Now that high school students are spending their spare time cruising the Internet, it's probably time the rest of us found out how the whole thing started.
Newsweek contributing editor Hafner (coauthor of Cyberpunk, 1991) and husband Lyon, who is assistant to the president of the University of Texas, begin their story back in the '50s, when President Eisenhower decided that basic scientific research was the quickest way to improve the nation's defense. The key instrument was the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), nominally part of the Pentagon. ARPA quickly acquired several advanced computers; when several scientists (notably J.C.R. Licklider and Robert G. Taylor) began to wonder why none of the computers could "talk" to the others, the seeds of the Internet were sown. Believing that advanced computing capacity was vital to the national defense, ARPA proposed connecting a number of computers through the phone system. A small Massachusetts company, Bolt Beranek and Newman, managed to win the bid; within a year, inventing almost everything from the ground up, they had managed to connect several college campuses on the West coast. Gradually, the ARPANET became the focus of an intensive development effort among computer scientists; but their goals were far different from the defense projects its creators had envisioned. Far-reaching decisions were made by the first person who happened to tackle the problem at hand. E-mail quickly took center stage, followed by newsgroups in which scientists with a common interest could exchange information and views. By the time the Defense Department decided to try to regain control, it was obvious that they had inadvertently created an entity no single authority could control. Within 25 years, the Internet had grown from an impossible dream to an indispensable scientific tool.
A clear and comprehensive, though often flat, account of an important bit of scientific history.