Happy birthday, Internet! 50 years old today

50 years ago, on October 29 1969, a packet was sent between two computers -- one at UCLA and the other at Stanford Research Institute -- on the ARPANET. This doesn’t sound hugely exciting, but it was first step in the creation of the Internet.

In the half century since then, the world has transformed beyond recognition. The arrival of the World Wide Web in 1991 showed what the Internet could be and ultimately changed everything, bringing us online shopping, up to the minute news, social networking, and more.

We now have powerful smartphones that let us access the web and streaming services like Netflix and Spotify from anywhere, on Wi-Fi and 4G/5G, and who knows what the future will bring?

Vint Cerf, VP and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google was one of the architects of the modern Internet and today, to mark the start of things, he reveals what he considers to be the most important milestones in the history of the Internet.

  1. October 29, 1969: The first packet was sent. This pioneered our understanding of operational packet switching technology, which prepared us for the subsequent development of the Internet.
  2. 1971: Networked electronic mail was created using file transfers as a mechanism to distribute messages to users on the Arpanet.
  3. 31974: The design of the Internet was released. Robert Kahn and I published "A protocol for packet network intercommunication." In this paper we presented not only a protocol, but an architecture and philosophy that supported an open design for the sharing of resources that existed on different packet-switching networks.
  4. November 22, 1977: A major demonstration of the Internet took place, linking three networks: Packet Radio, Packet Satellite and ARPANET.
  5. January 1, 1983: The Internet was operationally born, and I’ve used an "electronic postcard" analogy to explain how it works.
  6. 1983: The operational mobile phone arrived, which is crucial because, although the Internet and mobile phones were developed in parallel, they eventually proved to be complementary technologies.
  7. 1984: Cisco Systems was founded, and with it came the arrival of commercial routers, which allowed the connection of disparate networks to share data between computers.
  8. 1988: I realized the Internet was going to be really big when I attended an INTEROP show and exhibition, and there was a two-story exhibit from Cisco Systems. Turns out they spent $250,000 on that exhibit -- you don’t do that unless you think it’s worth the expense and will drive business. That’s what triggered my interest in making the Internet accessible to the public.
  9. December 1991: The invention of the World Wide Web introduced a new way of sharing information that had a profound impact on accessibility and utility. Its arrival illustrated how powerful the Internet could be for information discovery, access and sharing.
  10. 1993: The release of the Mosaic browser to the general public was a stepping stone to the the web that we know today. It was the first time there was an interface that was visually appealing to a general audience. Also that year, the word "meme" was used to describe a viral idea -- although it would take another decade or two to become mainstream.
  11. 1995: The IPO of Netscape Communications triggered a new era in technology and in business: the "Dot Com Boom."
  12. 1996: The arrival of voice over IP (Vocaltech), and the development of IPv6 allowed a superior cost benefit experience.
  13. 1998: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was created, which is still one of the most important institutions responsible for the technical aspects of Internet governance. That same year, Sergey Brin and Larry Page founded Google.
  14. April 23, 2005: The first YouTube video was uploaded, which meant that ordinary people -- not just television studios and broadcasters -- could create and upload shareable videos. Today I turn to YouTube for "how to" videos like cooking and fixing problems with software, and watching TED talks or science explanations.
  15. 2007: The first smartphone marked a collision of two revolutionary technologies: the mobile phone, which made the Internet more accessible, and the Internet, which made the mobile phone more useful.
  16. June 5, 2012: Google, as well as many other websites, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and network hardware manufacturers permanently switched on Internet Protocol v6 (IPv6) as part of the World IPv6 Launch. At the time, the Internet was running out of IP addresses, but IPv6 allowed for unlimited growth of IP addresses in the future. This was also the subject of my first tweet!
  17. 2019-2069 (the next 50 years): In the next five decades I believe that computer communications will become completely natural. Like using electricity, you won’t think about it anymore. Access will be totally improved -- think thousands of low Earth orbit satellites -- and speeds will be higher, with 5G and optical fiber, and billions of networked devices with increased interactive capabilities in voice, gesture, and artificially intelligent systems. I also imagine an expansion of the Interplanetary Internet. But who knows, after everything that has been accomplished in the past 50 years, the only thing we can be certain about is that the possibilities are endless.

What are your earliest memories of the Internet?

Image credit: Plan-B / Shutterstock

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