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Al Gore and the Internet: The Real Story
February 20, 2002
by Warren Stuart

In March of 1999 while appearing on a CNN program hosted by Wolf Blitzer, Al Gore briefly alluded to his role in the development of the Internet. This comment became controversial overnight and was used to the former Vice President's disadvantage during the 2000 campaign. However the controversy generated went beyond political zealotry and calls into question journalistic as well as scientific ethics.

Because, contrary to what has been commonly assumed, Al Gore had a valid point, if one were to examine what he actually said and compare it to what actually happened. Then one is left to conclude that there is no other logical choice but Al Gore for this particular achievement.

His exact words were "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet". The word create has more than one meaning, while it does mean to invent, this term can be rejected because it did not make sense in the context of the conversation. The U.S. Congress is not a research facility, nor is Al Gore an inventor.

The word create also means to produce, and clearly this is the word form that Al Gore intended. When the Internet was ready to be built, he took the initiative for appropriating funding for it. Since this is what Congressmen do, it wasn't a major point. This is underscored by the fact that Mr. Blitzer did not follow-up on this statement, instead he switched topics to discuss Libby Dole's presidential prospects.

When was the Internet ready to be built? According to Vinton Cerf, a man regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Internet "The first demonstration of the triple network Internet took place in July 1977". This was the SATNET experiment of which Mr. Cerf was the Project Manager. Interestingly, Larry Roberts (another founding father of the Internet) places the date for this experiment in October of 1977.

Mr. Cerf referred to this as the "Birth of the Internet" because it overcame a major obstacle that had stood in the way of development. This obstacle was known as "The Internet Problem", Mr. Cerf had been introduced to this problem by a Mr. Bob Kahn in 1972. The Internet Problem most likely grew out of the work that Mr. Paul Baran, (a researcher for the RAND Corp), did in the early sixties. What it required was that a user should have the capability to send a message anywhere at anytime without having to be aware of the underlying technology.

So even though researchers had the capability of sending messages since 1969, it still, required the user to be very much aware of the underlying technology. And since the requisite number of links and nodes for an internet to be established did not exist at all. It meant that researchers had to be creative in order to solve this problem, which is why in the early seventies technology shifted from wire to radio to deal with this limitation. (Once this problem was solved, researchers immediately went back to wire-based technology).

Which means that the earliest date at which construction of the Internet could begin was in 1977. And not only was Al Gore on the committee that would have appropriated funding for this, but even Newt Gringich has acknowledged that he was also the one with the strongest interest in this area. It has been argued that this is irrelevant because the Internet had been planned out years in advance and was just following its normal projected growth. As will be shown, this is a mistaken assumption.

In order for SATNET to proceed, the military would have had to field test the equipment first. In 1977 they were at least 3 years away from doing this. However in July of that year a remarkable thing happened. An Army agency called TACCTA (Tactical Commanders Terrain Analysis, III Corps and Ft. Hood) was conducting a preliminary experiment called TOSS (Tactical Operations System Staff) in which computers were installed in Combat Infantry Vehicles.

During the course of this experiment participants from the S2 (Intelligence) Offices of the 2nd Battalion 7th U.S. Cavalry and the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, took the initiative to power up the equipment in their vehicles while engaged in simulated combat maneuvers. And for the first time sent computerized messages via packet radio transmission, under combat conditions. These individuals were not aware of the underlying technology and by demonstrating the capability of sending messages anywhere at anytime, they not only field tested the equipment but, in so doing they solved the Internet Problem.

It was noted before that there was a discrepancy in dates for the SATNET experiment, Larry Roberts claimed that it took place in October, and Vinton Cerf stated that it was in July. What is unusual about this is that the TOSS exercise also took place in July. If researchers were given the go-ahead to conduct the SATNET experiment on short notice, one would expect that it would take several months for them to assemble the equipment and manpower to do so.

Field testing this equipment years ahead of schedule amounted to a technological breakthrough because it pushed up the researchers timetable as well. Allowing researchers to supplant military personnel in key areas of development. This civilian presence is what enabled the Internet to split off from the military in the early eighties.

Since the Federal Budget is approved on a year to year basis, and the Internet was not anticipated for years to come, it would be unrealistic to expect that funding for it would have existed at the time. It would have to be created.

Had the internet developed according to its projected growth path, it most likely would still be a classified military project. Instead in the late seventies, its development skyrocketed eventually doubling in growth every year. Al Gore would have had to have a major role in this. Why this wasn't brought out and fully explained during the past election campaign is a mystery that speaks volumes about the journalistic ethics of the present time.

Equally puzzling is the scientific community's inability to assign credit to those who rightfully deserve it. And unfortunately there is a pattern that has emerged in this regard as well. The Internet did not start out as a single research project, but was instead originally conducted by 3 separate research facilities, who, (supposedly) had no knowledge of each others involvement. These were the MIT group, the RAND Corp. and NPL (National Physical Laboratory of Britain).

Paul Baran, was a researcher at the RAND Corp. whose work mainly focused on re-establishing communications in the event of catastrophic losses suffered in nuclear war. He published "On Distributed Communication" in 1964, which laid the groundwork for packet switching technology. This was a way of taking data, disassembling it into discrete packets and transporting it over a line and reassembling it somewhere else. This was the culmination of years of research in which he had published extensively. He chaired numerous seminars to discuss his research. This information was freely disseminated to anyone who had an interest in it. Which would have included a Dr. Donald Davies (or one of his staff) of NPL. Who, despite not having published a thing beforehand, managed to produce research in 1965 that bore a striking resemblance to that of Mr. Baran's, only with different terminology.

The MIT group (and associates) was primarily focused on research and not nuclear warfare scenarios. They did the research and are the ones most responsible for inventing the Internet. However in 1967 they had a conference with the other two groups to consolidate their research. As a result they decided to incorporate Dr. Davies work by adopting his terminology. In effect negating the extensive research conducted by Mr. Baran.

So a pattern has emerged, whether it be a politician like Mr. Gore, a researcher like Mr. Baran, or the soldiers who risked their lives field testing dangerous equipment. The tendency has been to diminish or ignore the accomplishments of others and not share credit where it is due.

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