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The Birth & Evolution of the Internet

written by: Bruce Tyson•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 5/20/2011

Contrary to one famous claim, the Internet was not invented by a former American Vice President. Other theories about the birth and evolution of the Internet involve the Pentagon. Here you will learn about these theories and the history that brought the Internet to us in its present form.

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    The Big Bang Theory

    One of the popular explanations of the birth and evolution of the Internet supposes that the Pentagon "invented" it in 1969 as a tool to 450px-Birth of the Internet improve the survivability of a nuclear conflict. Called the "Big Bang" theory, evoking both the creation of the universe and the explosiveness of a nuclear weapon, this theory of the Internet continues to be very popular.

    Upon the supposed 35th anniversary of the Internet in 2004, one of the two founders of Arpanet, Bob Taylor, wrote a disclaimer asserting that Arpanet was not the Internet and that Arpanet did not evolve due to any preparations for armed conflict. Although it clearly could be viewed as a forerunner of the Internet, because it did not connect two networks together, it clearly was not the Internet per se.

    Still, Arpanet can be considered a forerunner of the Internet because it was a packet switching network, although it was not the first to implement that technology. The first packet switched network is said to be the British NPL Data Communications Network which successfully interconnected computers via a packet switched network in 1966, making it more significant than Arpanet in Internet history.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Ethics2med

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    Other Important Internet Theories

    Although the Arpanet theory of Internet origins seems to hold public acceptance, other proposals have been articulated that may make more sense.

    TCP/IP. Because the earliest networks, NPL and Arpanet, were not intended to interconnect networks, nor were they projects that in their initial forms facilitated communications over distance, many accept neither as the first Internet. Some trace the origins of the Internet to 1975 when the first iteration of TCP/IP was introduced as the means to connect multiple networks running different protocols. This event seems to be a good fit for the criteria of an Internet, but to date is not widely accepted as its origin.

    Telephone Companies. Some say that since the telephone companies operated many networks and sought to interconnect them through digital means in the early 1960s that they are the ones who created the Internet. In fact, digital switch technology was in operation at least 7 years before the accepted 1969 year of Arpanet. Unix, the engine behind the early digital telephony network, was created by Bell Labs and used during the Arpanet project. Bell Labs also invented the C programming environment, which began propelling the development of the modern Internet in the early 1970s.

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    Other Important Internet Theories (Continued)

    Widespread adoption of TCP/IP.Although invented in the early 1970's, protocols such as ATM and X.25 continued to dominate800px-TCPIP encapsulation  networks until around 1992 when TCP/IP actually became the standard for interconnecting networks. Some point out that without that marked transition, the Internet as we now know it would never have developed because of the limitations of X.25 and other protocols.

    The assertion that the Internet never existed prior to widespread use of TCP/IP is novel for those unfamiliar with it. Nevertheless, this theory does mark an important part on the timeline of technology and the development of the Internet. Were the networks that communicated via gateways in the 1980s really the Internet? The aTCP/IP adoption theory says "no" because they technically did not interconnect using the same protocol as the modern Internet.

    Email. Perhaps the origins of the Internet can be traced back to an application - email - that was the first universal way to communicate between users of different networks. Email predates the adoption of TCP/IP to days when several large networks operating independently such as AOL, Compuserve, and Fidonet took root among consumers. Email certainly explains the force behind creating the Internet and served as an application that justified its widespread use.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Nuno Tavares

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    Other Important Internet Theories (Continued)

    Xerox. The theory of the origin of the Internet proposed by Bob Tayor of Arpanet fame is that the Internet began with Xerox in 1974 when it created the PARC Universal Protocol (PUP) and Ethernet to interconnect multiple networks. Along with a set of Internet protocols, the same Xerox lab produced graphical interfaces, word processors and other products that drove the demand for computers and the Internet.

    The Big Al Theory. Last but not least is one of the only humorous theories of Internet origins. On March 9, 1999, a startling theory of the birth and evolution of the Internet emerged as Democrat presidential candidate Al Gore said that he "Took the initiative in creating the Internet." Although an orchestrated online effort that includes seems bent on rewriting history to suggest that this theory was a George Bush concoction, Al Gore said this himself during an interview on CNN.

    To date, no evidence has emerged that Al Gore had anything to do with the origins of the Internet and Al Gore apparently has never delved into the facts surrounding his claim, including when his initiative took place.

    This explanation of the birth and evolution of the Internet continues to be the object of ridicule in American society as an example of how politicians not only make facts up out of thin air, but how that many are never held accountable for the lies they tell.

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    Wrapping it Up

    Perhaps the fact that the Internet was actually the product of private innovation in the business world, not the result of "Big Brother" government accounts for the fact that the Xerox theory of Internet origins has not gained much traction in popular thought. Still, Xerox seems to have created the first ever Internet, an accomplishment that will forever resonate through the course of human history.

    Still, the timeline of Internet history goes back all the way to the early 1960s and extends all the way into the future. Every step of the way from Bell labs to Al Gore and beyond will forever be a part of the technology and innovation that has set our generation apart from all those that came before.

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    A few external sources were consulted in preparation for writing this article.

    CBC News. "Birth of the internet." CBC News. July 25, 2007. (accessed September 17, 2010).

    Peter, Ian. "So, who really did invent the Internet?" NetHistory. 2010. (accessed Septmeber 17, 2010).

    profputr. "Inventing the Internet ." YouTube. August 09, 2009. (accessed September 17, 2010).