[ARENA] b#19 do e-zine vector (pr-publicao do texto de Ronda Hauben)

miguel leal ml virose.pt
Sexta-Feira, 21 de Maro de 2008 - 23:12:07 WET

Olá a todos

Nos próximos dias ficará disponível o número b#19 do e-zine  
vector. Pré-publicamos aqui, em exclusivo para a [ARENA], o texto de  
Ronda Hauben dedicado ao 50º aniversário da ARPANET que fará parte  
desse número.

até breve.,

miguel leal


ARPA’s 50th Anniversary and the Internet: a Model for Basic Research


[This article was written for Futurezone and appears in German. It is  
reprinted here with permission. The url for the original publication  
of the article is: http://www.futurezone.orf.at/  ]

  I- Sputnik Gives Birth to Important New Research Advances

On October 4, 1957, the world was greeted with a surprise. There was  
beeping from a man- made object orbiting the earth.  This was  
Sputnik, a 184 pound object the size of a basketball which was to be  
the catalyst for important new changes in our world. One of these  
changes would be a significant new means of communications connecting  
people and computers around the world.

How a small satellite orbiting our globe on October 4, 1957 would, 50  
years later, make possible the digitized information and  
communications network we call the Internet, is a significant story.  
The subject of this story is, however, not the Internet itself. The  
subject of the story is the research agency which made it possible to  
create the Internet and other significant computer science  
developments. This research agency, the Advanced Research Projects  
Agency, or ARPA as it is more commonly known, was born 50 years ago  
in February 1958.

This birthday celebration is a fitting time to look back to how ARPA  
began and to ask what this history can teach us about the nature of  
the kind of research ARPA was created to support and about the  
institutional form needed to support such research. Since it can be  
argued that important achievements of ARPA supported research include  
the Internet of today, and other significant computer science  
advances, understanding the origins and development of ARPA can set a  
foundation to understand the origins of the Internet and other  
computer advances of the past fifty years.

II - Some Background - The actual events of the birth of ARPA.

It is generally recognized that the creation of ARPA was a direct  
response to the launch of the world’s first orbiting space satellite  
by the Soviet Union. This was a significant part of the US  
government’s response to the Soviet’s surprise achievement. But  
the mandate of ARPA was not restricted to space research. The US  
Department of Defense directive number 5105.15 dated February 7, 1958  
established “an agency for the direction and performance of certain  
advanced research or development projects.” (1) For reasons to be  
explained shortly, the director of the agency was to report directly  
to the Secretary of Defense. Congressional authorization followed as  
part of a bill enacted by the U.S. Congress on February 12, 1957.

III - The Original Mandate

While ARPA was originally created to support space related research,  
this function was soon moved to a civilian agency so that space  
research would have no apparent military connection.  ARPA was thus  
left to support more general purpose research.

James Killian, who became the President of MIT (1948-1959), and the  
Special Assistant for Science and Technology to President Dwight D.  
Eisenhower (1957-1959), is credited with establishing the environment  
in which ARPA was conceived. Killian had testified at several  
congressional hearings in the period before Sputnik, advocating for  
the importance of basic research for the US Department of Defense  
(DOD). At those hearings, he and others argued that it was critical  
to have research that would explore unknown areas in order that the  
DOD not fall behind in the military and basic research areas of its  
competition with the Soviet Union. Killian believed that new weapons  
and weapon systems would require a different form of organization  
from the traditional roles and missions that the Department of  
Defense was accustomed to.

Killian described how the great technological successes of the U.S.  
in World War II such as radar, the proximity fuse, and the creation  
of nuclear weapons were due to how the scientific and technical  
community functioned even during the war. He drew attention to “the  
free-wheeling methods of outstanding academic scientists and  
engineers who had always been free of any inhibiting regimentation  
and organization. . . Every great research laboratory,” Killian  
proposed, “must strive to have men of this kind and to provide an  
environment analogous to that of the educational institution if it is  
to be really creative.”

Killian believed that the new approaches and weapons systems could  
not be spawned by the Military Services themselves. Instead they  
could only be expected to “originate in the creative basic research  
that takes place in the universities and other institutions where  
fundamental new ideas are most likely to be generated.”

Killian argued to Congress that what was needed was research that  
would be directed toward new concepts and new principles, rather than  
toward producing pieces of military hardware. He describes why  
creating an environment to support basic research is of critical  
importance to the military. “It is” he said, “the yet  
unanticipated, not yet conceived discoveries which may determine our  
military strength tomorrow, and we must provide the environment from  
which such discoveries are most likely to come.”

