Heroes of the internet part 3: The US Military
Much as it pains me to type it, the US Military play a key part in the history of the internet.
Because they actually INVENTED THE INTERNET… and one of the first Turing complete computers.
I guess that brings a whole new meaning to “WAR, HUH! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?”… well, interconnecting computers, aparently. I’ll come to that in a moment, but for it to make sense, you’ll first need to know about the computers that they’d invented and were using, as it was the use of these that bought about the internet.
ENIAC – Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer
ENIAC was the first programmable, electronic, general-purpose digital computer. It was invented in 1945.
Other computers could do parts of what ENIAC could do, but ENIAC was the first that was programmable and general purpose, and was Turing complete. You can read more about Alan Turing here if you’re interested.
ENIAC was designed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert and it’s intended purpose was to calculate artillery firing tables for the United States Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory. Despite it’s intended purpose, its first program was a study of the feasibility of the thermonuclear weapon. Cheery, eh?
ENIAC was completed in 1945 and first put to work for practical purposes on December 10, 1945. It cost $487,000 (equivalent to $6,200,000 in 2021), so it wasn’t exatly cheap.
I’m not going to bang on about ENIAC too much despite it being the first general purpose computer.
The point is that the US Military started had started using computers, and the more they used them, the more they relied upon them. This was all well and good until the threat of nuclear war started worrying world powers, and (you can probably see where I’m going with this), at some point someone said “what if these computers that we now rely on get nuked?”.
Beleive it or not, it was this question (or words to that effect) that lead to the development of the first itteration of the internet.
ARPANET – Advanced Research Projects Agency Network
ARPANET’s development was initiated by the United States Department of Defense’s research arm, in an effort to answer the “what if these computers that we now rely on get nuked?” question.
The idea was that computers could be networked on a country wide scale, and they could share information with each other across this network. What this meant was that the US Military would have a decentralised computer network, so if one part did get nuked, the other parts would still remain in place and continue to communicate with each other.
You can probably picture the physical networking of wires used to connect these computers, but how did they actually communicate with each other?
TCP/IP (Transfer protocol/internet protocol)
TCP/IP was the communication protocol developed to be used on the physical network that joined all these computers together.
TCP/IP is still used today, by all of us, when we transfer any data over the internet, be it requesting a web page, sending an email, or watching Netflix.
TCP/IP is a packet-switching technology, which is a method of breaking data into packets that could be transmitted independently and reassembled at their destination.
TCP/IP is also what’s called a guaranteed protocol. What this means is that as well as the actual data being sent and recieved there are also acknowledgement of the reciept of packets, and resends to ensure that the all the data is sent and received in full.
There are some network protocols (such as UDP) that aren’t guaranteed, as they lack the reciept acknowledgement and respective resends. Consequently, when using UDP, you might not get all the data packets (so there may be some data loss, or corruption), where as you do get all the data with TCPI/IP.
It’s this that makes this joke (kind of) funny:
I could tell you a joke about UDP, but you might not get it. Acutally, instead I’ll tell you a joke about TCP/IP, you’ll deffinately get that.
I’m sure you can see why it’s “kind of” funny.
So not only did the US Military develop a physical network of all these computers, but they came up with a guaranteed protocol that these computers could use to communicate with each other.
This bought numerous advantages to the US MIlitary:
- Resilient Communication: The Cold War heightened concerns about the survivability of communication networks in the event of a nuclear conflict. ARPANET was designed to be a decentralized network, meaning that if one part of the network was damaged or destroyed, communication could still occur through alternative routes.
- Research Collaboration: ARPANET aimed to facilitate collaboration and communication among researchers and scientists working on various projects funded by DARPA. The network was intended to connect researchers at different universities and research institutions, allowing them to share resources, information, and ideas.
- Resource Sharing: ARPANET was developed to enable the sharing of computing resources, which were expensive and often underutilized at individual institutions. The network allowed researchers to access and use remote computers and resources.
- Packet Switching Technology: ARPANET utilized packet-switching technology, a method of breaking data into packets that could be transmitted independently and reassembled at their destination. This technology was more efficient and robust than traditional circuit-switching systems.
While ARPANET’s original objectives were military and research-oriented, its development laid the groundwork for the evolution of the modern internet. The principles and technologies developed for ARPANET became the foundation for the internet that we know and use today.
So that’s why the US Military make it in to the Heroes of the Internet. I’d have avoided writing this blog post if I would get away with it, but they did, y’know, like actaully invent the internet (or a network that would at least go on to develop in to what we know as the internet today).