each other, and then there’s the World Wide Web, a
way of making it easier to share information using all those
interconnected computers. The internet as we know it today was at
least 40 years in the making. One popular but wrong story is that the
internet was developed by the USA so they had a communication network that
would survive a nuclear war. According to one of the founders of the
first network, the ARPANET, in the 1960s, this first network experiment wasn’t about
communication at all; it was about optimizing processor usage,
or time-sharing, which basically meant that scientists
could share computer power, too. That was because until the 1960s there was
basically no network—you had big machines called mainframes which sat in the room
and processed computing tasks one at a time. With time-sharing, these behemoths could
process several tasks at a time, which meant their power could be used by
several scientists at once. And, obviously, once you start connecting
computers together, you start to wonder about
what you need to do to make communications
between them easier. Scientists around the world were trying to
solve this problem. So let’s look at some other key concepts
that were developed elsewhere. Starting with packet switching. In Britain, there was a commercial
network, developed by the National Physical Laboratory, but which
never really got off the ground because it didn’t get funding. But they did come up with the idea of
packet switching, a way of avoiding congestion in busy networks by
cutting up data at one end and putting it back together at the other. The French also played a role. They were working on a scientific network
called CYCLADES, but they didn’t have a big budget, so they
decided to work on direct connections between computers, as opposed to working
with gateway computers. Now, as an aside here, this, admittedly,
isn’t very scientific, but according to one theory, a spin-off of
their research was the word “internet”. But you don’t have to believe it
if you don’t want to. So, now it’s the early 1970s. There’s quite a lot of computer
infrastructure, but communication is awkward and patchy, because different
networks can’t talk to each other. TCP/IP solves this problem. The TCP/IP protocols form the basic
communication language of the internet, which labels the packets of data
and makes sure that even though some pieces of the same data
take a different route, they all arrive at their destination and
can be reassembled. Networks really began communicating
with each other in 1975, so you could argue that was
the beginning of the internet. Email was also very important. It was developed for ARPANET in 1972. Most internet traffic in 1976 was email,
because academics thought electronic post-it notes were dead-core. With networks that could talk to each
other, communication was becoming easier. But all this communication was just text-
based, and it was pretty ugly to look at. In the 1980s, a Brit called
Timothy Berners-Lee spent time with CERN, the European
Organization for Nuclear Research, where physicists are trying to work out
what the universe is made of. He wanted to manage the scientists’
information and make it possible for them to share and interconnect
their work easily, making progress more likely. He did so by inventing an interface
using HTTP, HTML, and URLs that made internet browsers possible. He called his browser the World Wide Web. So he didn’t invent the internet,
but he did invent the Web. The first ever website, which he created,
was at CERN in France in August 1991. So, once the initial infrastructure
was in place, the key technologies had been invented, internet message boards
exploded in the 1980s, the phone companies saw the commercial
potential of digital communication, web browsers spread like wildfire in the
early 1990s, and ordinary people discovered email, then the internet expanded
rapidly and steadily and became workable for the masses
from about 1995. Hold on, didn’t US Vice President Al Gore
invent the internet? Ugh… no. And if you read what he said exactly,
you’ll know he never claimed to have done. But many people credit him with
energetically pushing legislation that encouraged the spread
of the internet. The internet exists because we
need to communicate, and most of us like doing it. That’s why humans have become
the dominant species on Earth. You could argue that the internet is
a natural evolutionary step and a manifestation of that need. It wasn’t invented by anyone
in particular, but when the building blocks were put
together by all those cool scientists from all over the place, the internet
became a communication tool, a retail tool, a research tool,
a propaganda tool, a spying tool, a shopping tool, a dating tool,
an entertainment tool, and a way of skiving off work while making
it look like you’re working or studying, which is what you may be doing now. Ultimately, though, you’re communicating,
especially if you leave a comment, and that might make you a
better human being. Subtitles by the community
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