Internet Week – DARPA

World Wide WebIt’s hard to believe that there was no such thing as the Internet and the World Wide Web not that long ago. I’m going to take this week to praise some of the men and women who are responsible for our ability to communicate and transfer information via things like this blogs.

Let’s start with DARPA. According to Wiki, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military. It was originally created as a way to avoid being surprised by foreign nations’ technology as had happened with Sputnik. Telling aspects of DARPA are its size and management philosophy. It currently employs about 140 highly skilled people, only two levels of management, and the freedom to hire and fire who it desires without standard government rules. All positions are rotated regularly and people are hired generally for four to six-year terms. They understand failure is a necessary component of innovation and eventual success.

Now, onto how DARPA invented the internet.

A computer scientist named J. C. R. Licklider conceived the idea of sending information from computer to computer as a network and became a project director at what was then named ARPA. He assembled a team to see this vision through. One of his team members, Bob Taylor, then created a plan and opened it up for bidding to contractors. A company called BBN Technologies won the bid.

The first network messages was routed on the campus of UCLA on Oct 29, 1969 about a year and a half after Licklider conceived the idea. It caused the system to crash! In November of that year UCLA connected permanently with another station at Stanford. By 1973 foreign countries, Norway initially, began to connect to the system. In 1975 it was declared operational and turned over to the Department of Defense.

A lot has happened between then and now and I’ll talk about that as the week progresses but for the moment I want to focus on the ideas behind DARPA and some of its successes and past projects.

DARPA is probably as close a thing as we have to Ayn Rand’s concept of Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged. It is a place where intelligent and motivated people are allowed to pursue their dreams. The ideas brought to reality by DARPA include the Internet, The Aspen Movie Map (think about every movie you watch on the internet), drones and other unmanned vehicles which are increasing in use both private, public, and government, something called the Semantic Web which helps us find information more easily and was pioneered by a fellow you’ve never heard of named Tim Berners-Lee. You’ll hear a lot about him later in the week. Well, the list goes on and on.

My point here is to think about what kind of world we would live in if everyone worked in a DARPA like environment. The problem is that most people don’t have the ability of the chosen few in Galt’s Gulch and DARPA. I’ve discussed this before but the way to make it happen is through proper education. It’s important to teach children to think critically about everything to which they are exposed. Critical thinking leads to everything else. We must reward people for achievement and understand failure is a part of that process. This, by the way, is one of my biggest problem’s with Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s philosophy in general. Her characters are too archetypal and seem to me to be unrealistic. There are no John Galts in the world but we do everyone a service when we give the John Galt wannabes an opportunity to fail and to succeed.

Dare to dream but make a plan of action, envision obstacles and solutions, hire competent people, reward achievers, and make the world something beyond imagination!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

4 thoughts on “Internet Week – DARPA

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