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Looking back at the birth of the internet

14/04/2020
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On the 1st January 1983, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) - a network of connected military and regional academic computers commissioned by the US Department of Defense - switched over to new TCP/IP protocols - an upgraded network that would form the basis of the internet. 

To celebrate Fircroft’s 50th anniversary, we’re looking back over half a century of engineering accomplishments. And in the last half century, nothing has been as dramatically world-changing as the introduction of the internet. 

The internet was born with the migration of the ARPANET to TCIP/IP in 1983
(Image via Glenn Carstens / Unsplash)

“We need to substitute for the book a device that will make it easy to transmit information without transporting material.” - JCR Licklider

The ARPANET was initiated by the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1969 as an area-wide packet-switching network with distributed control. Its development was based around the ideas of JCR Licklider - a psychologist and computer scientist who envisioned what he called an “intergalactic computer network” that would allow communication and the sharing of information instantly between connected computers. His detailed concept included everything that is now common in an internet from two-way communications to cloud computing, e-commerce, digital banking and point-and-click interfaces. 

As well as conceiving and promoting ideas for this network, Licklider funded much of the early research into computer networking.

JCR Licklider, originator of many concepts that make up today's internet
(Image via Wikipedia)

“In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face. That is a rather startling thing to say, but it is our conclusion.” - JCR Licklider

As head of Behavioral Sciences and COmmand and Control programs at ARPA, Licklider was able to convince computer engineers Ivan Sutherland and Bob Taylor to develop the concept further in what became the ARPANET. 

Collaboration between ARPA and other academic entities allowed them to connect their network. Taylor connected three terminals from his office to separate computers located in Santa Monica, Berkeley and MIT. As he explains it:

"For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So, if I was talking online with someone at S.D.C., and I wanted to talk to someone I knew at Berkeley, or M.I.T., about this, I had to get up from the S.D.C. terminal, go over and log into the other terminal and get in touch with them. I said, "Oh Man!", it's obvious what to do: If you have these three terminals, there ought to be one terminal that goes anywhere you want to go. That idea is the ARPANET".

Network map of the ARPANET
(Image via Wikipedia)


By 1982 the ARPANET had been opened up to connect a wide range of researchers and developers from both academic and military organisations worldwide, while other, similar networks followed. However, there was a growing desire to expand the network beyond a limited restricted circle of host computers, which the ARPANET was not set up for. 

By 1978, Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf succeeded in designing the Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). The TCP part would break data into packets, which would be transfered router to router through the network according to the IP protocol, until it is reassembled by the TCP protocol again when accessed from another device.

In 1982 it was decided that the ARPANET would migrate to the TCP/IP system. The combination of this existing network with the potential for data sharing through IP addresses was completed on the 1st January 1983 and formed the basis of the internet as it operates today. 

Original TCIP/IP map
(Image via Wikipedia)

The network would continue to expand as more computers were able to access and share information through the TCP/IP “Internet protocol suite” until in 1990 Sir Tim Berners Lee launched a method for users to browse and edit all the data stored across this network - the WorldWideWeb.

Today the internet is a central point for almost every aspect of our lives. It is a tool that connects the vast majority of the world; allows us to share knowledge, art, jokes and opinions; changes the way we do business; and keeps us together when we are physically isolated. There are many aspects of the internet as it’s known today that were launched a different times, but the 1983 upgrade of the ARPANET to using the internet protocol suite is generally considered the true birth of the internet.

The internet has grown since 1983 to the impossibly complex beast that is central to our lives in 2020
(Image via Markus Spiske / Unsplash)

Read last week's edition of 50 Years of Engineering, where we look back at 1982 and the discovery of the Margham gas field that transformed Dubai.

Fircroft - 50 years of connecting people

Since 1970 Fircroft has been recruiting engineering and technical professionals around the world. Register with us today to secure your next engineering job.
Tags: Engineering, ICT
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Looking back at the birth of the internet - Time to read 4 min
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