Nikola Tesla and J.C.R. Licklider both talked about a worldwide network of computers. Licklider referred to it as an “Intergalactic Network.”


The internet evolved slowly over time. At first, it wasn’t much more than a series of specifications, ideas about how computers might talk to one another. Eventually, towards the late 1960s, these turned into a working system connecting a small number of computers.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the US military that funds far-out projects, funded the early internet, called ARPANET.

Unless you had a Ph.D. in computer science the early internet was dull and didn’t do much. Quoting one source: “ARPANET showed almost no sign of ‘useful interactions that were taking place on [it].'” However, it did use packet switching to connect computers. Simplifying, packet switching involves breaking information into pieces for transmission between computers.

Eventually, ARPANET grew but the clunkiness of early packet switching left the network unstable. Significantly, data would be scrambled and if a computer was off messages could go into a black hole. Worse, all computers needed to be physically wired to one another. There was no way to use interim computers (hosts) to route packets further along. This severely limited the ability of the young network to grow.


Two technologies changed that. During the late 1970s and early 1980s Internet pioneers, Vinton “Vince” Cerf and Bob Kahn developed transmission control protocol (TCP) and internet protocol (IP).

Specifically, transmission control protocol (TCP) is a set of rules specifying how to break the information into pieces, how to ensure the packets arrive complete, how to reassemble the packets, and how to ask for a new one if a packet arrives scrambled.

Furthermore, internet protocol (IP) is a series of rules about routing the packets between computers. Significantly, internet protocol automatically re-routes packets. When hosts are down packets automatically re-route. This ability, to route information around broken or malfunctioning computers, explains the military’s early interest.

With the implementation of TCP/IP the internet was able to grow at an exponential speed. Eventually, computers anywhere could easily connect to the network.

Growth of ARPANET

Modern Computing v1: The Mother of All Demos.

On December 9, 1968, the modern world was born.


Douglas Engelbart, working for the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) showed the future of modern computing to a roomful of people that, for the most part, understood virtually none of it.

In a tour de force, Engelbart introduced the world to video conferencing, teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing, copy and paste, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, and collaborative real-time editing.

Additionally, he also demonstrated a new type of input device, a block of wood that tracked hand movement and had only three buttons. His team referred to it as a mouse, a name that stuck. Surprisingly, they worked with the computer interactively, rather than running a program with a set of data that then produced a result or stored the data on tape. Interactive computing was rare but not unheard of: Sutherland’s Sketchpad program was interactive.

Officially, Engelbart presented a paper entitled A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect. Unofficially, Engelbart referred to it as The Mother of All Demos.

Engelbart’s mentors included computer visionaries J.C.R. Licklider, Ivan Sutherland, Bob Taylor, and Larry Roberts, all working for DARPA. Eventually, Robert Taylor would go on to lead the development of similar work at Xerox PARC.


During the demo, about 1,000 computer scientists gathered in Melo Park, California. Markedly, two computers were networked together, one running the demo and another back at the office. With each innovation, Sutherland announced “Look what else we can do here,” a theme Apple’s Steve Jobs would pick up decades later as “Just one more thing.”

The vast majority used computers with punch cards in their daily lives. They watched Engelbart and, according to him, filed out without asking a question or saying a word. To computer scientists of this era, the technology looked more science fiction than anything real. Surprisingly to Engelbart, they weren’t sure what anybody would do with it.

Engelbart introduces and demonstrates videoconferencing

Engelbart’s research was sponsored by the Advanced Research Project Agency (the precursor to DARPA), NASA, and the US Air Force.

Most of Engelbart’s innovations lay in the lab until adopted first by Xerox PARC and, eventually, by Apple, Microsoft, and countless others. Engelbart never embraced the idea of individual personal computers — he preferred large central computers — and declined to participate in future work.

The Mother of All Demos