What is the Internet?

Posted: June 20, 2010 in Module 1: Internet Foundations
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The Internet is not the world wide web … or TCP/IP or Cyberspace.  There are relationships between all these elements but one thing does not equal the other.
A bit of history :
1957 … not long out of the WWII, heading into the cold war.  United States and USSR staring each other down. Sputnik I first human created object that was launched into space and recovered.  USSR was winning the technology battle. In response the US government created NASA and Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).
1960 … JCR Licklider hypothesised that humans and computers would come together in cooperative interaction.  Licklider was a key figure at ARPA.
1963 … Licklider heads ARPA and the “Intergalatic Computer Network” becomes the ARPANet project which aims to connect supercomputers across the US … the key aim was to make the major universities’ computers to work more effectively.
1968 …  he co-wrote a paper with Robert Taylor “Computer as a Communication Device” which predicted that in few years humans would be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face-to-face.
“We believe we are entering a technological age in which we will be able to interact with the richness of living information – not merely in the passive way that we have become accustomed to using books and libraries, but as active participants in an ongoing process, bringing something to it through our interaction with it, and not by receiving something from it…” (J.C.R. Licklider and Robert W. Taylor, Science and Technology, April 1968)
Sept 2, 1969 – first two computers were connected from UCLA to Stanford Research Institute.  By Dec 69 four computers were connected.  Networks were growing all over the place but most networks could not talk to each other.
Vint Cerf was the man who came up with TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol) which is a way for networks to communicate with and share information with other networks.  TCP/IP includes Packet Verification which checks packets on arrival to the receiving computer to make sure all packets have been received and alerts the sending network if required to be resent.
Internet Protocol is the Internet address of a computer or network. Domain Name System (DNS) arrived in 1984.  Connects a human-readable name to the IPs.  Consists of a limited number of top-level domains (.com, .gov), country (.au .tv)  There is a .us extension but not commonly used because the US came first.
In summary, the Internet is a global interconnected network of computers.  It runs using both packet switching and the TCP/IP protocols, and uses the DNS to make numeric addresses human readable.
It was evolved from a number of different projects but most directly from the ARPANet.  It is the fundamental technological infrastructure upon which the World Wide Web and many other protocols run.
Email took off after being invented in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson.  Two years later three-quarters of all traffic on ARPANet was email.  This was people talking to each other rather than people talking to machines or machines talking to each other.  Once people found a tool, the Internet became social very quickly.  Group emails became a way of connecting large groups of people.  Mail stopped being a one-to-one method of communication.  It was far faster, could travel far greater distances and would become a fraction of the cost of traditional mail.  Newsgroups were next to take off.  USENET emerged in the 1980s.  These were relatively “unmoderated” groups – there was no central server and dedicated server.  It was all about sharing, have collaborations and be social, rather than just using the combined power of super computers.
In his 1984 novel, “Neuromancer”, William Gibson eloquently defined Cyberspace as:
“A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system.  Unthinkable complexity.  Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data.  Like city lights, receding.”  (William Gibson, Neuromancer, Ace Books, New York 1984)
I love this descriptive definition and to think this was written by Gibson in 1984, long before the World Wide Web came into being.  Unthinkable complexity then and unimaginable complexity 26 years later.

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