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The Future of the Internet What is the Internet? Where did it come from? Where is it going? Will it be important in twenty years? These are all very interesting questions. Some have answers, some dont quite yet.
The internets rapid growth in the last few years took quite a few people by surprise. Not everyone, though. Many authors of fiction almost predicted the rapid growth in the net that weve seen. In this paper Id like to explore the future of the net, but in so doing Ill talk about its past and present.
Only in this way can one really talk about where the Internet is going. Where did the Internet come from? The Internet is, by historical standards, a recent development. But not nearly so recent as many might think. Most people think that the net has only been around for the last four or so years.
This is because the net has only been in the news for the last four or so years. It is, in fact quite a bit older than that. The Internet can trace its roots back to Cold War America. In the early 1960 s the RAND corporation, a military think tank, was asked to come up with a reliable way for America to communicate in a post-nuclear situation. A command and control system that would survive nuclear assault. What they came up with was the idea that the Internet is based on an autonomous network that doesnt have any central control facility that could be destroyed in an effort to cripple communications.
A network that doesnt have any necessary routes but can instead send its signals over whatever lines happen to be available, automatically routing around down sites. The network that RAND conceived of wasnt built until 1969 when the Department of Defences Advanced Projects Research Agency funded the connection of four different supercomputing facilities into a network as conceived by the people at RAND. These four sites formed the beginning of what was known as the ARPANet and what would become the Internet. Back in those days computing power was very precious and the reliable network between these sites made it easy for the different institutions to share computing power on projects. Other universities and research institutions wanted in on this project, and by 1972 there were thirty-seven nodes in the ARPANet. The scientists on this network quickly discovered that it was good for more than just sharing machine time.
They could very easily send messages back and forth and share research notes; email was invented. They could quickly share information with large groups of people; mailing lists were invented. They could exchange large files, either program or data; the file transfer protocol was invented. The users of this small network found more and more uses for it, and not all of them academic. The first large mailing list on the ARPANet was a science fiction discussion list. As time moved on the network matured.
The standards used to connect the computers became more and more robust. The Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocols came about and became the standard. With the autonomous structure of the net and the ease of implementing TCP/IP on any platform the Internet began to grow quickly. Any computer could be easily added to the network; all that was required was a connection to one other site and the rest took care of itself. From very close to its beginning the Internet has been international in nature.
In 1973 the first international sites, universities in England and Norway, were added to the ARPANet. While the network was funded and organized by ARPA back then it wasnt considered to be a private United States organization. It was an experiment that anyone was free to join. In 1983 the number of hosts on the Net hit one thousand. It was also the year that the ARPANet ceased to exist and the Internet came into existence.
All the military and government sites that were connected to the ARPANet broke off into the Miles and the rest of the ARPANet came to be referred to as the Internet. At this point the government had nothing to do with the Internet the connections between sites were all paid for by the sites involved. 1986 was another big year for the Internet. The National Science Foundation created the Nsfnet backbone, a high speed backbone that ran across the United States and accomplished two major things. The Nsfnet gave institutions wanting the join the Internet a place to connect to. It linked up all the smaller networks into one big internet. The backbone also increased the speed of the connections between faraway sites enormously, making the Internet more useful.
New sites started jumping onto the network at an increased speed. The year 1991 saw the entrance of commerce onto what had been a network of students and scientists up until this point. The Commercial Internet Exchange was formed and the NSF was convinced that it would be okay to allow CIX to link to the Internet. Perhaps the most important thing to happen to the Internet is Mosaic. In 1992 the World Wide Web was created by researchers at CERN. In 1993 Marc Anderson and others at UIUC developed and released Mosaic, a tool that allowed even a newcomer to computers to easily get at information, graphics, and sound stored on servers on the network.
Mosaic not only caught on quickly among those who were already on the Internet, but it also attracted people who werent already online to the Internet. Mosaic also attracted enormous amounts of media attention which futher helped to accelerate the growth of the Internet. By 1994 there were over two million hosts connected to the network and that number was more than doubling every year. The Internet as we know it had appeared. The White House was online.
Shopping malls were popping up. Civilization was coming to the vast and uncharted plains of Cyberspace. In the last few years the United States government has more or less completely pulled out of the Internet. The Nsfnet backbone was decommissioned just a few years ago. Once upon a time inexpensive connections to neighboring sites or to the Nsfnet backbone were used by all. Now almost all the connections are high speed links to major access providers.
