How the Internet Changed the World — Past Present Future — Peter Ivey 5th October 2020

Peter Ivey gave a suc­cinct over­view to a Zoom record of 45 mem­bers on how the inter­net works, and a very useful talk as most like me were fairly clue­less; bits, bytes, HTML, 5G are famil­iar words ban­died around but never quite sure exactly what they all mean.

Peter’s back­ground includes a phys­ics degree at Bristol, BT labs, chair in Electronics and Electronic Engineering in Sheffield, then his own com­pany con­sult­ing on micro­chips.

The inter­net concept began in 1960 when JCR Licklider envis­aged a system of massive inform­a­tion stor­age and retrieval shared by centres and indi­vidual users.

JCR Licklider

At around the same time, Paul Baran (RAND Organisation) poin­ted out the vul­ner­ab­il­ity of US Government com­mu­nic­a­tions and pro­posed a decent­ral­ised net­work that would solve the prob­lem.

Paul Baran

These ideas led in 1969 to the first internet-like net­work (the Advanced Research Projects Agency net­work – ARPAnet), which was developed by Leonard Kleinrock at UCLA, and others, for shar­ing data between uni­ver­sit­ies in California and Utah for research.

Leonard Kleinrock

By 1973 ARPANET had expan­ded across the USA, and by 1975 to London., From this base the net­work has expan­ded across the UK and sub­sequently it has become a huge net­work extend­ing right across the World.

In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web (www), was work­ing at CERN and was frus­trated by his dif­fi­culty in access­ing the inform­a­tion he needed. He cre­ated a new com­puter lan­guage HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) which remains the stand­ard format of most web pages today. Hypertext allows you to get a doc­u­ment by click­ing on a coded word or phrase. He also developed the tech­no­logy for trans­fer of data across the web; HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), URLs (web addresses), a web browser and web server soft­ware. He pub­lished the first ever web­site http://info.cern.ch which is still avail­able on the inter­net.

CERN res­isted the tempta­tion to patent, with amaz­ing foresight made the WWW public domain and widely avail­able so it could develop and expand as rap­idly as pos­sible.

The first web browser to become pop­u­lar with the gen­eral public was MOSAIC in 1993. TimBL was knighted in 2004.

Tim Berners Lee

WWW is soft­ware and a means of using the inter­net, which itself is the infra­struc­ture facil­it­at­ing it and mainly hard­ware. There are layers of hard­ware and soft­ware as shown:

The inter­net works by shift­ing binary inform­a­tion. Basic require­ments are a machine plus elec­tri­city and a means to send and receive inform­a­tion. A bit con­tains a single binary value of 0 or 1. Other than defin­ing “True” and “False” it has little other use. 8-group clusters of bits are “bytes”. At least one mil­lion bytes per second are required, for example, to down­load a song and achieved by increas­ing the band width for faster down­load. All com­mu­nic­a­tions over the inter­net  are “splintered” into pack­ets which can be routed along dif­fer­ent chan­nels, then recom­piled into the cor­rect order at the receiv­ing end

To com­mu­nic­ate over long dis­tances light beams are trans­mit­ted via fibre-optic cables, which can send mul­tiple bytes sim­ul­tan­eously at the speed of light with very little signal loss. Radio sig­nals are cheaper than fibre-optics, so 1s and 0s can be con­ver­ted into radio waves by WiFi for con­ver­sion back to fibre-optic and/or copper cable at the receiver end.

The inter­net is vast, with an aver­age of 7 con­nec­ted devices for every human in the world e.g. phone, smart TVs, Sky boxes, Alexa, routers. Telehouse North is one of four data centres in London dis­trib­ut­ing to the whole of the UK and con­tains a huge net­work of optical cables, tidy in front, chaos behind.

Global net­works are con­nec­ted both by sub­mar­ine cables and satel­lites.

If the unthink­able happened and the inter­net went down, it would be impossible to return to the pre-internet days of the 1960s.

Mobiles wouldn’t work, land­lines would be swamped, traffic lights would seize, hos­pital data couldn’t be accessed, cash machines and credit cards would stop, shops would run out of stock and, heaven forbid, Amazon would fail!

It would be an extremely unlikely event in peace­time but is a poten­tial threat in war. Cyberwarfare is a real­ity: the Middle East and India in 2008, Stuxnet worm in 2010, and ter­ror­ism e.g. sab­ot­age of under­sea cables, satel­lite attack but also acci­dent­ally by solar flares.

The “Internet of Things” (IOT) is a hot topic and defined as “the inter­con­nec­tion via the inter­net of com­put­ing devices embed­ded in every­day objects, enabling them to send and receive data”. Examples are remote con­trol of cent­ral heat­ing, mon­it­or­ing chil­dren, pulse oxi­metry, Alexa, trans­port, driver­less cars, logist­ics, agri­cul­ture, indus­trial util­it­ies and smart cities (e.g. park­ing). The IOT is on the way to match­ing the import­ance of inter­net com­mu­nic­a­tion and inform­a­tion e.g. WhatsApp, Google.

5th Generation Cellular will make a massive dif­fer­ence. Peter was def­in­itely not a fan of Huawei. 5G net­works are cel­lu­lar. The ser­vice area is split into small geo­graph­ical areas called cells, access­ible every­where. Devices are con­nec­ted to the inter­net and phone net­work by radio waves through an antenna in the cell, with the bene­fit of greater band­width and much higher down­load speeds. The all too famil­iar 4G video buf­fer­ing on Zoom or Facetime will become a thing of the past.