February 17, 2008

On ARPA’s 50th Anniversary

Category: Arpanet,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 3:50 pm

ARPA just turned 50 and Ronda Hauben, long time author on the politics and culture of the net, has written a nice reflective piece on the significance of the organization of ARPA. Challenging the idea that military roots had dug into the organizational logic of the ARPA institution and especially the ARPAnet, she instead provides the following narrative:

The organizational structure of ARPA made possible the creation of the
computer science research office within ARPA begun by Licklider. That
office has demonstrated the importance of the support for basic
research in the field of computer science. The IPTO supported a
general area of research, one with a far reaching impact. The
achievements of this research office were not specific defense related
applications, nor were the goals narrowly aimed at defense specific
applications. If this reality is not recognized, however, it is
possible to mistakenly attribute significant computer science
achievements to defense specific objectives.

A common and widespread myth exists that the Internet has grown out of
a defense specific objective, i.e. from the goal to create a computer
network that could survive a nuclear war. This is a striking example
of how a false narrative can spread and gain public credence.

This false narrative finds its roots in the failure to understand that
ARPA was not an agency created for defense specific applications, but
to support the basic research which would lead to new concepts and