In 1958’s competitive international context, and with the intention of “forming and executing research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower created ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency). The agency was later renamed DARPA, with the D standing for “Defense.”
Although ARPA’s first director (Roy Johnson) and his assistant (Herbert York) were interested in space projects, NASA – which was established later in the same year – as soon put in charge of that field. Johnson resigned and two other directors followed, among them Jack Ruina, the man in charge of hiring computer scientist and psychologist Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider.
J.C.R., as he was known to friends, was in charge of running the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO). And without him, we wouldn’t have the Internet of today and society would be quite different.
The first steps
ARPA focused on developing a series of experimental programs, including computer processing. In 1959 it also developed the NAVSAT system, a predecessor of the Global Positioning Sytem, or GPS. In 1963 the agency funded MIT’s Project MAC, of which Licklider was a key participant, and groundbreaking research emerged on fields, from computer science to artificial intelligence. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory was then tasked with developing SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), which depended on a computer and prompted the lab to carry out necessary research that could live up to SAGE’s requirements.
In 1969 the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was developed, along with the first TCP/IP communications protocols. Licklider first posited the fundamental principles of computer networking, and it was thanks to his contribution that ARPANET and packet switching were made possible.
The global web
At the beginning of 1970 there were already 23 host networks (research centers and universities) in the United States. When network email was introduced by computer scientist Ray Tomlinson in late 1971, it quickly became quite popular among a small but loyal user base. One year later, ARPANET made its historic first international connection, communicating with scientists at the Norwegian Royal Radar Establishment.
In 1982 the term “Internet” was used for the first time, and the Domain Name System (DNS) was introduced two years after that. By the end of the ‘80s, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) scientist Tim Berners-Lee, a London-born Brit, invented the World Wide Web.
Thanks to the groundbreaking work of figures like Licklider, Tomlinson, and Berners-Lee, 27 years later society has entered an interconnected age throughout almost all of the world.
A connected life
It can be difficult to envision everything that the Internet has changed, because we are still adapting to technology that continually reshapes the world we live in. On a basic level, we could think of daily activities the online age has affected, like the ability to purchase products from anywhere on the planet, instant access to international news sources, and face-to- face online interactions with people that live oceans away.
Carrying around miniature maps with GPS to pinpoint our exact location, playing our favorite games anywhere, watching movies or listening to music while on the move, knowing what the weather will be like – the Internet has given us many amazing improvements.
Nobody working on ARPA could have envisioned how the network would evolve over the years, and it is quite evident that it wasn’t initially created with this intention. In any event, the Internet has made connection on a global scale not only possible, but convenient, and the way we conceive reality is always being transformed. What will come ahead remains to be seen, but for now, we can all appreciate having our own space in this virtual network that, one way or another, brings us all closer together.