Killian turned the usual argument about basic research and its  
relevance to the military on its head. Instead of arguing to support  
research with military objectives, he was arguing for the support for  
fundamental scientific research because otherwise there would be no  
possible breakthroughs that could provide relevant research. Unless  
the DOD provided support for such generalized research, Killian  
proposed it would fall hopelessly behind its Soviet rival. Similarly,  
the prestige which came with being seen as preeminent in science and  
technology was critical for the U.S. to maintain its standing in the  

Articulating this viewpoint explicitly, Killian explained, “The  
future of the United States, to an extraordinary degree, is in the  
hands of those who probe the mysteries of the atom, the cell and the  
stars. Especially is this true of that tiny part of our creative  
effort which we inadequately term basic research.”

Before Sputnik, Killian and his colleagues who argued with him for  
the primacy for the military of basic research had not been able to  
have their advice taken seriously. The launch of Sputnik transformed  
this situation fundamentally.

A report written in 1975 to analyze ARPA’s successes, known as the  
Barber Report after its main author Richard Barber, depicted ARPA as  
having been “spawned in an environment where basic research was  
equated with military security.” Research of a general nature was  
argued to be the “wellspring” for the advanced ideas critical in  
the long run for the military.

The Barber Report explains that this was the changed environment in  
which the U.S. President at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, supported  
the creation of ARPA. Just after the launch of Sputnik, Killian was  
asked by Eisenhower to recommend how the centrality of basic research  
could be implemented. Killian recommended the creation of an agency  
that would support ‘centers of excellence’, flexible funding, and  
long term stable environments for researchers. It would be a place  
where failures were to be seen as expected, to be learned from, and  
not, as problems.

This was the vision inspiring the creation of ARPA. Fortunately, in  
the field of computer science, this vision found champions and the  
result was that the computer research at ARPA succeeded in  
revolutionizing the way that computers would be used in the world.

IV - The Politics of ARPA

Part of Eisenhower’s motive for supporting the creation of ARPA and  
its orientation toward basic research, however, had another  
rationale. This had to do with the problem of rivalry between the  
different branches of the Military Services.  Eisenhower was opposed  
to this rivalry, but the Department of Defense having been created  
only ten years earlier, in 1947, was still relatively weak in terms  
of its control over the three different branches of the services. The  
creation of ARPA could help to centralize the research done by the DOD.

The Services competed vigorously with each other in a number of  
areas, such as for funding and assignment of new projects. As a  
result, the creation and placement of ARPA in the DOD administrative  
hierarchy became a source of contention between the services and the  
Secretary of Defense.

Similarly, since the results of applied research would affect the  
future of each of the branches of the services, the plan to put  
applied research in ARPA met with opposition. In recognition of this  
political nature of applied research, the Secretary of the Air Force  
James H. Douglas said that he was prepared to concede ARPA a role in  
basic research but “once you move over the poorly defined line to  
applied research, I would object.” Such pressures defined the  
environment in which ARPA began and developed in its early years. (2)

V - Computer Science is Nourished by ARPA

Despite these obstacles, the computer science research begun at ARPA  
in 1962, is a significant fulfillment of the objectives set out by  
Killian as the vision for the new agency. In order to understand  
ARPA’s operations, it is helpful to look at the role played by the  
Director. There have been several different directors in the course  
of ARPA’s existence.

The period from 1961-1963 when Jack Ruina was the director is cited  
as a particularly formative period. “The Ruina era’s legacy,”  
the Barber Report explains, “was particularly important with regard  
to the ARPA style. It set the precedent of a civilian scientists- 
director and was characterized by delegation of considerable  
independence to the technical officers, recruitment of strong  
technical office directors, minimization of bureaucratic functions  
and limitation of central program management controls, and stress on  
quality of staff and contractors.”

During the 31 month period that Ruina was the director of ARPA, the  
computer science program was launched. Computer science was assigned  
to ARPA as an area for research in June 1961. The program was  
originally called Command and Control Research (CCR). The objective  
of this research was to “provide a better understanding of  
organizational, informational and man-machine relationships and  
research on information processing techniques and methods, and  
maintenance of a general purpose computer facility.”

Since in 1961 this was all a new area of research, the services  
didn’t have established programs and there were thus fewer  
constraints on the creation and development of computer science.  
Ruina soon recruited J.C.R. Licklider, a highly regarded researcher  
with expertise in psychoacoustics, who had done considerable research  
on human-machine interaction and computer modeling of the brain’s  
perception of sound. Licklider believed that advances in command and  
control aspects of computing would require fundamental advances in  
the field of computer science. He was particularly interested in  
developing the area of interactive computing. (3)

Ruina gave Licklider a free hand to create a computer science  
research program. Just as Killian would have advised, Licklider began  
by creating a set of ‘centers of excellence’ at several  
universities, each of which would focus on a particular area of  
computing research. He changed the emphasis which had been on command  
operational studies, war game scenarios and command system  
laboratories to research in time-sharing systems and interactive  
computing, computer graphics, improved computer languages and  
computer networking.

