Where Wizards Stay up Late: The Origins of the Internetby Katie Hafner
A little more than twenty-five years ago, computer networks did not exist anywhere - except in the minds of a handful of computer scientists. In the late 1960s, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency funded a project to create computer communication among its university-based researchers. The experiment was inspired by J. C. R. Licklider, a… See more details below
A little more than twenty-five years ago, computer networks did not exist anywhere - except in the minds of a handful of computer scientists. In the late 1960s, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency funded a project to create computer communication among its university-based researchers. The experiment was inspired by J. C. R. Licklider, a brilliant scientist from MIT. At a time when computers were generally regarded as nothing more than giant calculators, Licklider saw their potential as communications devices. Where Wizards Stay Up Late is the story of the small group of researchers and engineers whose invention, daring in its day, became the foundation for the Internet. With ARPA's backing, Licklider and others began the quest for a way to connect computers across the country. In 1969, ARPA awarded the contract to build the most integral piece of this network - a computerized switch called the Interface Message Processor, or IMP - to Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), a small Cambridge, Massachusetts, company. A half-dozen engineers at BBN, who called themselves the IMP Guys, knew it was possible to do what larger companies - including AT&T and IBM - had dismissed as impossible. But making computer networking possible required inventing new technologies. Working around the clock, the IMP Guys met a tight deadline, and the first IMP was installed at UCLA nine months after the contract award. A nationwide network called the ARPANET grew from four initial sites. Protocols were developed, and along the way a series of accidental discoveries were made, not the least of which was e-mail. Almost immediately, e-mail became the most popular feature of the Net and the "@" sign became lodged in the iconography of our times. The ARPANET continued to grow, then merged with other computer networks to become today's Internet. In 1990, the ARPANET itself was shut down, fully merged by then with the Internet it had spawned.
Newsweek contributing editor Hafner (coauthor of Cyberpunk, 1991) and husband Lyon, who is assistant to the president of the University of Texas, begin their story back in the '50s, when President Eisenhower decided that basic scientific research was the quickest way to improve the nation's defense. The key instrument was the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), nominally part of the Pentagon. ARPA quickly acquired several advanced computers; when several scientists (notably J.C.R. Licklider and Robert G. Taylor) began to wonder why none of the computers could "talk" to the others, the seeds of the Internet were sown.
Believing that advanced computing capacity was vital to the national defense, ARPA proposed connecting a number of computers through the phone system. A small Massachusetts company, Bolt Beranek and Newman, managed to win the bid; within a year, inventing almost everything from the ground up, they had managed to connect several college campuses on the West coast. Gradually, the ARPANET became the focus of an intensive development effort among computer scientists; but their goals were far different from the defense projects its creators had envisioned. Far-reaching decisions were made by the first person who happened to tackle the problem at hand. E-mail quickly took center stage, followed by newsgroups in which scientists with a common interest could exchange information and views. By the time the Defense Department decided to try to regain control, it was obvious that they had inadvertentlycreated an entity no single authority could control. Within 25 years, the Internet had grown from an impossible dream to an indispensable scientific tool.
A clear and comprehensive, though often flat, account of an important bit of scientific history.
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Where Wizards Stay Up LateThe Origins of the Internet
By Katie Hafner
Rebound by SagebrushCopyright © 1998 Katie Hafner
All right reserved.
From Chapter One
Bob Taylor usually drove to work, thirty minutes through the rolling countryside northeast of Washington, over the Potomac River to the Pentagon. There, in the morning, he'd pull into one of the vast parking lots and try to put his most-prized possession, a BMW 503, someplace he could remember. There were few if any security checkpoints at the entrances to the Pentagon in 1966. Taylor breezed in wearing his usual attire: sport coat, tie, button-down short-sleeve shirt, and slacks. Thirty thousand other people swarmed through the concourse level daily, in uniform and mufti alike, past the shops and up into the warrens of the enormous building.
Taylor's office was on the third floor, the most prestigious level in the Pentagon, near the offices of the secretary of defense and the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The offices of the highest-ranking officials in the Pentagon were in the outer, or E-ring. Their suites had views of the river and national monuments. Taylor's boss, Charles Herzfeld, the head of ARPA, was among those with a view, in room 3E160. The ARPA director rated the highest symbols of power meted out by the Department ofDefense (DOD), right down to the official flags beside his desk. Taylor was director of the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), just a corridor away, an unusually independent section of ARPA charged with supporting the nation's most advanced computer research-and-development projects.
The IPTO director's suite, where Taylor hung his coat from 1965 to 1969, was located in the D-ring. What his office lacked in a view was compensated for by its comfort and size. It was a plushly carpeted and richly furnished room with a big desk, a heavy oak conference table, glass-fronted bookcases, comfortable leather chairs, and all the other trappings of rank, which the Pentagon carefully measured out even down to the quality of the ashtrays. (Traveling on military business, Taylor carried the rank of one-star general.) On one wall of his office was a large map of the world; a framed temple rubbing from Thailand hung prominently on another.
Inside the suite, beside Taylor's office, was another door leading to a small space referred to as the terminal room. There, side by side, sat three computer terminals, each a different make, each connected to a separate mainframe computer running at three separate sites. There was a modified IBM Selectric typewriter terminal connected to a computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. A Model 33 Teletype terminal, resembling a metal desk with a large noisy typewriter embedded in it, was linked to a computer at the University of California in Berkeley. And another Teletype terminal, a Model 35, was dedicated to a computer in Santa Monica, California, called, cryptically enough, the AN/FSQ 32XD1A, nicknamed the Q-32, a hulking machine built by IBM for the Strategic Air Command. Each of the terminals in Taylor's suite was an extension of a different computing environmentdifferent programming languages, operating systems, and the like within each of the distant mainframes. Each had a different log-in procedure; Taylor knew them all. But he found it irksome to have to remember which log-in procedure to use for which computer. And it was still more irksome, after he logged in, to be forced to remember which commands belonged to which computing environment. This was a particularly frustrating routine when he was in a hurry, which was most of the time.
The presence of three different computer terminals in Taylor's Pentagon office reflected IPTO's strong connection to the leading edge of the computer research community, resident in a few of the nation's top universities and technical centers. In all, there were some twenty principal investigators, supporting dozens of graduate students, working on numerous projects, all of them funded by Taylor's small office, which consisted of just Taylor and a secretary. Most of IPTO's $19 million budget was being sent to campus laboratories in Boston and Cambridge, or out to California, to support work that held the promise of making revolutionary advances in computing. Under ARPA's umbrella, a growing sense of community was emerging in computer research in the mid-1960s. Despite the wide variety of projects and computer systems, tight bonds were beginning to form among members of the computer community. Researchers saw each other at technical conferences and talked by phone; as early as 1964 some had even begun using a form of electronic mail to trade comments, within the very limited proximity of their mainframe computers.
Communicating with that community from the terminal room next to Taylor's office was a tedious process. The equipment was state of the art, but having a room cluttered with assorted computer terminals was like having a den cluttered with several television sets, each dedicated to a different channel. "It became obvious," Taylor said many years later, "that we ought to find a way to connect all these different machines."
Copyright © 1996 by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
Excerpted from Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner Copyright © 1998 by Katie Hafner. Excerpted by permission.
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