Mit and the Galactic Network

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The concept of the Galactic Network was created by J.C.R. Licklider, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher and professor. Licklider's vision of a Galactic Networka network of computers that allows users to gather data and access programs anywhere in the worldwas detailed in a series of memos. The first, Man-Computer Symbiosis, was written in 1960 and detailed Licklider's thoughts on the development of interaction between humans and computers. The second memo, On-Line Man Computer Communication, was published two years later and took the Galactic Network idea further, promoting the concept of social interaction through the networking of computers. In 1968, Licklider coauthored The Computer as a Communication Device with researcher Robert Taylor. The memo discussed the idea of using online communities and systems as an efficient method of human communication. Both the Galactic Network concept and research headed by MIT proved to be influential in early development of the ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet.

An important milestone in the progression of Licklider's ideas was the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The agency was developed by the U.S. government after the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik I, the first satellite to orbit around the earth. ARPA was responsible for funding projects that would bring cutting-edge technology to the U.S. military. In 1962, ARPA created the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) and selected Licklider to head up research dedicated to the advancement of information processing.

Upon taking control of IPTO, Licklider immediately began supporting research groups at educational institutions, especially MIT. The focus of research became a new concept called time-sharing, which would bring the idea of a Galactic Network one step closer to realization. Batch processing, the method of computing being used by researchers, was a time consuming process that allowed only one programmer at a time to use a computer system by feeding in stacks of program cards or tape. Howard Rheingold stated in his book Tools for Thought that "time-sharing was to be the first, most important step in the transition from batch processing to the threshold of personal computing (i.e., one person to one machine). The idea was to create computer systems capable of interacting with many programmers at the same time, instead of forcing them to wait in line with their cards or tapes."

As such, MIT laboratories were given additional funding to pursue time-sharing research efforts. By that time, Licklider had convinced several key MIT researchers that the creation of the Galactic Network should be pursued. Ivan Sutherland, a Ph.D. graduate from MITnow considered a pioneer of the computer graphics industryhad caught the eye of ARPA management. In 1964, he took over as director of the IPTO and continued focusing on Licklider's ideas.The following year, Sutherland awarded the industry's first networking contract to Lawrence G. Roberts, an MIT researcher.

While working on the contract, Roberts proved that a packet switching theory developed by Leonard Kleinrock, another MIT researcher, was completely necessary for computer networks. In a 1961 paper entitled Information Flow in Large Communication Nets, Kleinrock described packet switching as information that was broken down into packets of data, addressed to a receiver, transferred from one computer to another via a computer network, and then reassembled upon delivery to the receiver. In 1965, Roberts connected a TX-2 MIT computer to a Q-32 computer in California using a telephone line, creating the world's first wide-area computer network using Kleinrock's packets rather than circuits.

The progression of Licklider's ideas when Roberts was named the IPTO chief scientist in the late 1960s. It was then that he started developing ARPANET, created to develop and explore computer research sharing and packet switched communications. The ARPANET became an early version of the Internet in 1969 when computers at the University of California-Los Angeles, University of California-Santa Barbara, Stanford Research Institute, and the University of Utah were the first to be connected to the online network. They were later joined by MIT, Harvard, Systems Development Corp., and consulting firm Bolt, Beranek & Newmana firm for whom Licklider once worked.

Licklider's foresighthe predicted millions of people would be using a Galactic Network by 2000and the research efforts of those at MIT and various other educational institutions paved the way for the development of the ARPANET and, eventually, the Internet. According to Michael and Rhonda Hauben in Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, "Licklider's vision of an 'intergalactic network' connecting people represented an important conceptual shift in computer science. This vision guided the researchers who created the ARPANET. After the ARPANET was functioning, the computer scientists using it realized that assisting human communication was a major fundamental advance that the ARPANET made possible."


Clark, David D., Cerf, Vinton G., et al. "A Brief History of the Internet." Reston, VA: The Internet Society, August 4, 2000. Available from

Hauben, Michael, and Ronda Hauben. Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society, May 1997.

Rheingold, Howard. Tools for Thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

SEE ALSO: ARPAnet; History of the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW)

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