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Nerds 2.0.1
Networking the Nerds

I nvention is rarely the isolated product of a lone scientist or engineer. Instead, every significant technology in the modern world is the product of a long history of numerous people and events. One of our most modern inventions, the Internet, is itself the result of decades of work and innovation by thousands of people who may have never dreamed of the possibility or potential of a global network.

[world war two] One interesting and influential ancestor in the history of the Internet is radar. Hundreds of the best scientists and engineers in Britain and the U.S. worked during World War Two to develop radar systems to help them to defeat the Axis powers. Electronics technology was pushed to new heights to make the signals stronger, and early computing machines were developed to process the complex radar messages.

[ chapter: on the radar scope] [the cold war]

In the 50's and 60's, the Cold War spurred further research in radar and computers . The U.S. government feared that the Russians were pushing ahead of the west in science and technology, and the launch of the Russian Sputnik symbolized a new era and a new frontier. A call to arms swelled university campuses with budding scientists and engineers ready to burn their slide rules and retake the lead in technology from the Communists.

[ chapter: the cold war heats up]

The U.S. government poured hundreds of millions of dollars into research and it was a golden age for R&D around the country. New federal agencies, such as NASA and ARPA, were created to distribute the research money around . MIT especially benefited from the Cold War, building new labs and hiring the best nerds in the country to work in them. High-tech companies sprang up around MIT, staffed with MIT graduates. One of these companies, Bolt, Barenek and Newman (BBN), would take the lead in developing the ARPAnet, the forerunner to the Internet.

[ chapter: acceleration]

The ARPAnet began as a government program thought up in the halls of the Pentagon. BBN was paid to build the connecting hardware and software, and several universities funded by ARPA were chosen to test the network. In 1969, only four computers were connected to the ARPAnet, but it grew and advances in computer technology made it faster and easier to use. Better networking protocols and applications were developed, especially email, and more people were convinced that it was going to be a success.

At the beginning of 1989 over 80,000 host computers were connected to what was now called the Internet. That same year, after some solemn thought, the aging ARPAnet was turned off signaling a transfer of the Internet from the hands of the Nerds to the Suits.

[ chapter: surfing the net]

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