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Ideological and Policy Origins of the Internet, 1957-1969

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Abstract:

This paper examines the ideological and policy consensus that shaped computing research funded by the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) within the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This historical case study of the period between Sputnik and the creation of the ARPANET shows how military, scientific, and academic values shaped the institutions and relations of a foundational period in the creation of the Internet. The paper probes three areas: the ideology of the science policy consensus, the institutional philosophy of IPTO under J. C. R. Licklider, and the ways that this consensus and philosophy shaped IPTO research in the period leading to the creation of the ARPANET. By examining the intellectual, cultural, and institutional details of the consensus that governed IPTO research between 1957 and 1969, we can understand the ways that these values defined the range of possibilities for network computing. The influence of the social values expressed by these actors was decisive: that government had an obligation to support a broad base of scientific research to promote both the public good and the national defense; that IPTO-sponsored computing research would accomplish both military and scientific objectives; and that IPTO could leverage its power within this consensus to create a network to share resources and unite researchers over geographical distance. A greater awareness of the ways that "consensus" worked in this period -- the "pre-history" of the Internet -- provides a richer context for evaluating the unique features of the Internet, such as its open architecture, collegial culture, and standards-based governance.

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