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Re: more on the birth of the internet -- J C R Licklider
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2008 20:21:57 -0400

How things have changed djf

Begin forwarded message:

From: "David P. Reed" <dpreed () reed com>
Date: August 21, 2008 10:41:00 AM EDT
To: dave () farber net, Arthur Evans Jr <EvansSL21 () earthlink net>
Subject: Re: [IP] more on the birth of the internet -- J C R Licklider

Great to see you post, Art. I met Lick later, in 1969, when I was a mere undergrad, and he was still pursuing visions. His vision at that time was of "personal" computers. And as a mere freshman (albeit with some programming experience) I was encouraged by him and Al Vezza to play around with their "personal computer" - a PDP6 with an Evans and Sutherland ES-1. It was personal, because Lick's concept was to give the whole computer over to *one* user at a time - not because timesharing was bad, but because timesharing was already heavily explored, and the user experience of a remote shared machine was just not "personal". But in this project, one could explore the big idea that a single user might one day have a full 3D rendering platform (the size of my dorm room... in that form) *dedicated to user experience*. This was perceived as hooey by the IBM types who were at the time just barely getting into the idea that timesharing was interesting.

Where are today's visionaries? Not the ones who publish fiction posing as the future in Wired magazine. The ones who really see whole new ways of thinking about what is possible. You won't find them in the fashionista digerati - those guys think the iPhone is the future (when it is clearly the past - the future by definition doesn't exist and can't be extrapolated from one data point).

And while ARPA in those days funded these visionaries (letting a freshman sign up for full use of a multimillion dollar machine for an hour every day... just to explore), they now focus on relevance to the "warfighter". Nothing particularly bad about that - but it's not the reason ARPA made Lick's vision real. Neither is there much likelihood that peanut-butter grants to lots of 1 grad student projects from NSF will do much either.

ARPA PIs were a club of visionaries, seasoned by some very sensible people - who, like Lick, appreciated the challenge of making their vision real, rather than just writing 2,000 words in Wired.

David Farber wrote:


Begin forwarded message:

From: Arthur Evans Jr <EvansSL21 () earthlink net>
Date: August 20, 2008 9:31:36 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Subject: Re: [IP] more on the birth of the internet

For IP if you like.

I was glad to see J C R Licklider's name mentioned on this thread.

In the early 60s I was a graduate student in what was then Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon. Along with many other institutions we had an ARPA contract to do various kinds of research. Periodically (I think it was yearly) ARPA gathered all of the Principle Investigators to share ideas. One year Alan Perlis, my advisor and our PI, was unable to attend and sent me. And it was there that I heard Lick extolling his vision of the Intergalactic Computer Network.

Now, graduate students, particularly ones just starting, know that they know much more about things than do their seniors, and it seemed clear to me at the time that Lick's ideas were a bunch of hooey. Well, sigh...

He was right, of course, and I was wrong, and I'm glad to admit it here. Lick had the vision, at a time when the state of research didn't provide much justification for it. We all owe a lot to that vision.

Art Evans




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