|The Wall Street Journal's L. Gordon Crovitz writes that the government had little if anything to do with the invention of the great series of tubes. His article of July 22nd, Who Really Invented the Internet?, presents a history of the internet nearly as inventive as Tim Berners-Lee's Hypertext Transfer Protocol.
A telling moment in the presidential race came recently when Barack Obama said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet."
It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens-and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.
Yes it's quite telling that all that government cold war MIC and NSF money pouring into Xerox PARC, various UC campuses, SRI, MIT, the birthplace of HAL, DEC, and IBM in the 60s and 70s had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the government had an inkling of the real value of high speed communications between the nation's premier research institutions and maintaining command and control networks in the event of nuclear conflict. Nah, what would you need that for when you have millions of pigeons.
According to Crovitz it was Albert Arnold Xerox Jr. who brought forth the veritable economic engine of capitalism now known as the internet. What Xerox researchers, Robert Taylor (no not that one), Robert Metcalfe and David Boggs did do is develop the ethernet protocol which is a specification which spans the physical and link levels of the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model. Of course, like the mouse, the personal computer, and other technology developed at PARC, Xerox had no idea what it had nor how to market it. If Bob Metcalfe hadn't left for DEC, we might be talking about Token Ring networks (yuk).
Ethernet sits at the same level as USB, Bluetooth, DSL, and Firewire specifications as well as many others. One might note that the internet does not depend solely on any given set of protocols in the physical and link layers of the OSI model. As a matter of fact the internet specification (TCP (level 3) / IP (level 4), thanks Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn) lies in the, you guessed it, internet level (level 3) can rest on top of any of the lower protocols. HTTP, by the way, sits on top of the OSI model (level 7: the application layer).
Ok, so that probably more than you ever wanted to know about guts and wires. The long and short of it is, Mr Crovitz's story is a writhing mass of twisted pair cables in the back of the wire closet. Unlike those wires, however, there are people who jumped in to unravel the mess on the floor. The most telling is the author of Dealers of Lightning quoted in Crovitz's article, Michael Hiltzik.
while I'm gratified in a sense that he cites my book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning," to support his case, it's my duty to point out that he's wrong. My book bolsters, not contradicts, the argument that the Internet had its roots in the ARPANet, a government project. So let's look at where Crovitz goes awry.
Crovitz confuses AN internet with THE Internet. Taylor was citing a technical definition of "internet" in his statement. But I know Bob Taylor, Bob Taylor is a friend of mine, and I think I can say without fear of contradiction that he fully endorses the idea as a point of personal pride that the government-funded ARPANet was very much the precursor of the Internet as we know it today. Nor was ARPA's support "modest," as Crovitz contends. It was full-throated and total. Bob Taylor was the single most important figure in the history of the Internet, and he holds that stature because of his government role.
Well, Mr Crovitz, I guess all your base are belong to us.
Tue Jul 24, 2012 at 10:21 PM PT: The LA Times posted Michael Hiltzik's comment here:
So, who really did invent the Internet?