In their 1968 paper, "The Computer as a Communications Device," written while the ARPANET was still in development, J.C.R. Licklider and Robert Taylor claimed that the linking of computers would not stop with individual networks. Such networks, they predicted, would merge into a "labile network of networks" that would bind a variety of "information processing… Continue reading Inter-Networking

The Computer as a Communication Device

Over the first half of the 1970s, the ecology of computer networking diversified from its original ARPANET ancestry along several dimensions. ARPANET users discovered a new application, electronic mail, which became the dominant activity on the network. Entrepreneurs spun-off their own ARPANET variants to serve commercial customers. And researchers from Hawaii to l'Hexagone developed new… Continue reading The Computer as a Communication Device

ARPANET, Part 3: The Subnet

With ARPANET, Robert Taylor and Larry Roberts intended to connect many different research institutions, each hosting its own computer, for whose hardware and software it was wholly responsible. The hardware and software of the network itself, however, lay in a nebulous middle realm, belonging to no particular site. Over the course of the years 1967-1968,… Continue reading ARPANET, Part 3: The Subnet

ARPANET, Part 2: The Packet

By the end of 1966, Robert Taylor, had set in motion a project to interlink the many computers funded by ARPA, a project inspired by the "intergalactic network" vision of J.C.R. Licklider. Taylor put the responsibility for executing that project into the capable hands of Larry Roberts. Over the following year, Roberts made several crucial… Continue reading ARPANET, Part 2: The Packet

ARPANET, Part 1: The Inception

By the mid-1960s, the first time-sharing systems had already recapitulated the early history of the first telephone exchanges. Entrepreneurs built those exchanges as a means to allow subscribers to summon services such as a taxi, a doctor, or the fire brigade. But those subscribers soon found their local exchange just as useful for communicating and… Continue reading ARPANET, Part 1: The Inception

The Unraveling, Part 2

After authorizing private microwave networks in the Above 890 decision, the FCC might have hoped that they could leave those networks penned in their quiet little corner of the market and forget about them. But this quickly proved impossible. New challengers continued to press against the existent regulatory framework. They proposed a variety of new ways to… Continue reading The Unraveling, Part 2

Discovering Interactivity

The very first electronic computers were idiosyncratic, one-off research installations.1 But as they entered the marketplace, organizations very quickly assimilated them into a pre-existing culture of data-processing - one in which all data and processes were represented as stacks of punched cards. Herman Hollerith developed the first tabulator capable of reading and counting data based… Continue reading Discovering Interactivity

One System, Universal Service?

The Internet was born in a distinctly American telecommunications environment -- the United States treated telegraph and telephone providers very differently than the rest of the world -- and there is good reason to believe that this environment played a formative role in its development, shaping the character of the Internet to come. Let us,… Continue reading One System, Universal Service?

The Backbone: Introduction

In the early 1970s, Larry Roberts approached AT&T, the vast American telecommunications monopoly, with an intriguing offer. At the time, Roberts was director of  the computing division of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), a relatively young organization within the Department of Defense that was dedicated to long-term, blue-sky research. Over the previous five years, Roberts… Continue reading The Backbone: Introduction

The Transistor, Part 3: Endless Reinvention

For over a hundred years the analog dog wagged the digital tail. The effort to extend the reach of our senses - sight, hearing, even (after a manner of speaking) touch, drove engineers and scientists to search for better components for telegraph, telephone, radio and radar equipment. It was a happy accident that this also opened… Continue reading The Transistor, Part 3: Endless Reinvention

The Transistor, Part 2: Out Of The Crucible

The crucible of war prepared the ground for the transistor. The state of technical knowledge about semiconductor devices advanced enormously from 1939 to 1945. There was one simple reason: radar. The single most important technology of the war, its applications included detecting incoming air raids, locating submarines, guiding nightfighters to their targets, and aiming anti-aircraft… Continue reading The Transistor, Part 2: Out Of The Crucible

The Transistor, Part 1: Groping in the Dark

The road to a solid-state switch was a long and complex one. It began with the discovery that certain materials behaved oddly with respect to electricity - differently than any existing theory said they ought to. What followed is a story that reveals the "scienceification" and "instutionalization" of technology in the twentieth century. Dilettantes, amateurs… Continue reading The Transistor, Part 1: Groping in the Dark

The Electronic Computers, Part 4: The Electronic Revolution

We have now recounted, in succession, each of the first three attempts to build a digital, electronic computer: The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) conceived by John Atanasoff, the British Colossus projected headed by Tommy Flowers, and the ENIAC built at the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School. All three projects were effectively independent creations. Though John Mauchly, the motive force… Continue reading The Electronic Computers, Part 4: The Electronic Revolution

The Electronic Computers, Part 3: ENIAC

The second electronic computing project to emerge from the war, like Colossus, required many minds (and hands) to bring it to fruition. But, also like Colossus, it would have never come about but for one man's fascination with electronics. In this case, the man's name was John Mauchly. Mauchly's story intertwines in curious (and, to… Continue reading The Electronic Computers, Part 3: ENIAC

The Electronic Computers, Part 2: Colossus

In 1938 the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service quietly bought up a sixty acre estate fifty miles from London. Located at the junction of railways running up from London to parts north and from Oxford in the west to Cambridge in the east, it was an ideal site for an organization that needed… Continue reading The Electronic Computers, Part 2: Colossus