DRAFT paper on the Vision Behind the Development of the Net

DRAFT paper on the Vision Behind the Development of the Net

Post by Michael Haub » Tue, 10 May 1994 22:48:38



                            DRAFT OF

       The Vision of Interactive Computing and the Future

                      Comments appreciated

                        By Michael Hauben
                       hau...@columbia.edu

        Where has the Information Superhighway come from? This is
a very important question which the Clinton and Gore
Administration seem to be ignoring. However understanding this
history is a crucial step towards building the network of the
future. It is my goal in this presentation to uncover the vision
behind the Internet, Usenet and other associated Physical and
Logical networks.

        While the nets are basically young (the ARPANET started
25 years before 1994), this 25 year growth is substantial.  The
ARPANET was the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects
Agency's experimental network connecting the mainframes of
Universities and other Department of Defense's (DoD) contractors.
The ARPANET initially started out as a test bed of computer
networking, communications protocols, and information/computer
and data sharing. However, what it developed into was something
of a completely different nature.  The most wide use of the
ARPANET was for human-to-human communication using electronic
mail (e-mail) and discussion lists (popular lists were the
wine-tasters and sci-fi lovers lists).  The human communications
aspect of the ARPANET continues to be today's most popular usage
of the 'Net by a vast variety of people through e-mail, Usenet
News discussion groups, Mailing Lists, Internet Relay Chat (IRC),
and so on. However, the ARPANET was the product of previous
research itself.

        Before the 1960s computers operated in batch mode. This
meant that a user had to provide a program on punch cards to the
local computer center. Often a programmer had to wait over a day
in order to see the results from his or her input. In addition if
there were any mistakes in the creation of the punched cards, the
stack or individual card had to be repunched and resubmitted,
which would take another day. This does not account for bugs in
the code, which someone only finds out after attempting to
compile the code. This was a very unefficient way
of utilizing the power of the computer from the viewpoint of a
human, in addition to discouraging those unfamiliar with computers. This
led to different people thinking of ways to alter the interface
between people and computers. The idea of time sharing developed
among some of the computer research communities. Time sharing
amounts to multiple people utilizing the computer (then
mainframes) simultaneously. Time sharing operated by giving the
impression that the user is the only one on the computer. This is
executed by having the computer divy out slices of CPU time to
all the users in a sequential manner.

        Research in Time sharing was happening around the country
at different research centers in early 1960s. Some examples were
CTSS (Computer Time Sharing System) at MIT, DTSS (Dartmouth Time
Sharing System) at Dartmouth, a system at BBN, and so on. J.C.R.
Licklider, who was the initial director of ARPA's Information
Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) at the time, thought of
timesharing as Interactive Computing. Interactive computing meant
the user had a way to communicate and respond to the computer's
responses in a way that Batch Processing did not allow.

        Both Robert Taylor and Larry Roberts, future successors of
Licklider as director of IPTO, pinpoint Licklider as
the originator of the vision which set ARPA's priorities and
goals and basically drove ARPA to help develop the concept of
networking computers

        In an Interview conducted by the Charles Babbage
Institute, Roberts said:

"what I concluded was that we had to do something
about communications, and that really, the idea of the galactic
network that Lick talked about, probably more than anybody, was
something that we had to start seriously thinking about.  So in a
way networking grew out of Lick's talking about that, although Lick
himself could not make anything happen because it was too early
when he talked about it.  But he did convince me it was
important." (CBI Oral Interview, Roberts, pg 7)

Taylor also pointed out the importance of Licklider's vision to
future network development in a CBI conducted interview:

"I don't think ... anyone who's been in that DARPA position since
[Licklider] has had the vision that Licklider had.  His being at
that place at that time is a testament to the tenuousness of it
all.  It was really a fortunate circumstance.  I think most of
the significant advances in computer technology, especially in
the systems part of computer science over the years -- including
the work that my group did at Xerox PARC where we built the first
distributed personal computer system -- were simply
extrapolations of Licklider's vision.  They were not really new
visions of their own.  So he's really the father of it all.  And
you'll never get him to admit that, because of his modesty." (CBI
Oral Interview, Taylor, pg. 8)