The access providers exchange their packets at Network Access Points in various cities throughout the country. The organization once taken care of by the NSF is now handled by the InterNIC, which is run by private companies. The net is completely independent of the government. It is now what? (Hobbes Internet Timeline has alot of information of information on the growth of the Internet. ) (Bruce Sterling's History of the Internet is a very interesting read, if youre interested. ) The Internet Now What is it?
The Internet now is different things to different people. The general public its a media event. Most people dont use the net regularly and play around on the Web once in a while and read about it in Magazines. The general public doesnt really understand what the Internet is, but theyve been told that its going to be very important in the future and that its going to make people rich. The incredible, unprecedented, and undeserved success of Netscape's initial stock offering is a statement as to the publics feeling towards and understanding of the Internet. To scientists, university students, and computer people the Internet is mostly what it was before.
Only now these people, the old guard, are somewhat annoyed that their private playground has opened up to the unwashed masses. For the most part these people use the Internet as a way of communicating and working together. Not simply a convenience anymore, these people have come to rely on the net. Most businesses consider the Internet to be the next major market. Theyre all currently trying to find the secret to selling things online. Not many have had much success.
But, business is whats driving the advancements in Internet related technology now. The rapid advances in web browser software and available bandwidth are all a result of businesses chasing the money they think there is to be made online. Many businesses are choosing to take advantage of the Internet and using it to communicate between department and with their distributors and suppliers. These people are learning how much the net can help them and growing to rely on it. The Internet is making them more profitable and at the same time its making them dependant on it. Those businesses that have truly taken advantage of the Internet are those that sell internet related software and service.
The Internet has made millionaire of those quick enough and smart enough to take advantage of the opportunities that it has presented. Kids, ages 9 - 17 seem to have discovered chat rooms and email through services like Prodigy and AOL. Theyre also finding out about Internet Relay Chat, an online chat room on a different scale. Computer networks are no longer just a place for social misfits and computer geeks.
Kids of every variety seem to be getting online to chat and gossip. University Students are learning to use the net to get at information and do research. Soon there will be those who cant imagine having to go to a library to do preliminary research about anything. Why should one leave his desk and his computer when all the information he could want is literally at his fingertips?
Students are also using email to communicate with far away friends and relatives. Theyre also using email to communicate with friends on campus to do things like schedule appointments, etc. Regardless of what the Internet is used for, what is it? The Internet is a network of networks connecting millions of computers throughout the world.
Who does it belong to? No one. Who controls it? no one. Can it be controlled? Can it be killed?
Those are political questions, but the Internet cant be killed or controlled by any company or person, and only possibly by a particularly powerful government. Anyone who wants can connect his computer to the net and share information with the rest of the world. No one can say who is or isnt allowed on. All it takes is a computer and the cost of a connection.
So, the Internet is a thing of itself. Its future isnt really in the hands of anyone anymore. It can be helped or hindered by people, but not controlled. It began as an experiment and acquired a life all its own. How we use it will, in part, determine where it goes.
Where it goes will also, in part, determine how we use it. So. right now the Internet is a thing in flux. It changes radically every year and nothing about it truly constant. Where will it be in the next 20 year? In the next 50 years?
In the next 100? How can we even go about predicting? (RFC 1462 is the official answer to the question What is the Internet? ) (This page was created by a student in the UK and also tries to explain what the internet is. ) The Future of the Internet Many people have made their predictions as to where the Internet is going and what it is going to become. Most of these predictions are pure speculation, arrived at through intuition and dreaming more than through any sort of analytic reasoning. As early as twelve years ago there were science fiction authors writing about something like the Internet, speculating as to what the Internet would become.
A whole subgenre of science fiction came about based on speculation as to the role of computers in the future. This is what we now call Cyberpunk fiction, and the first novel of the sort was Neuromancer by William Gibson. This book was published in 1984 when the Internet was small and very few people had even heard of it. Gibson claims to have had no knowledge of The Internet. In his book he describes a global Matrix of computers much like what the Internet is becoming.