By early 1964, the name of the computer science research office at  
ARPA was changed to the Information Processing Techniques Office  
(IPTO), to reflect the changes in the research program Licklider had  
introduced. Among the centers of excellence IPTO set up were one at  
MIT, known as Project MAC, and one at Carnegie Mellon. Licklider  
writes that one center was to “lead the effort to achieve balance in  
information technology, to harness the logical powers of computers to  
make it truly available and useful to men.” The other was to “lead  
the effort to achieve fundamental understanding to develop the  
theoretical bases of information processing.” (4) Subsequently other  
centers of excellence were set up, including one focusing on computer  

Though computer networking was part of Licklider’s plan for the  
research to develop the computer science field, during his first two  
year period at ARPA, it was too early for this area of research. The  
program initiated by Licklider in computer science led to ARPA being  
recognized throughout the field, according to the Barber Report, “as  
being the main supporter and perhaps the most important force in the  
course of the US and probably world history in the computer….”

The goal of Licklider’s program in computer science was to develop  
the computer in ways other than number crunching. This led to what  
became perhaps the most significant area of computer development at  
IPTO. This involved the recognition that the computer could be a  
communication device, which led to the research developing packet  
switching and the ARPANET, and subsequently, the research creating  
TCP/IP and the Internet .

Describing the paradigm change represented by computer networking  
research, Michael Hauben writes:

“Fundamental to the ARPANET, as explained by the [ARPANET]  
Completion Report, was the discovery of a new way of looking at  
computers. The developers of the ARPANET viewed the computer as a  
communications device rather than only as an arithmetic device. This  
new view made building the ARPANET possible. This view came from the  
research conducted by those in academic computer science. Such a  
shift in understanding the role of the computer is fundamental to  
advancing computer science. The ARPANET research has provided a rich  
legacy for the further advancement of computer science and it is  
important that the significant lessons be learned and studied and  
used to further advance the study of computer science.” (5)

This perspective shift in how to view the computer, especially in  
looking at the computer as a communication device was the basis for  
the area of research which represents probably the greatest  
achievement of IPTO and of ARPA.

This is the area of research first developing the ARPANET and  
subsequently providing the practical and conceptual leadership for  
the creation and spread of the Internet. (6)

VI - ARPA and the Struggle Within

Critical to an understanding of ARPA, however, is the understanding  
that the struggle both within the agency itself and in the creation  
and support for the Agency was a continual battle between the  
objectives and practices of the military and the objectives and  
practices of the researchers who were working for the IPTO or in its  
programs. By the 1970s, the researchers at IPTO were subjected to  
serious constraints.

A directive issued on March 23, 1972 by the Department of Defense  
replaced ARPA’s 1959 charter with a new Charter. The name of ARPA  
was changed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  
This removed the agency from its original position within the Office  
of the Secretary of Defense. The administrative placement of the  
agency was changed from where it had been placed to protect it from  
the competition of the Services. At the time there was a concern that  
the separation of ARPA from the Office of the Secretary of Defense  
would weaken it and its independence.

Describing the significance of moving ARPA from the protection of the  
Office of the Secretary of Defense, Charles Herzfeld, the director of  
ARPA from 1965-1967, writes:

”But one fundamental change to DARPA is more important than all  
these vicissitudes. In 1958, the body was designed to be an agent for  
change in the Department of Defense, located in the Office of the  
Secretary of Defense. In the 1960s, it became stronger and more  
effective in this role. Sometime in the 1970s or ‘80s, the agency  
shrank to being an agent for change in the Office of the Under  
Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, which  
focuses on building and buying weapons.” (7)

Licklider, too, was disturbed by the changes that occurred at ARPA  
when he returned as director of IPTO in January 1974. He found that  
much had changed. He observed that, “there was really much less  
opportunity to initiate things…At that time [the ARPA director-ed]  
had a fixed idea that a proposal is not a proposal unless its got  
milestones. I think that he believed that the more milestones, the  
better the proposal….Milestones had to be written into the proposal  
and it was completely rewritten.” (8)

In an email message to IPTO researchers in April 1975, Licklider writes:

“[A] development in ARPA that concerns me greatly - and will, I  
think, also concern you. It is the continued and accelerating (as I  
perceive it) tendency on the part of the ARPA front office, to  
devalue basic research and the effort to build an advanced science/ 
technology base in favor of applied research and development aimed at  
directly solving on an ad hoc basis some of the pressing problems of  
the DOD.” (9)

The Barber Report notes again the importance of the organizational  
placement of the Agency if the agency is to be able to support basic  
research. “During its first decade, ARPA’s leadership tended to  
feel that the Agency was a unique organization in DOD with special  
ties to the Secretary and hence somehow immune from the impact of  
many forces and decisions that shape the activities of the Services  
and other parts of the Department.”

