One of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Vint Cerf, has come out swinging against a hotly contested Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that the US government shouldn’t take credit for inventing the Internet. “Articles like [Gordon] Crovitz’ distort history for political purposes and I hope people who want to know the real story will discount this kind of revisionist interpretation,” he says, in an interview with CNET.
While Crovitz’ WSJ article contends that Ethernet, the computer-to-computer connection technology invented by Xerox, should be credited with the creation of the web, Cerf retorts with a detailed account of how Ethernet relied upon Defense Department software for connecting different networks of computers together (hence, Inter-net).
“I would happily fertilize my tomatoes with Crovitz’ assertion,” jokes Cerf. Starting with the origins of Internet at the Defense Department’s mad scientist laboratory, ARPA, he delves in for some geeky story time,
“The United States government via ARPA started the project. (Bob Kahn initiated the Internetting project when he joined ARPA in late 1972. He had been principal architect of the ARPANET IMP (packet switch) while at BBN [Technologies]. Bob invited me to work with him on open networking in the spring of 1973. We also both worked on the ARPANET project starting in 1968,” he recalls. ARPANET, an early network that connected 4 west coast universities, along with a few other digital networks, rolled out “operationally” on January 1st, 1983.
As for Xerox’s role, Cerf says that Ethernet was an admirable technology that helped linked computers together, but “the internetworking method did not scale particularly well.”
“Ethernet was designed primarily as a local networking technology to connect computers in a home or office,” explains tech blog Ars Technica, in a more digestible format than Cerf’s acronym-laden interview. One of the real backbones of the Internet was TCP/IP, a communications standard that allowed various networks to transfer data to one another, which was based on the pioneering work of Cerf’s ARPA partner, Bob Kahn. “The point of the Internet’s TCP/IP protocol was to allow networks using different standards, including Ethernet, to communicate with each other. Many of the networks that now comprise the Internet use the Ethernet protocol, but what makes the Internet the Internet is TCP/IP, not Ethernet.”
If the government created the web, does this mean that it deserves more funding to promote innovation for the private sector? Or, could the private sector have created something similar? Share your thoughts about this on-going debate in the comments.
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