The term Cyberspace came from Neuromancer in the book it was used to refer to the global Network. The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games, said the voice-over, in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks. On the Sony, a two dimensional space war faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spatial possibilities of logarithmic spirals; old blue military footage burned through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire control circuits of tanks and war planes. Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity.
Lines of light ranged in the non space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding William Gibsons matrix is different from what we have now, but the idea is the same. The Internet very well could evolve into what he talks about, depending on where human interface technology goes in the years ahead. Twelve years ago he wrote a book that roughly predicted the development of the net. Whos to say it doesnt continue to develop along the lines he predicted? In 1986 Orson Scott Card wrote Enders Game.
Enders Game isnt cyberpunk and computers arent he central story of the book, but in his world there exists a global network very much like the Internet. The Nets, as he calls them, are not as futuristic or fanciful as Gibsons Cyberspace; they are more similar to what the Internet is now. All the computers in the world are connected. Newspapers have died and people now read the News Nets every morning with breakfast using small computers that weight less than todays newspapers. People send electronic messages email back and forth quite naturally.
When people need information they simply ask their computers and the computers retrieve the information from the Nets and present it, very much like proposed intelligent agent technology, web robots and the Word Wide Web. Cards News Nets seem a logical outgrowth of the UseNet. People are free to post in any of the public Nets and if people like what they say then they are invited to join the higher level, private Nets. In Cards book one of the characters rises to be the equivalent of president by using the News Nets and gaining more and more of the peoples favor. Another big cyberpunk novel is Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, published in 1992. Stephenson's work also has a global network of computers central to his novel.
In Snow Crash the network is called the Metaverse and is a virtual world where people interact inside an imaginary, computer generated world. In the Metaverse people are represented by avatars, visual representations that can look like just about anything, but usually look like the people do in real life. The Metaverse is omnipresent in Stephenson's world. There are even phone booth style public access terminals scattered throughout the world the way phone booths are now. Where is the real Internet going? Will it be like any of the above authors visions?
It will be very much like all of the above fictional networks, in that all of them are basically the same. The idea or a global networks of computers that connects every person and every house in the developed world runs central to the Internet idea of all those books. Right now people think of the Internet as Usenet news, the World Wide Web, and email. While this way of thinking of the net might be effective in predicting where it might be going in the next couple of the years its really useless beyond that. Email will always be around. It will evolved and become more powerful and more personal, but it will always be there.
Usenet will most likely evolve. It is already beginning to, with groups working out ways of filtering the usenet and providing the filtered version to subscribers. The web will either evolve or be replaced by some much higher level user interface. The web as it is could survive with more impressive interfaces placed over it. Intelligent agents and widespread us of Hot Java will change the web quite a bit right there.
But the idea, the function represented by the Web will always be there. As the net reaches into more and more homes the commercial use of the Web selling products will become more and more effective, increasing the development put into web-like interfaces for the net. But, the Internet isnt simply a collection of protocols for transferring information. Its much more than that. Right now its fairly easy for any consumer to get a connection to the internet.
In most places theres a service provider that will sell you a 14. 4 kbps or 28. 8 kbps (thousand bits per seconds) PPP connection for about $ 25 a month. The price isnt bad. But many people cant correctly configure PPP. And the connection isnt so fast. With the telecommunication deregulation act the cable companies and the major telephone companies are going to be able to get into the Internet business.
And these companies have the money and infrastructure to provide much better service at much better prices. It wont be long before we see ethernet speed (10 million bits per second) going straight to peoples houses at reasonable prices. And it shouldnt be too long after that when well see every house having an ethernet port right next to the telephone port. Every year it gets easier to expand computers. New operating systems are making a point of including easy Internet integration and many new computers come with built in ethernet support. In the not so distant future connecting a computer to the Internet will be as simple as plugging a telephone into the wall.
The Internet is, or will be, a high bandwidth connection to any computer in the world. There are many, many possibilities as to what can be done with this ubiquitous a network. And the power of personal computers is increasing at an amazing rate. According to Moores Law the processing power of computers doubles every 18 to 24 months.
Thats an exponential progression. Its really impossible to imagine what the personal computers and the Internet of the future will be like. But it will be a part of everyday life, and will most likely replace things like the telephone and the television. There will probably be one data pipe entering every house and there will be a computer hooked up to it. What we do with the computer and the high speed connection to the world can speculated upon.
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