Building a computer network in space, as Google’s Vint Cerf has proposed, is all well and good, but Toru Takahashi wants to foster better digital communication much closer to home. “Cerf is very eager for interplanetary communication, I think some kind of inner-mind communication is what’s needed,” says Takahashi with only a bit of leg pulling.
Takahashi, like Cerf, is considered an Internet pioneer and has spent decades promoting the internet and better communication in his native Japan. The power of the internet as a mode to bring people closer together is what drove the Internet Hall of Fame inductee to leave a career as a writer and editor in the early ‘80s and put his energy toward assembling the pieces of what would become the internet in Japan.
Unlike many of his peers, Takahashi came relatively late to the technology world. Trained at Tohoku University in the mid ‘60s in aesthetics and art history, he was introduced to technology when he took on a marketing job at the Laboratory of Innovation for Quality of Life, a sort of technology think tank. After the think tank, Takahashi landed at Digital Computer Limited where he managed UNIX workstations and the development of high-speed networks. “Everything was so fresh and attractive,” Takahashi says. “I learned UNIX, studied artificial intelligence, database technologies, everything was fascinating.”
The fundamental technology underpinning the Internet is called packet-switching. And Donald Davies was the first one to call it that.
In the mid-1960s, Davies was a researcher with Britain’s National Physical Laboratory, or NPL, when he started exploring a new breed of networking that involved breaking information into tiny messages, before shipping them from place to place. He dubbed the tiny messages “packets,” and after he and other NPL researchers unveiled a paper on this research, the name stuck — as did the technology. In a very big way.
At the time, others were developing similar networking techniques, including Paul Baran at the RAND Corporation, Leonard Kleinrock at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Larry Roberts with ARPA, the research operation funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, and all four of these efforts dovetailed as Roberts and ARPA spawned the ARPAnet, a packet-switched network that would eventually give rise to the internet.
“Kleinrock, Baran, Davies, and Roberts developed their [packet-switching] ideas pretty much independently,” says...
Paul Baran set out to build a means of communication that could survive a nuclear war. And he ended up inventing the fundamental networking techniques that underpin the internet.
In the early 1960s — as an engineer with the RAND Corporation, the U.S. armed-forces think tank founded in the wake of the Second World War — Baran developed a new breed of communication system that could keep running even if part of it was knocked out by a nuclear blast. It was the height of the Cold War, and the nuclear threat was very much on the mind of, well, just about everyone.
Basically, Baran cooked up a system that could divide communications into tiny pieces and use distributed network “nodes” to pass these pieces around. If one node was knocked out, the others could pick up the slack. In 1964, he published a paper on this system — entitled “On Distributed Communications” — and a few years later, it would play into the development of the ARPAnet, the research network that would eventually morph into the modern internet.
Paul Baran passed away in March 2011, but his work lives on — in more ways than one. Earlier this year, he was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Internet Society’s (ISOC) Internet Hall of Fame, taking his place alongside such names a...
While Lawrence Landweber, Vint Cerf, and Bob Kahn were setting up America’s earliest network connections, across the Atlantic in Amsterdam, Daniel Karrenberg was building what would become Europe’s first intercontinental network. Arguably, Karrenberg’s contributions, coupled with innovations from Cerf, Landweber, and Kahn, created today’s modern internet.
Karrenberg’s first taste of networking came during a summer job at Microsoft’s Bellevue, Washington headquarters in 1982, while he was still a computer science student at Germany’s Dortmund University. While at the young American company (Microsoft had about 220 employees then, and had just launched its first computer mouse) he was introduced to Usenet, a news and electronic mail network. “This is great, I want this at home and at my university,” Karrenberg recalls thinking at the time.
When Karrenberg returned to Europe after that summer at Microsoft, he sought out others who wanted a Usenet-like connection in Europe as well. He ended up coordinating the creation of EUnet, the...
There are a thousand stories about the origin of the Internet, each with their own starting point and their own heroes. Charles Herzfeld’s tale began in 1961 on a series of tiny islands in the South Pacific. The U.S. military was test-firing a series of ballistic missiles at the island chain, known as the Kwajalein Atoll, with an array of radars and optical infrared sensors recording every re-entry. Herzfeld, the Vienna-born physicist and newly installed chief of the Advanced Research Projects Agency’s missile defense program, was trying to figure out how to make sense of the vast amount of data generated by all of those incoming missiles. The computers he had at the time weren’t up to the task.
Herzfeld, in search of solutions, asked his colleague J.C.R. Licklider out to lunch. They met at the Secretary of Defense’s Mess in the Pentagon’s E Ring, and over a series of meals talked through ideas that would transform computing forever.
Licklider, the head of of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office, was already one of computer science’s leading thinkers. (“Licklider was our prophet. I signed onto his vision from the beginning,” Herzfeld says.) Not only did Licklider predict that one day “human brains and computing machines will be coupled” into a partnership that would surpass either component’s ability to process information. Licklider theorized that people could one day interact with all sorts of computers at once — even though each machine had its...