The 1960s: Computers Begin to Transform the World
Cold War Raging
The potential power of computers to transform the world started to become a reality in the 1960s. Computer scientists and engineers began building more powerful computers and finding new ways to use them, from helping NASA to put a man on the moon to speeding up accounting at major corporations. NSF funded the development of several academic computer centers across the country to help advance the field of computing. The pace of innovation and development was so fast that researchers needed new ways to communicate and share ideas.
What About a Computer Network?
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology proposed linking computers together in a diffused and decentralized network so the computers could share data and researchers could use them from hundreds or thousands of miles away. The network would have no central hub that could be taken out, so even if parts of the network were damaged or destroyed, the rest of it would still function.
Credit: Courtesy of Frank Heart
Early Networking Experiments
The Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) took over this research in 1962. Initial research showed that computers could be linked up over long distances, but existing telecommunications infrastructure, which did not have switches or other devices capable of sending large amounts of data between multiple computers, would not be sufficient for a large-scale network.
ARPA researchers and others kept working on the problem and eventually they developed important technologies such as packet switching, which allows varying amounts of data to flow to different computers, even if there wasn't a direct connection between them. Eventually they developed a system where different "nodes" or computers on the network, would send, receive and pass on information between them. In 1969, ARPA launched a working prototype of this concept that linked up computers at four universities in the southwestern United States. The linkage of these four computers, called ARPANET, was the forerunner to the modern Internet.
Vint Cerf and the Development of ARPANET
Vint Cerf worked on the ARPANET project in the 1960s as a graduate student at UCLA. He and his fellow students, working under the tutelage of Len Kleinrock, worked as a team to work out kinks in the proposed system. "We were just rank amateurs," Cerf says "and we were expecting that some authority would finally come along and say, 'Here's how we are going to do it.' And nobody ever came along." This adventurous spirit drove Cerf and his fellow students to work hard with the hopes of building something new and exciting.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.