        Crucial to the definition of today's Networks were the
thoughts awakened in the minds of those researching
timesharing. Those experimenting with timesharing began to
think about issues related to timesharing. One topic which arose
in people's minds was that of the issues involved with the
formation of communities over the timesharing systems which were
being developed. Fernando Corbato and Robert Fano wrote,

"The time-sharing computer system can unite a group of
investigators in a cooperative search for the solution to a common
problem, or it can serve as a community pool of knowledge and
skill on which anyone can draw according to his needs. Projecting
the concept on a large scale, one can conceive of such a facility
as an extraordinarily powerful library serving an entire
community -- in short, an intellectual public utility."
("Time-sharing on Computers" in _Information_, pg. 76)

Robert Taylor spoke about some of the new circumstances that time
sharing made possible that extended beyond the expected advances:

        "They were just talking about a network where they
could have a compatibility across these systems, and at least do
some load sharing, and some program sharing, data sharing -- that
sort of thing.  Whereas, the thing that struck me about the
timesharing experience was that before there was a timesharing
system, let's say at MIT, then there were a lot of individual
people who didn't know each other who were interested in
computing in one way or another, and who were doing whatever they
could, however they could.  As soon as the timesharing system
became usable, these people began to know one another, share a
lot of information, and ask of one another, "How do I use this?
Where do I find that?"  It was really phenomenal to see this
computer become a medium that stimulated the formation of a human
community.  ...  And so, here ARPA had a number of sites by this
time, each of which had its own sense of community and was
digitally isolated from the other one.  I saw a phrase in the
Licklider memo.  The phrase was in a totally different context --
something that he referred to as an "intergalactic network."  I
asked him about this later... recently, in fact I said, "Did you
have a networking of the ARPANET sort in mind when you used that
phrase?"  He said, "No, I was thinking about a single timesharing
system that was intergalactic..." (CBI Oral Interview, Taylor, pg 24)

As Taylor recounts, the users utilizing the timesharing systems
did, usually unexpectedly, form a new community. People now
were connected to others who were interested in these new
computing systems.

        Licklider was one of the first users of the new
timesharing systems, and took the time to play around with them.
However, Fernando Corbato called Licklider a visionary, and not an
implementor. This was helpful because with his vision, Licklider
helped establish the priorities and direction that ARPA's IPTO
was attempting to approach with their research monies. Many of
the Interviewees in the CBI Interviews said that ARPA's monies
were given in those days to help seed research which would be
helpful to the general society in general, and only secondary to
the military.

Licklider's visions helped to inspire bright researchers working
on computer related topics. Roberts even goes as far to say that
Licklider's work (and that of the IPTO directors after him) educated the
people who were to become the leaders in the computer industry in
general. Roberts relates Licklider's vision and how future IPTO
directors continued Licklider's legacy:

        "Well, I think that the one influence is the one I
mentioned in relation to the net, that is, the production of
people in the computer field that are trained, and knowledgeable,
and capable, and that form the basis for the progress the United
States has made in the computer field.  That production of people
started with Lick, when he started the IPTO program and started
the big university programs.  It was really due to Lick, in large
part, because I think it was that early set of activities that I
continued with that produced the most people with the big
university contracts.  That produced a base for them to expand
their whole department, and produced excitement in the
university" (CBI Oral Interview, Roberts, pg 29)

The influence on Academia led to a profound effect on the future
of the computer industry. Roberts continues:

"So it was clear that that was a big impact on the
universities and therefore, in the industry.  You can almost track
all those people and see what effect that has had.  The people from
those projects are in large part the leaders throughout the
industry" (Ibid., pg. 30)

        Licklider's vision of the "Intergalactic Network" or of a
time-sharing system connecting all of the computer using
communities across multi-galaxy's really spawned the idea of
interconnecting the different time-sharing systems by networking
them. This networking would allow those on the different
time-sharing systems to share data, programs, and later their
research, other ideas and even later anything that could be
written out. Licklider and Taylor collaborated on an article
titled "The Computer as a Communications Device" which foresaw

today's Net. They wrote:

        "We have seen the beginnings of communication through a
computer - communication among people at consoles located in the
same room or on the same university campus or even at distantly
separated laboratories of the same research and development
organization. This kind of communication - through a single
multiaccess computer with the aid of telephone lines - is
beginning to foster cooperation and promote coherence more
effectively than do present arrangements for sharing computer
programs by exchanging magnetic tape by messenger or mail."
(Licklider & Taylor, pg. 28)

Later in the article, they point out that the interconnection of
computers led to a much broader interconnection than might have been
expected. A new community is described when they write:

"The collection of people, hardware, and software - the
multiaccess computer together with its local community of users -
will become a node in a geographically distributed computer
network. Let us assume for a moment that such a network has been
formed....Through the network of message processors, therefore,
all the large computers can communicate with one another. And
through them, all the members of the supercommunity can
communicate - with other people, with programs, with data, or
with a selected combinations of those resources." (IBID.,pg. 32)

        Licklider and Roberts exhibit their interest in more than
just hardware and software when they continue to think about the
new social dynamics the connections of disperse computers and
people will create. The authors continue:

"[The communities] will be communities not of common location ,
but of common interest. In each field, the overall community of
interest will be large enough to support a comprehensive system
of field-oriented programs and data." (IBID., pg. 38)

In exploring this community of common affinity, the pair look for
the possible positive reasons to connect to and be a part of
these new computer facilitated communities:

     "First, life will be happier for the on-line individual
because the people with whom one interacts most strongly will be
selected more by commonality of interests and goals than by
accidents of proximity. Second, communication will be more
effective and productive, and therefore more enjoyable. Third,
much communication and interaction will be with programs and
programming models, which will be (a) highly responsive, (b)
supplementary to one's own capabilities, rather than competitive,
and (c) capable of representing progressively more complex ideas
without necessarily displaying all the levels of their structure
at the same time -- and which will therefore be both challenging
and rewarding. And, fourth, there will be plenty of opportunity
for everyone (who can afford a console) to find his calling, for
the whole world of information, with all its fields and
disciplines, will be open to him, with programs ready to guide
him or to help him explore." (IBID., pg 40)

        Roberts and Taylor conclude their article on a prophetic
question. The advantages that computer networks make possible
will only happen if these advantages are available to all who
want to make use of them. The question is posed as follows:

    "For the society, the impact will be good or bad depending
mainly on the question: Will `to be on line' be a privilege or a
right? If only a favored segment of the population gets a chance
to enjoy the advantage of `intelligence amplification,' the
network may exaggerate the discontinuity in the spectrum of
intellectual opportunity." (IBID., pg. 40)

The question which is raised is one of access. The authors try to
point out that the positive effects of computer networking would
only come about if the ability to use the networks is made easy
and available. Lastly they hold that access will probably be made
available because of the global benefits which they predict would
ensue. They end by writing:

     "if the network idea should prove to do for education what a
few have envisioned in hope, if not in concrete detailed plan,
and if all minds should prove to be responsive, surely the boon
to humankind would be beyond measure." (IBID., pg. 40)

Licklider and Taylor raise an important point of saying access
should be made available to all who want to use the computer
networks.  Coming back to today, it is important to ask if the
National Information Infrastructure is being designed with the
principle of making equality of access as important. As I have
identified in this presentation, there was a vision of the
interconnection and interaction of extremely diverse communities
guiding the creation of the original Arpanet. In the design of
the expansion of the Network to our society as a whole, it is
important to keep the original vision in mind to consider if the
vision was correct, or if it was just important in the initial
development of networking technologies and techniques. However,
very little emphasis has been placed on either the study of
Licklider's vision or the role and advantages the Nets have
played up to this point. In addition, the public has not been a
part of the planning for the new initiatives which the federal
government is currently planning. This is a plea to you to demand
more of a part in the development of the future of the Net.
 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Michael Hauben Columbia College'95   Editor of Amateur Computerist Newsletter
          by day        hau...@columbia.edu               by night
<a href="http://www.cc.columbia.edu/~hauben/home.html">Netizen's Cyberstop</A>