For our first activity sheet in Network Principles, we have to discuss the beginning of the internet. Now, that is an impossible task – simply because there are no real concensus on when it actually started. The first time the word “internet” was used were by Vint Cerf in 1974, but it was ofcourse invented some time before this.
As many of my peers would claim, the official beginning of the internet is Arpanet. But there is much debate about this, because there are more compelling evidence and interpretations that lets one assume that internet started earlier – or at least “computers in a network”.
My input on the topic is a story known to many through history lessons, but not so much computer history. During WW2 the germans used a machine called the Enigma, but many does not know that this machine has its origin from 1919. This was a device for communicating secret messages and instructions (via symmetric encryption), altough this only worked in a one way direction. The Enigma has the functionality of a computer, and given that instructions were sent to all of them in an intended group – you might say they were all in a network. Another argument for this being a network of computers, is that the british had to invent the worlds first sniffing tool to be able to decrypt it. Alan Turing invented a computer that was able to decrypt the messages, although this machine did not “sniff” the messages, it did make the transcript readible to humans (like turning binary to text).
You might say it is far fetched to say this is the first computer in a network, but with a little good will you come close. And if you stretch that good will, you might even consider smoke-signals to be networked communication, as one of my peer students cleverly pointed out.