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Issue No.03 - July-September (2011 vol.33)
pp: 4-21
Stephen J. Lukasik , Georgia Institute of Technology
<p>The who, what, when, and how of the Arpanet is usually told in heroic terms&#x2014;Licklider's vision, the fervor of his disciples, the dedication of computer scientists and engineers, the work of graduate students, and so forth. Told by one of the key actors in this salient part of US and Internet history, this article addresses why the Arpanet was built.</p>
history of computing, networking, Department of Defense, ARPA, ARPANET, Internet, collaborative computing
Stephen J. Lukasik, "Why the Arpanet Was Built", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.33, no. 3, pp. 4-21, July-September 2011, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2010.11
1. Bracketed letters refer to events indicated on the summary timeline in Figure 1.
2. R. Buderi, The Invention that Changed the World, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
3. R.E. Powaski, March to Armageddon, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989.
4. A program manager recalls, "When I first met the two-star Air Force general who was to become the co-sponsor of my National Software Works project, his first words were, 'I've always admired ARPA,' and I expected him to say something about our technical prowess. He finished the sentence with '… you are able to spend money so effectively.'"
5. The history is based on official documents and interviews with ARPA technical and management personnel. See the Richard J. Barber Associates report, The Advanced Research Projects Agency, 1958–1974, supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense under contract number MDA 903-74-0-0096. It is available through the National Technical Information Service (
6. These and other quotes and details are taken from the Barber and Associates history. When serving as the agency's deputy director, I found traces of this early history in the agency's files and was surprised to find we were originally directed to work on command and control, not nurturing computer science in universities to prevent technological surprise, as I had been led to believe. Military command and control was not in the forefront of the minds of the ARPA researchers by this time nor was command and control research a recognized driver in ARPA's computer and behavioral science programs. It was seen simply as one area of potential application.
7. J.C.R. Licklider, "Memorandum for Members of the Intergalactic Computer Network," ARPA Behavioral Science Command & Control Research, 23 Apr. 1963; www.kurzweilai/articlesart0366.html?printable=1 posted December 11, 2001.
8. M.M. Waldrop, The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal, Viking, 2001. In his bibliography, Waldrop notes his use of the oral histories of the University of Minnesota Charles Babbage Institute.
9. This account was provided by C. Al Irvine the leader of the UCLA effort and the author of the three-center network proposal, to Steve Crocker.
10. The first staff members were a distinguished group: Henry Kissinger, John Forbes Nash, Stephen Dole, Herman Kahn, Harold Brown, and Donald Rumsfeld.
11. W.H. Ware, "RAND and the Information Revolution," RAND, 2008.
12. This argument depends on a presumption of rationality of the attacker. Concerns over irrational attackers introduce further complication into the decision processes.
13. The RAND work was published in a series of reports as the design grew in detail. In 1964, the team published them as a single series titled On Distributed Communications. These can be found at . The documents in the series are P. Baran, I. Introduction to Distributed Communication Networks, RM-3420-PR; S.P. Boehm, and P. Baran, II. Digital Simulation of Hot-Potato Routing in a Broadband Distributed Communication Network, RM-3103-PR; J.W. Smith, III. Determination of Path-Lengths in a Distributed Network, RM-3578-PR; P. Baran, IV. Priority, Precedence, and Overload, RM-3638-PR; P. Baran, V. History, Alternative Approaches, and Comparisons, RM-3097-PR; P. Baran, VI. Mini-Cost Microwave, RM-3762-PR; Paul Baran, VII. Tentative Engineering Specification and Preliminary Design for a Hgh-Data-Rate Distributed Network Switching Node, RM-3763-PR; P. Baran, VIII. The Multiplexing Station, RM-3764-PR; P. Baran, IX. Security, Secrecy, and Tamper-Free Considerations, RM-3765-PR; P. Baran, X. Cost Estimate, RM-3766-PR; and P. Baran, XI. Summary Overview, RM-3767-PR. See also Baran's account in the Willis Ware RAND publication.
14. P. Baran private communication with S. Lukasik, 2008. See also J. Abbate, Inventing the Internet, MIT Press, 2000, chap. 1.
15. Early workers in the Arpanet project differ in their view of what they were engaged in, with few recognizing the fundamental military purposes of the program. All have various recollections of the scope of their expectations. An IPT Principal Investigator, working outside the networking area, noted ruefully, "We were all non-visionary."
16. "Proposal for a Ph.D. Thesis, Information Flow in Large Communication Nets,"31 May 1961;
17. L. Kleinrock, Communication Nets: Stochastic Message Flow and Delay, McGraw-Hill, 1964; reprinted by Dover Publications, 1972.
18. P. Baran, "The Beginnings of Packet Switching: Some Underlying Concepts," IEEE Comm. Magazine, July 2002, pp. 42–48.
19. T. Marill and L.G. Roberts, "Toward a Cooperative Network of Time-Shared Computers," Nov. 1966;
20. "Invention" is used here with some trepidation, given the plethora of those who would be pleased to accept such a mantle. In the case of any large and diverse enterprise, the essence of the creation is not the individual but the group. In this regard, the precedent of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Committee to recognize as awardees more than 450 lead authors, 800 contributing authors, and 2,500 expert reviewers of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is relevant. Nevertheless, the penchant for seeking simple causes for complex effects is strong.
