A History of the Internet : Commentary on Scott Bradner’s Program on Information Science Talk
Scott Bradner is a Berkman Center affiliate who worked for 50 at Harvard in the areas of computer programming, system management, networking, IT security, and identity management. Scott Bradner was involved in the design, operation and use of data networks at Harvard University since the early days of the ARPANET and served in many leadership roles in the IETF. He presented the talk recorded below, entitled, A History of the Internet — as part of Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series:
Bradner abstracted his talk as follows:
In a way the Russians caused the Internet. This talk will describe how that happened (hint it was not actually the Bomb) and follow the path that has led to the current Internet of (unpatchable) Things (the IoT) and the Surveillance Economy.
The talk contained a rich array of historical details — far too many to summarize here. Much more detail on these projects can be found in the slides and video above; from his publications, and from his IETF talks. (And for those interested in recent Program on Information Science research on related issues of open information governance, see our published reports.)
Bradner describes how the space race, exemplified by the launch of Sputnik, spurred national investments in research and technology — and how the arms race created the need for a communication network that was decentralized and robust enough to survive a nuclear first-strike.
Bradner argues that the internet has been a parent revolution, in part because of its end-to-end design. The internet as a whole was designed so that most of the “intelligence” is encapsulated at host endpoints, connected by a “stupid” network carrier that just transports packets. As a result, Bradner argues, the carrier cannot own the customer, which, critically, enables customers to innovate without permission.
ARPANET, as originally conceived, was focused on solving what was then a grand challenge in digital communications research: To develop techniques and obtain experience on interconnecting computers in such a way that a very broad class of interactions are possible, and to improve and increase computer research productivity through resource sharing.
Bradner argues that the internet succeeded because, despite the scope of the problem, solutions were allowed to evolve chaotically: ARPA was successful in innovating because it required no peer review. The large incumbent corporations in the computing and networking field ignored internet because they believed it couldn’t succeed (and they believed it couldn’t succeed because its design did not allow for the level of control and reliability that the incumbents believed to be necessary to making communications work). And since the Internet was was viewed as irrelevant, there were no efforts to regulate it. It was not until after the Internet achieved success, and catalyzed disruptive innovation that policymakers deemed it, “too important to leave to the people that know how it works.”
Our upcoming Summit supported by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation, will probe for grand challenge questions in scholarly discovery, digital curation and preservation, and open scholarship. Is it possible that the ideas that could catalyze innovation in these areas are, like the early Internet, currently viewed as impractical or irrelevant? .