The invention and evolution of the internetPosted on: April 26, 2022
by Ruth Brooks
The internet is arguably one of humankind’s most significant inventions. It has connected people around the world in a way that would have seemed impossible to earlier generations. It has forever changed the way we work and learn, shop and bank, and it has had an almost incalculable impact on the ways people now communicate with one another.
Despite its unconquerable presence in our daily lives, how many of us know the origins of the internet? Who invented the internet, and when? How does it work, and what can we expect from it in the future? If we think about how much it has changed since its creation less than a century ago, we might get a better understanding of how much it can evolve again in the coming decades.
When was the internet invented?
When we talk about the invention of the internet, there are actually a few key dates to consider.
- 29 October 1969 is when ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) delivered its first communication between nodes – a message from one computer to another for the first time. Known as the first workable prototype of the internet, ARPANET was originally funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, and used packet switching – essentially a way of sending data – to enable multiple computers to communicate on a single network. That first message was sent from a research lab at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) to a computer at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). The plan was for UCLA to send the first three letters for “LOGIN” to SRI, and for Stanford to then send back the final two to form the completed word, but the ARPA network crashed after successfully sending just the first two letters.
- 1 January 1983 is often referred to as the birthday of the internet. It’s the date that ARPANET adopted the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP, developed by Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Known as the internet protocol suite, TCP/IP is a set of communications protocols that specify how data is transmitted between multiple networks. Once ARPANET adopted TCP/IP, it effectively enabled multiple computers to talk to one another using a shared language, and became the blueprint for the web of interconnected ‘network of networks’ – the internet – that we’re familiar with today. Other protocols – such as the file transfer protocol (FTP) also exist – but the internet we’re most familiar with using is built on the internet protocol suite.
- 1989 marked the invention of the World Wide Web (WWW) as we know and use it today. Not to be confused with the internet itself, the World Wide Web is actually the way we’re most familiar with using the internet – through things like websites and hyperlinks. Created by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the World Wide Web was conceived and developed as a means of information-sharing between scientists around the world. On 6 August 1991, Berners-Lee published the world’s first website, which was all about the World Wide Web project. And on 30 April 1993, CERN put the World Wide Web into the public domain, ensuring that it was available for everyone to use and develop. It’s worth noting that prior to Berners-Lee’s work, the internet was mainly used only by scientists and governments.
However, while these dates are important, a brief history of the internet actually starts as far back as the 1920s, when research on information theory was taking shape. This work developed into the 1940s, by which time, it was helping scientists to make huge gains in telecommunications technology – long before people would even need it for internet access. By the 1950s and 1960s, there were special-purpose computer networks, such as AUTODIN I, a defense command-and-control system.
The creation of ARPANET and its adoption of TCP/IP was, of course, a huge step forward. Soon enough, researchers from New York to Norway were using it, and by the 1980s, DARPA was working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand its reach to the entire scientific and academic communities. The late 1980s also saw the creation of the first commercial internet service providers (ISPs), and by the end of the 1990s, there were thousands of ISPs around the world. And before long, internet use had skyrocketed globally.
How the internet works
It’s a common question – how does the internet work? The answer can seem complicated, but it becomes easier to understand when we remember that the internet is essentially just a means of transmitting data and sharing information between devices.
At its core, the internet is a worldwide computer network, one that allows for the interconnection of many networks within it. All of these networks will share commonalities – such as the internet protocol suite, TCP/IP – that allow them to speak effectively to one another.
Think about the World Wide Wide you use every day. When you load web pages, various standardised protocols are used. For example, the Domain Name System (DNS) protocol converts a domain name from the one you’re familiar with (for example, www.amazon.com) into an IP (Internet Protocol) address. It will then use the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), to request from that IP address the contents for a particular page so that it can be displayed for you.
How does internet access work?
Accessing the internet has changed significantly since it first became available to the general public.
In the early days, people connected to the internet via a dial-up modem that required a phone line. This style of internet connection was much slower than the speeds we’re used to now, and it wasn’t unheard of for an internet service provider to charge a small fortune just for a modem.
Things rapidly evolved, though. Dial-up routing became largely obsolete following the introduction of much-faster broadband routers and wireless (Wi-Fi) connections.
How has the internet grown?
The internet has grown in many unforeseen ways since it first became available to the public. From something largely used only by academics and scientists to share information and research, the internet took off among the general population alongside a rapid rise in the use of personal computers.
Before long, people were using a web browser and search engines to find information, rather than hauling out encyclopaedias and other physical resources in libraries. Email quickly replaced letters, and people cancelled newspaper subscriptions in favour of getting their news online. Apple, Android and other smartphones soon became the equal of personal computers – and in many cases, have replaced them – and apps have become a part of daily life for most adults in the UK. And social networking on social networking apps like Facebook and Twitter have at times altered the course of politics around the world.
And all of this has happened in just 30 years.
The future of the internet
Where the internet goes next is anyone’s guess, but experts anticipate it’ll only get bigger and faster. Augmented reality – where the real world is enhanced by computer-generated elements – is one avenue expected to grow, as are virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI). And given how much the internet has evolved over the past few decades, there are likely to be new facets to come, ones that we as yet have no knowledge of, in the years ahead, too.
Make your mark on the internet
With the future of the internet still being written, it’s an exciting time for leaders within computer science. The field needs ambitious people who can steer the web to uncharted new places, or help make it faster and safer for users.
You can join the industry and future-proof your career with the MSc Computer Science at North Wales Management School. This flexible master’s degree is suitable for people from unrelated backgrounds who want to launch a career in computer science, as well as computer science professionals who want to boost their careers with a high-quality qualification. It’s also studied 100% online, so you can study around your current commitments and earn while you learn.