Barack Obama: Government Invented The Internet

For the record, I said this first:

Contrary to what Obama would have you believe, it wasn’t the government that created the internet, it was individuals engaging in business that invented the internet.

Now, from the Wall Street Journal:

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.

For many technologists, the idea of the Internet traces to Vannevar Bush, the presidential science adviser during World War II who oversaw the development of radar and the Manhattan Project. In a 1946 article in The Atlantic titled “As We May Think,” Bush defined an ambitious peacetime goal for technologists: Build what he called a “memex” through which “wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.”

That fired imaginations, and by the 1960s technologists were trying to connect separate physical communications networks into one global network—a “world-wide web.” The federal government was involved, modestly, via the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. Its goal was not maintaining communications during a nuclear attack, and it didn’t build the Internet. Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPA program in the 1960s, sent an email to fellow technologists in 2004 setting the record straight: “The creation of the Arpanet was not motivated by considerations of war. The Arpanet was not an Internet. An Internet is a connection between two or more computer networks.”

If the government didn’t invent the Internet, who did? Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet’s backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks.

But full credit goes to the company where Mr. Taylor worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks. Researchers there also developed the first personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and the graphical user interface that still drives computer usage today.

But, did the government impact the creation of the Internet in any way?

As for the government’s role, the Internet was fully privatized in 1995, when a remaining piece of the network run by the National Science Foundation was closed—just as the commercial Web began to boom. Blogger Brian Carnell wrote in 1999: “The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government. Here for 30 years the government had an immensely useful protocol for transferring information, TCP/IP, but it languished. . . . In less than a decade, private concerns have taken that protocol and created one of the most important technological revolutions of the millennia.”

Other than delaying the innovation for 30 years, the government seems to have done not a thing.

9 responses to “Barack Obama: Government Invented The Internet

  1. Except I don’t believe Obama ever claimed that the government invented the internet. You’re making a straw man argument here – making it seem like Obama asserted something he never said. If I’m wrong, please point me to the appropriate quote.

    • Except I don’t believe Obama ever claimed that the government invented the internet. You’re making a straw man argument here – making it seem like Obama asserted something he never said. If I’m wrong, please point me to the appropriate quote.

      Hi Scott, here it is:

      If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

  2. Government research created the internet — OK, the article you site doesn’t really counter that. The research involved involved public universities and scientific studies backed by government. Read about it here: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/basics/internet-start.htm

    That’s basic history. The article you cite is a politicized piece of propaganda where the author tries to downplay the very important role of APRA (which really set the framework for what is the internet – without APRA it would not be what it is today), which was government research, and hide the fact that other researchers that expanded it to connect were almost always working with government grants. What is really dishonest about the propaganda piece in the Wall Street journal is that it tries to make it sound like the government held back the internet. It expanded as quickly as possible as technology expanded, and government privatized it when it became feasible to do so. You can read more on Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet

    Now it’s clear Romneyworld wants to create a fake Obama – one that is all big government and supposedly believes government is needed for business to succeed. That’s why they take quotes out of context, turn them into things that Obama didn’t say, and get people like you to believe that the fake Obama is real.

    • Government research created the internet — OK, the article you site doesn’t really counter that. The research involved involved public universities and scientific studies backed by government.

      I also made this claim here:

      http://tarheelred.com/2012/07/18/obama-government-invented-the-internet/

      There are 5 theories or claims about who invented the Internet. None of them are the government.

      The WSJ clearly likes the TCP/IP claim while I would lean towards the packet switching claim.

      Which ever one you like, it’s clear that the government didn’t invent the Internet at all.

      Urban legend.

  3. The article also neglects to note that Vincent Cerf was recruited by DARPA and ARPA (government agencies) and he was at Sanford. The propagandist wants to make it sound like Xerox was the driving force. A Xerox lab did develop the Ethernet for other reasons in the 70s, and it became useful, but it’s much less important than all the work done by government agencies and researchers. To try to somehow push Xerox to the top and government out is a “big lie.” He lies by omission and commission. He mentions Berners-Lee, but doesn’t note that he worked at CERN, which is operated by European governments. He mentions Taylor and connects him to Xerox, even though all his important internet work was while he was a government researcher. In short, the article you cite is pure propaganda. But if people don’t like Obama and don’t take the time to check it, it can feed into the illusionary false Obama image Romneyworld wants to sell.

  4. No, there are not different theories about how the internet arose. There is a clear history, and all the things you state are part of that history. It is uncontroversial that APRANET was instrumental in bringing forward the internet we now know, even if it itself was not the internet. It is uncontroversial that government researchers were a major driving force. I pointed out how the people and advances he notes in the article are almost all related to the government! There are not five theories or claims, there are many numerous aspects that came together. Wikipedia’s history is very good on it, read through it.

    • No, there are not different theories about how the internet arose.

      Scott, there isn’t even clear consensus on what marks the actual birth of the internet. It depends on which version is the accepted version. Further, there isn’t consensus on what makes the internet the internet. Is it the language? Is it switching? Is it TCP/IP?

      It is uncontroversial that APRANET was instrumental in bringing forward the internet we now know, even if it itself was not the internet.

      Maybe. There were people switching packets long before ARPNet. Second, there were people connecting computers before ARPNet.

      ARPNet had nothing to do with the languages of the Internet, UNIX and “C”. They had nothing to to with Ethernet.

      It is uncontroversial that government researchers were a major driving force.

      This isn’t true. There is significant amount of doubt that anyone but the private sector contributed to the Internet’s beginning.

    • Here’s a nice takedown on the WSJ piece, though it surely won’t satisfy you.

      I agree that Ethernet doesn’t the Internet make. In fact, few of us use Ethernet anymore; we use fast/switched Ethernet. And before even Ethernet we used FID and Token Ring. However, the TCP/IP theory seems to be one that gets much attention. And yes, Cern worked at ARPA where he was working on protocols. But TCP/IP wasn’t added to ARPA until 1983.

      Personally, I think that packet switching represents a more accurate lighting in the mud moment.

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