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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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 also follow him on his personal blog.