21. L.G. Roberts, "The First Theory of Packet Networks," presentation at SIGCOMM 99; .
22. L.G. Roberts, "The Evolution of Packet Switching," Proc IEEE, vol. 66, no. 11, Nov. 1978, pp. 1307–1313. The independence of the UK conception of packet switching from that in the US is unclear from this, but that is immaterial in view of the continuing technical exchanges between the UK and the ARPA group that provided important stimulation to both efforts. The drive to connect computers together between 1962 and 1964 is unsurprising, with Baran, Kleinrock, Licklider, Davies, and Roberts converging on the idea almost simultaneously. This was the period when digital computers shifted from being one-of-a-kind devices to a commodity product of increasing size and power. Connecting them was an obvious next step. The devil, as always, was in the details.
23. In view of the natural interest in priority, Len Kleinrock, in his historical review, "Creating a Mathematical Theory of Computing Networks," Operations Research, vol. 50, no. 1, 2002, recounts the following chronology regarding the NPL work. In D.W. Davies et al., "Proposal for a Digital Communication Network," unpublished memo, June 1966, ForADigitalCommunicationNetwork , he described his proposed design for what he termed a "packet switched network." The first open publication was in D.W. Davies et al., "A Digital Communication Network for Computers Giving Rapid Response at Remote Terminals," Proc. ACM Symp. Operating System Principles, ACM Press, 1967. This network, which became operational in 1970, was described by R.A. Scantlebury,, "A Model for the Local Area of a Data Communication Network Objectives and Hardware Organization," Proc. 1st ACM Sym. Problems in Organization of Data Comm. Systems, ACM Press, 1969.
24. Industry giants such as IBM and AT&T declined to bid, testimony to the high-risk nature of the ARPA network technology.
25. A.L. Nordberg, J.E. O'Neill, and K.J. Freedman, Transforming Computer Technology: Information Processing in the Pentagon, 1962–1986, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2000.
26. The maps used are not referenced since they can be found on the Internet in profusion.
27. R.E. Kahn et al., "Advances in Packet Radio Technology." Proc. IEEE, vol. 66, no. 11, 1978, pp. 1468–1496.
28. To head off what was seen as a large new weapons program and a destabilizing technology in the offensive strategic nuclear balance, the US and the Soviet Union signed an Anti- Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty in 1972 providing for a limitation of defensive systems to a missile field protecting the national command authority and one protecting a single missile field to serve as a survivable deterrent force. This formalized the strategic doctrine of mutually assured destruction—defense had become offense, and offense was defense. This formulation was coined by J. Newhouse and quoted by A. Wohlstetter in "Bishops, Statesmen, and Other Strategists on the Bombing of Innocents," Commentary, vol. 75, no. 6, 1983, pp. 15–35.
29. This move to transfer research is even more strongly reflected in the current DARPA program. The agency now receives 6.3 Advanced Development funds, thus helping push its results even further downstream.
30. My experience in using email to manage the agency is detailed in the Waldrop's The Dream Machine and in K. Hafner and M. Lyon, Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet, Simon & Schuster, 1996. It was not smooth. Quirks computer scientists worked past or fixed themselves were a much bigger problem to a physicist for whom writing Fortran programs was a high-water mark in computing expertise.
31. The key word here is teleseismic, meaning at a large distance from the nuclear event. Although nuclear tests in a small country can be monitored from immediately outside its borders, in large countries such the Soviet Union and the US, where suspicion of the integrity of data from internal sites for monitoring adherence to a test ban could not be satisfied, treaty verification had to be based on data collected outside the borders of both parties.
32. The LASA design, and much of the signal processing research, was the responsibility of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory under Paul E. Green, Jr. It is described in the Nuclear Test Detection issue of Proc. IEEE, vol. 65, no. 12, 1977.
33. At the time, the arms control community was urging the installation of a network of 12 LASA-type arrays around the world. The ARPA position was that the detection threshold and discrimination capability of seismic arrays had not yet been established to the point where the US could safely enter into a treaty banning underground nuclear tests. The Norwegian array was thus a continuation of the ARPA Vela research program. It thus undercut the deployment of what would have been an unproven treaty verification system.
34. Later renamed the Seismic Data Analysis Center (SDAC); both acronyms are used on Arpanet maps as appropriate.
35. D.L.A. Barber et al., "Operating Experience with the NPL Network," Proc. ACM Symp. Computer Networks, IRIA, 1972.
36. P.T. Kirstein, "Early Experiences with the Arpanet and Internet in the United Kingdom," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 21, no. 1, 1999, . See also V.G. Cerf, and P.T. Kirstein, Proc. IEEE, vol. 66, no. 11, 1978, pp. 1386–1404, for technical details.
37. I.M. Jacobs, R. Binder, and E.V. Hoverstein, "General Purpose Packet Satellite Networks," Proc. IEEE, vol. 66, no. 11, 1978, pp. 1448–1467.
38. See Info, vol. 12, no. 5, 2009, edited by C.L. Jackson at www.emeraldinsight.com1463–6697.htm , particularly the papers by M.J. Marcus "Wi-Fi and Bluetooth—The Path from Carter and Reagan–Era Faith in Deregulation to Widespread Products Impacting our World," and S.J. Lukasik, "Unleashing Innovation: Making the FCC User-Friendly."
39. S.D. Crocker, "How the Internet Got its Rules," New York Times,7 Apr. 2009.
40. S.J. Lukasik, "Unleashing Innovation: Making the FCC User-Friendly," Info, vol. 12, no. 5, 2009, pp. 76–85.
41. The FCC has recently inserted itself into Internet regulation but not to address its security flaws; instead, it has taken up the political issue of net neutrality.
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