By the post 1967 period, this protected position was changing, so  
that ARPA was more constrained than it had been previously.

The authors of the Barber Report are not surprised by the changes,  
but they are struck by how little attention is paid to them and “the  
relative lack of discussion or debate” among the leadership of the  
Department of Defense.

With the celebration of the 50th birthday of ARPA, there is renewed  
attention being paid to reviewing the experience of this agency. Such  
a review of the experience of ARPA is pregnant with the lessons of  
the importance of government support for basic research.

The past 50 years provides a set of achievements demonstrating the  
importance of the initial vision that Killian and other scientists in  
the 1950s advocated regarding the importance of basic research.

These voices, however, were ignored until Sputnik was launched. Only  
then did the necessity for the federal support for basic research  
become inescapable. ARPA and its initial orientation toward  
supporting basic research is the product of these events.

The organizational structure of ARPA made possible the creation of  
the computer science research office within ARPA begun by Licklider.  
That office has demonstrated the importance of the support for basic  
research in the field of computer science. The IPTO supported a  
general area of research, one with a far reaching impact. The  
achievements of this research office were not specific defense  
related applications, nor were the goals narrowly aimed at defense  
specific applications. If this reality is not recognized, however, it  
is possible to mistakenly attribute significant computer science  
achievements to defense specific objectives.

A common and widespread myth exists that the Internet has grown out  
of a defense specific objective, i.e. from the goal to create a  
computer network that could survive a nuclear war. This is a striking  
example of how a false narrative can spread and gain public credence.

This false narrative finds its roots in the failure to understand  
that ARPA was not an agency created for defense specific  
applications, but to support the basic research which would lead to  
new concepts and ideas.

Only then could the new conceptual frameworks become available in  
general, and in that context also for defense related developments.  
If one starts with the goal of creating defense specific  
developments, however, the research is limited and not able to go  
beyond what is known at the time.

In summing up this relationship between ARPA, IPTO and basic  
research, Alan Perlis, one of the IPTO researchers explains: “We owe  
a great deal to ARPA for not circumscribing the directions that  
people took in those days. I like to believe that the purpose of the  
military is to support ARPA and the purpose of ARPA is to support  
research.” (9)


1- The Barber Report says that the Secretary of Defense actually  
issued the directive creating ARPA on February 4, 1957. Unless  
otherwise indicated quotes are from the report. The url for the Report

2- Barber Report, p. I-27

3-This was a period when computer use generally required that the  
programmer bring a program typed on punch cards to a computer  
facility, to return several hours later to get a print out of the  
program’s results. This form of computing was known as batch  

4-Ronda Hauben, “Computer Science and the Role of Government in  
Creating the Internet” Part III  “Centers of Excellence and  
Creating Resource Sharing Networks”

5-Michael Hauben, “Behind the Net: the Untold History of the ARPANET  
and Computer Science”, in “Netizens: On the History and Impact of  
Usenet and the Internet”
. http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/ch106.x07

6- Ronda Hauben, “The Internet: On its International Origins and  
Collaborative Vision (A Work in Progress)”

7- Charles Herzfeld, “How the change agent has changed”,  
“Nature”, vol 451, January 24, 2008, p. 404.

8- Thomas Bartee, ed. Expert Systems and Artificial Intelligence,  
Indianapolis, 1988, p. 225. See Ronda Hauben, “Computer Science and  
the Role of Government in Creating the Internet” ARPA/IPTO  
(1962-1986): Creating the Needed Interface, p. 19.

9- Adele Goldberg, “The History of Personal Workstations”, ACM,  
N.Y. 1988, p. 129.  See also Ronda Hauben,“The Birth and Development  
of the ARPANET” in “Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben, Netizens: On  
the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet”, John Wiley and  
Sons, 1997,.

*Ronda Hauben is a featured writer for OhmyNews International (OMNI) 
in South
Korea, and she also writes for Telepolis. She is a researcher, writer  
freelance journalist, who has spent the past 14 years studying,  
writing and
participating in online media. Along with Michael Hauben, she wrote  
On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet’ which is a  
study of the history and social impact of Internet. A print edition  
of Netizens
appeared in 1997 in English and also in Japanese. The book was put  
online in
1994. The url for the online version is:

She has written over 100 articles for OMNI. Many of her recent  
articles are
online at:

netcolumnist [at] gmail.com

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