Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Vint Cerf -- a concise history of packets, the ARPAnet and the Internet

Conceptual sketch of the ARPAnet by Larry Roberts
If you are interested in the history of the Internet and only have 16 minutes to spare, watch this interview of Vint Cerf, who was one of the handful of people that created the Internet.

Cerf's narrative begins with the idea of packet switched communication and runs through the creation of the ARPAnet, followed by the invention of internetworking protocols to link three disparate networks -- the ARPAnet, a mobile communication network and a satellite communication network.

This short video is like an annotated table of contents of the early history of the Internet. Cerf introduces us to Leonard Kleinrock, Paul Baran, Donald Davies, Larry Roberts, Thomas Marill, J. C. R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Norman Abramson, Robert Taylor, Charles Herzfeld, Steve Crocker, Jon Postel, Bob Kahn, David Reed, Danny Cohen and Bill Joy, summarizing the work of each and putting it in context.

Whether this is all you want to know about the history of the Internet or you want to use it as a jumping off place to learn more about the contributions of these people, this is a good place to start.

Cerf also conveys a sense of common purpose among those pioneers. He does not say so, but one can think of them as working together to realize Licklider's vision of a network running Engelbart's applications. Cerf makes it clear that, although they worked for several different organizations and changed jobs from time to time, these people knew each other well and collaborated closely on creating the Internet. (For example, Cerf, Postel and Crocker went to the same high school and studied under Kleinrock as graduate students at UCLA). The group also had an excellent collaboration tool -- they were the first users of the networks they built.

The ARPA/Internet project was a great example of government as a non-equity angel investor -- providing a small bit of seed funding ($124 million) to a group of smart, dedicated people, rather than setting up a department to do the work internally.

Charles Severance of IEEE Computer Magazine conducted the interview of Cerf, and it is one in a series of computing conversations.