A telling moment in the presidential race came recently when Barack Obama said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet."
It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens--and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way.
To support his claim, he cites author Michael Hiltzik, and writes:
According to a book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning" (by Michael Hiltzik), its top researchers realized they couldn't wait for the government to connect different networks, so would have to do it themselves. "We have a more immediate problem than they do," Robert Metcalfe told his colleague John Shoch in 1973. "We have more networks than they do." Mr. Shoch later recalled that ARPA staffers "were working under government funding and university contracts. They had contract administrators . . . and all that slow, lugubrious behavior to contend with."
Unfortunately, it seems a few people disagree with Crovitz's assertion. Among them, well, Michael Hiltzik:
And while I'm gratified in a sense that he cites my book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning," to support his case, it's my duty to point out that he's wrong. My book bolsters, not contradicts, the argument that the Internet had its roots in the ARPANet, a government project. So let's look at where Crovitz goes awry.
First, he quotes Robert Taylor, who funded the ARPANet as a top official at the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, as stating, "The Arpanet was not an Internet. An Internet is a connection between two or more computer networks." (Taylor eventually moved to Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, where he oversaw the invention of the personal computer, and continued promoting research into networking.)
But Crovitz confuses AN internet with THE Internet. Taylor was citing a technical definition of "internet" in his statement. But I know Bob Taylor, Bob Taylor is a friend of mine, and I think I can say without fear of contradiction that he fully endorses the idea as a point of personal pride that the government-funded ARPANet was very much the precursor of the Internet as we know it today.In his article, Crovitz asserted that the true pre-cursor to the internet was the ethernet. I'm no computer engineer, and even I knew that was wrong. As Hiltzik states:
As for Ethernet, which Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs invented at PARC (under Taylor's watchful eye), that's by no means a precursor of the Internet, as Crovitz contends. It was, and is, a protocol for interconnecting computers and linking them to outside networks--such as the Internet. And Metcalfe drew his inspiration for the technology from ALOHANet, an ARPA-funded project at the University of Hawaii.
There's been no shortage of people who actually know what the hell they're talking about that have torn apart Crovitz's inane thesis. Sorry righties. Better luck next crime.
This just isn't Crovitz's week it seems. Almost feel sorry for the dude.
Just kidding, of course.