While some see it as one of the greatest evolutionary steps in the history of mankind, most of us still use it for cat videos and annoying status updates. Nonetheless, the Internet has clearly taken over our lives, being directly present in our homes, our pockets, our workplace and soon enough, even in our brains. But who actually built the damn thing?

 

Answering this question is one of the main reasons why the Internet can be considered one of our biggest achievements, as its invention cannot be entirely claimed by a single person or group. It was in fact the product of the work of a myriad of scientists trying to accomplish two apparently simple tasks: collaborate and communicate.

 

Phase 1: The ARPANET

It all started in the late ’60s when scientists working for the US Department of Defense tried to find a way to optimise processor usage, or time sharing. According to a founder of the ARPANET, this was mainly a network experiment with the goal of allowing scientists to use these big processing machines called mainframes without having to wait in line.

So contrary to popular belief, the first network was not built by secret US agencies as a backup plan in case of a nuclear attack.

 

Phase 2: Going Global

Once more and more organizations adopted this new network technology, scientists around the world started thinking of ways to make communication easier between computers. Luckily, one fine gentleman working for the National Physical Laboratory in the UK was already tackling that problem and came up with one of the key concepts on the Internet: package switching.

The idea behind this concept is to avoid traffic congestion by cutting up data at one end and putting it back together at another.

Another fun theory is that, around the same time, a group of scientists from France working on direct connections between computers supposedly came up with a simple word to refer to their network: L’Internet.

 

Phase 3: The TCP/IP protocol suite

Although DARPA influenced apocalypse bringing sci-fi organizations such as Skynet or the Machines from The Matrix, it actually had a very positive effect on the evolution of the Internet. After developing the ARPANET, it also built the communication language or protocol suite for the Internet in 1975 which is still in use today: TCP/IP.

This stepping-stone paved the way for a fast and easy communication between global networks  by making sure that pieces of the same data travelling through different routes arrive at their destination safely and can be reassembled.

 

Related: An Introduction to Artificial Intelligence: Facts and Fallacies

 

Phase 4: The World Wide Web

The Internet as we know it today would be totally different if it hadn’t been for the urge to share cat photos with fellow scientists. During the ’80s, the people from CERN managed to find a way to improve collaboration over the Internet, which at that time consisted of text only emails (also developed by ARPANET several years earlier).

By trying to help his colleagues make more progress on figuring out what the universe is made of, Tim Berners-Lee developed the first Internet browser and called it the World Wide Web. By using HTTP, HTML and URL the first website appeared under his leadership in 1991.

 

Phase 5: The Explosion

Shortly after Berners-Lee’s breakthrough, the Internet became available to the masses in 1995 and sparked a revolution which in only 20 years will have transformed the world. The Internet is now used as a tool for anything you could imagine, from communication and research, to propaganda, shopping and even spying.

 

The Future

Just as the wonderful people who contributed to the birth of the Internet for the past 50 years had absolutely no idea how big it was going to get, it’s very hard for us to imagine what it will look like in 2065.

Nonetheless, we can safely assume that it’s going to have an even bigger impact on our lives by allowing us to automate all electromechanical appliances via the Internet of Things or by incorporating it directly into our bodies for instant access to mankind’s common knowledge.

Until those times come, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for: