CYBERSPACE—Al Gore’s claims notwithstanding, the internet—that almost impossible to imagine invention that continues to change our lives, for better or worse—celebrates its 40th anniversary Thursday, sort of.
On Oct. 29, 1969, a simple two-character message—“lo”—traveled between two computers connected via the ARPANET for the first time in history. The message was supposed to be an actual word—“login”—but in an irony that can only be appreciated by computer users worldwide, the first two letters made it through before the system crashed.
As happens with many famous celebrities, however, not everyone agrees on the actual birth date of the internet. “Some date the dawn of the net to September 12, 1969, when a team of engineers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) connected the first two machines on the first node of ARPAnet, the US Department of Defense–funded network that eventually morphed into the modern interwebs,” says The Register.
“But others—including Professor Leonard Kleinrock, who led that engineering team—peg the birthday to October 29, when the first message was sent between the remote nodes. ‘That's the day,’ Kleinrock tells The Reg, ‘the internet uttered its first words.’”
Still others, including Vint Cerf, vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, have an altogether different view of the meaning of today’s celebration.
"This ARPANET experiment that we're essentially celebrating right now, while it's not the internet it is certainly one of the foundations of the internet," he said. Cerf and Robert Kahn—chairman, CEO and president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives—are often referred to as the fathers of the internet. Graduate students at the time, they created the TCP/IP protocol that allows various independent networks to connect with one another and form super-networks that we now collectively call the internet.
"Don't let anyone tell you that information is power," Cerf told LiveScience in a telephone interview Wednesday. "It's information-sharing that's power."
Which is exactly what we’re doing right now, thanks to the internet.
Happy birthday, baby.