Who started the Internet? Neither. In fact, it started during the 1960s, long before any of us had personal computers. Many people think that the Internet was created during the Cold War as a way for the United States government to protect computer data from a nuclear bomb. not so
Russia became the world technology leader in the Cold War “space race” when it launched Sputnik in 1957, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth.
The US Department of Defense responded to the launch of Sputnik by creating the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1958. In 1967, they began a four-month study that led to the formation of the ARPANET, the first working prototype of current internet.
Without Sputnik, we may not have the Internet. Do you think that is a good thing or a bad thing? Or both?
Twenty-seven years later, in 1994, before most Americans had an email address or Internet access or even a personal computer, Philip Agre foresaw that computers would one day invite massive data collection on everything in the world. society. Agre earned his Ph.D. from MIT in 1989, the same year the World Wide Web was invented. At the time, even among Silicon Valley venture capitalists betting on the rise of computers, few people foresaw how profoundly and rapidly the computerization of everything would change life, the economy, and politics on our planet.
Reed Albergotti in the Washington Post wrote: “A small group of academics, including Agre, observed that computer scientists viewed their work in a vacuum largely disconnected from the world around them. At the same time, people outside of that world lacked a deep enough understanding of the technology or how it was about to change their lives.” It is not a new phenomenon.
Agre came to believe that the field of artificial intelligence had gone astray and that a lack of criticism within the profession was one of the main reasons. This reminds me of the regret expressed by Albert Einstein, who believed that the Germans would produce the atomic bomb first, prompting him to sign a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to support the Manhattan Project’s chain reaction research. Einstein never worked on the development of the bomb because the United States government did not give him the necessary authorization.
Years later, however, Einstein deeply regretted his letter to Roosevelt. “If he had known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb,” he said, “he would never have lifted a finger.” The brilliant theoretical physicist sought to control nuclear weapons and develop institutions like the UN that he believed could lead to peace. But the inventor can rarely maintain perfect control, and society will get away with it. Nine countries now have nuclear capability.
In the early 1990s, Agre wrote that massive data collection would change and simplify human behavior to make it easier to quantify. That happened on a scale few people could have imagined, as social and other online networks have cored human interactions into easily quantifiable metrics. Like being “friends” or not, or being a “follower” or someone who is “followed”. Data generated via the Internet has been used to further shape behavior, targeting messages designed to psychologically manipulate consumers, voters, and nations.
Putin’s attempt to militarily destroy democracy in Ukraine has invited a reexamination of the cyberattacks, disinformation, division, attacks on opponents and the installation of puppet leaders that he used to gain control of Ukraine. This reexamination, in turn, has led journalists to point out that those same techniques have poisoned politics in countries other than Ukraine…including the United States.
A flood of real-time videos on Facebook, TikTok, Telegram and Twitter has undermined the Kremlin’s propaganda and put the world on Ukraine’s side in its fight to defend its democracy from a military giant. Somehow Ukraine is beating Russia at its own game of cyber warfare. His tactics reveal how social media has opened up a new dimension to modern warfare, revealing how the Internet has become a weapon for real-world conquest.
In the long run, I don’t think Ukraine can defeat the vicious Soviet attack, at least without the intervention of other fighting forces. But the information that has emerged will help define how the world remembers this unprovoked war.
That said, I cannot blame Ukraine for using the same techniques used by American conspiracy theorists, climate deniers, racist and anti-social disinformation campaigns to fight for the survival of their nation.
“Connecting the Dots” is published every other Saturday in the Recorder. John Bos is a contributing writer for “Green Energy Times.” His essays on the climate crisis have been published in many other regional magazines. He is the editor of a new children’s book called “After the Race”. Questions and comments are invited to firstname.lastname@example.org.