Tech History Arpanet Becomes Self Aware?


The 1991 movie Terminator 2 Judgment has a quote: “

The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Sarah Connor: Skynet fights back.

While Nowhere near as scary, on December 5th, 1969, The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) came online. By online, I mean all the nodes (mainframes setup at Universities to pass packets back and forth) were in place. The reason why this is major (besides being the World Wide Web’s grandpa) is that up until this point, voice and data communication took place with a protocol called circuit switching. Think about circuit switching this way: Once upon a time when telephones were our major form of communication, a wire had to connect your phone, hanging on the wall in the upstairs hallway with the really long cord, to a pole which connected to the transmission station in your area. That station has to be connected to other stations which in turn are connected to everyone’s home with a wire. You had to have a complete circuit (a person or computer on each end answering the phone, and a bunch of intermediary connections making a giant chain) to complete the call and the circuit. it was a singular thing. One machine at a time would have to complete the transfer kind of like the telephone game. This is the way everything worked up until the invention of packet switching. Imagine rush hour traffic with only 1 person in each car.

Packet switching is best explained by using the telephone analogy again: Instead of lines connecting every person’s phone directly with a wire, bursts of information (or packets) could be sent from any phone or computer can communicate with multiple recipients at the same time. Like if anyone ever chose to engage in the nasty practice of sending nasty, tweets to the world, we have Leonard Kleinrock, Paul Baran, Donald Davies, Lawrence Roberts,  to thank for it. Imagine rush hour, when the road wasn’t your only way to travel and your car is at capacity with riders. That’s packet switching.



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