Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hafner, coauthor of Cyberpunk, and Lyon, assistant to the president of the University of Texas, here unveil the Sputnik-era beginnings of the Internet, the groundbreaking scientific work that created it and the often eccentric, brilliant scientists and engineers responsible. Originally funded during the Eisenhower administration by IPTO (Information Processing Techniques Office) within the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), ARPANET, the Internet's predecessor, was devised as a way to share far-flung U.S. computer resources at a time when computers were wildly expensive, room-sized bohemoths unable to communicate with any other. The husband-and-wife writing team profile the computer engineering firm of Bolt Baranek and Newman, which produced the original prototypes for ARPANET, and they profile the men (there were virtually no women) and an alphabet soup of agencies, universities and software that made the Internet possible. And while the book attempts to debunk the conventional notion that ARPANET was devised primarily as a communications link that could survive nuclear war (essentially it was not), pioneer developers like Paul Baran (who, along, with British Scientist Donald Davies devised the Internet's innovative packet-switching message technology) recognized the importance of an indestructible message medium in an age edgy over the prospects of global nuclear destruction. The book is excellent at enshrining little known but crucial scientist/administrators like Bob Taylor, Larry Roberts and Joseph Licklider, many of whom laid the groundwork for the computer science industry. (Aug.)
Hafner (coauthor of Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier, LJ 6/1/91) and Lyon tell the fascinating story of some extraordinary computer scientists who, with the Department of Defense in the late 1960s, developed the ARPANET. It is based mostly on interviews with those scientists and engineers who designed and built a revolutionary computer network that spawned the global Internet. The authors dispel a widely held belief, propagated for years by the mainstream press, that the ARPANET and the Internet were developed to either support or to survive nuclear war. Rather, the project aimed to link computer resources at laboratories across the country and enable scientists to share research and computing resources over a network. An important historical work for most library collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/96.] Joe J. Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Now that high school students are spending their spare time cruising the Internet, it's probably time the rest of us found out how the whole thing started.
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.
Read an Excerpt
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 of Defense (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. Itwas 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