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Geek Trivia: Name, Net, and match

What was the original name proposed for the decentralized computing network we now call the Internet -- a sci-fi inspired title first coined by computing pioneer J.C.R. Licklider more than 40 years ago?
What was the original name proposed for the decentralized computing network we now call the Internet -- a sci-fi inspired title first coined by computing pioneer J.C.R. Licklider more than 40 years ago?

In 1963, Licklider sent out a memo to several computer and communications engineers under this heading: Memorandum For: Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network. Yes, Licklider actually called his proposed uber-connected computer web the Intergalactic Computer Network, and he described the obstacles to his dream network as such:

"Consider the situation in which several different centers are netted together, each center being highly individualistic and having its own special language and its own special way of doing things. Is it not desirable, or even necessary for all the centers to agree upon some language or, at least, upon some conventions for asking such questions as ‘What language do you speak?' At this extreme, the problem is essentially the one discussed by science fiction writers: ‘how do you get communications started among totally uncorrelated sapient beings?'"

Welcome to the operating system-agnostic world Licklider dreamed of 45 years ago. Today, so long as you've got a compliant browser and Internet connection -- standards that the ARPAnet helped pioneer -- it doesn't matter what OS your local machine is running. Still, not even Licklider foresaw the ubiquity of computers at this early stage, as the Intergalactic Computer Network memo suggests this is a problem for linking together perhaps a dozen computers in various locations. At the time, the question was how to let terminals access any networked mainframe, not the wholesale direct connection of completely self-sufficient computers on every desktop -- or laptop or palmtop, for that matter. Hey, even the likes of Taylor and Licklider can't see everything coming.

(This does, however, put the lie to the prevailing myth that the ARPAnet was intended to nuke-proof the U.S. military's computer systems by decentralizing them. ARPAnet was conceived for the purpose increasing communications and computing efficiency, not for making it impossible to nuke away all the military's data. That was a side benefit.)

Still, the Intergalactic Computing Network painted a picture that ARPAnet made real, and ARPAnet evolved into the Internet we use today. So, both linguistically and literally, the Internet is derived from the Intergalactic Computing Network. That's not just a cogent conceptual contraction; it's a practically precognitive portion of prototypical Geek Trivia.

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About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

15 comments
JohnOfStony
JohnOfStony

This article reminds me of a job I took on in 1980 - the design of the firmware (i.e. operating system) for a multi-function terminal that could be switched to communicate with a variety of mainframe computers. Its basic functionality was similar to that of a DEC VT100 - the standard terminal at the time - but there were many systems that didn't use the DEC protocols, and we planned to sell these terminals to companies which possessed more than one type of system, thus enabling them to buy one type of terminal that could be used on any of their systems. The company I worked for was Pericom Data Systems in Milton Keynes, England, and it was the most enjoyable period of employment in my life (my current job being a close second). Development was done on a Motorola Exorciser system (we used the Motorola 6800 series processors) which used 8 inch floppy discs with (I believe) a 160 kilobyte capacity. The firmware had to fit into 16 kilobytes of EPROM, and saving a few bytes here and there enabled more functionality to be squeezed in. The programmers of today don't know they're born! ;)

peter.monk
peter.monk

I had thought that "internet" as a name was a shortening of the generic term "internetwork", which is a network of networks. Anyone..?

moe_rogerson
moe_rogerson

So, where does Al Gore fit into all this...?

robert
robert

You dramatically shortchange Doug Engelbart when you state that his primary contribution was the invention of the mouse. That's the smallest tip of the iceberg. Engelbart's lab can be credited with pioneering work in video conferencing, shared screen computing, screen-based text editing, document sharing, multiple windows, email, online publishing, trackback links, hypertext, spreadsheets, version control and graphics. But these were just means to the end he envisioned of augmenting the cognitive capacity of teams of humans by using technology. For a terrific graphical overview of Engelbart's accomplishments, see: http://www.visualinsight.net/_engelbart/Engelbart_Mural.jpg

seanferd
seanferd

You'll break the illusion....

bruce
bruce

He came before all of these people. Don't you remember? He invented the internet.

ascott
ascott

I thought Englebart was a singer in the 60s

billtahoe
billtahoe

He didn't contribute technologically, but he did help provide funding, so Ha Ha, have your joke and eat it too!

seanferd
seanferd

was the first thing I thought of. With a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.

Wally Bahny
Wally Bahny

No, that'd be Engelbert Humperdinck (sp?), but close... :-)

RipVan
RipVan

...and without it, we would not have been able to print money. Good point!

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