Internet and World Wide Web visionaries ponder surviving world war

Vannevar Bush World Wide Web visionaryThe old proverb necessity is the mother of invention is illustrated in the ideas of Internet and World Wide Web visionaries J.C.R. Licklider and Vannevar Bush. The difficult scenario that was the catalyst of their visionary ideas was surviving a war.

Vannevar Bush looks beyond World War II

Vannevar Bush was looking at the aftermath of World War II and looking at ways to make sure all the scientific data and lessons learned were not lost when he published an Atlantic Monthly article in 1945 titled "As We May Think." The article describes his theoretical machine called a "memex" that would be able to make links between documents. Many people point to "As We May Think" as the earliest published vision of the concept of hypertext.

Bush worked hard during entire life to strengthen the relationship between government, business, and the scientific community. In the 1930s, as the president of the Carnegie Institution Bush informally advised the government on scientific matters. In 1938 Vannevar Bush was appointed to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. In 1940 Bush felt the country needed a new organization to conduct military research and proposed his plan to President Roosevelt. The National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) was created with Bush as the chairman. Vannevar Bush represented the overall scientific community as the first presidential science adviser. In 1941 the newly created Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) absorbed the NDRC. As director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Bush oversaw much of the United States’ wartime scientific research including the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb.

Although Bush is most remembered for "As We May Think," another Bush article from 1945 entitled, "Science-The Endless Frontier" was equally influential. Bush outlined the importance of federally funded scientific research and called for a national research foundation. The National Science Foundation (NSF) was created in 1950 to support fundamental research and education in science and engineering.

Vannevar Bush died before the creation of the World Wide Web, but he is remembered by geeks as the visionary who first published the concept of hypertext. The Vannevar Bush Symposium in October 1995 celebrated the 50th anniversary of Vannevar Bush's article "As We May Think. The many internet pioneers that attended the event gave credit to Bush for having the vision to describe a system of documents linked by associations which closely resembles the modern system of hypertext and the World Wide Web.

J.C.R. Licklider guides 1960s ARPA VisionCold War goals guide ARPA Vision

For J.C.R. Licklider the launching of the Russia Satellite Sputnik and the creation of ARPA (The Advanced Research Projects Agency) had researchers pondering military issues and looking at ways to make communications networks less vulnerable.

In October 1962, J.C.R. Licklider was appointed head of the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) at ARPA, the United States Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The IPTO funded the research that led to the development of the ARPANET. Cold war military projects were not new to Licklider. . While at MIT in the 1950s, Licklider worked on a Cold War project called SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), a computer-based air defense system.

J.C.R. Licklider, known by friends, colleagues, and casual acquaintances as "Lick," was the first to describe the concept he called the "Galactic Network." In the paper “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” published in 1960, Licklider provided a guide for decades of computer research to follow He envisioned a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site. Lick sought out the leading computer research institutions in the U.S. and set up research contracts with them. Soon there were about a dozen universities and companies working on ARPA contracts including Stanford, UCLA, and Berkeley. Lick jokingly nicknamed his group the Intergalactic Computer Network. This group would later form the core who created the ARPANET.

While many have argued that the ARPANET was not started to create a Command and Control System that would survive a nuclear attack, the additional note that the ARPAnet not designed with the goal of surviving a nuclear attack does not change the fact that the ARPAnet was designed to meet military needs. Whether or not the ARPANET was started to create a Command and Control System that would survive a nuclear attack, it was financed by the U.S Department of Defense and cold war fears were a reality in the early 1960s. The catalyst for the creation of ARPA was the launch of Sputnik, along with the tensions of the cold war in 1957. The goal of ARPA was to address the technology needs of the U.S Department of Defense. ARPA would be the parent of the computer network of the ARPANET.

Stephen J. Lukasik explains "Why the Arpanet Was Built" in an article that appeared in the Annals of the History of Computing, IEEE in March 2010. According to Lukasik, "The rationale was to exploit new computer technologies to meet the needs of military command and control against nuclear threats, survivable control of U.S. nuclear forces, and to improve military tactical and management decision-making. Though not central to the decision to pursue networking, it was recognized these capabilities were common to non-defense needs." Lukasik became DARPA Deputy Director in 1967 and was DARPA Director from 1971 to 1975. Lukasik has held positions on numerous Federal and academic committees since leaving DARPA.

Necessity is the mother of invention is an English proverb meaning that difficult scenarios prompt inventions aimed at reducing the difficulty. Some people refuse to believe the difficult scenarios that lead to the origins of the internet were related to surviving a war. We are not making the case for war, or the benefits of war, just reflecting on the origins of the internet. It amazes me how many people do not know the contributions of J.C.R. Licklider and Vannevar Bush.


 Top Photo: Vannevar Bush (center) shown in 1938 NASA photo

Bottom Photo: J.C.R. Licklider guides 1960s ARPA Vision