There’s no question that the Internet has revolutionized humanity, it is perhaps the greatest tool we have ever built, for better or for worse, But how does it work? who owns it? where is the internet? and who makes sure it keeps on running?
Today let’s explore the Internet, its pioneers, the organizations that keep it running, its present and its future!
The revolution begins in 1969 during this time the US Defense Department had a branch called the Advanced Research Projects Agency or ARPA. ARPA funded researchers developed many of the technologies used for internet communication today. At first they connected computers across a few universities and called it ARPANET, and over the next few years ARPANET grew connecting more and more computers, and eventually inspiring the modern Internet.
20 years later, English computer scientist Sir Tim berners-lee was working at CERN in Geneva, he was hired to fix the mess that grew out of the incompatibility of different networks in cern’s system. His solution was the World Wide Web, although the Internet and the web are often used as synonyms, they are not the same thing.
The Internet is the infrastructure of the network while the web stats on top of this and is essentially a way to access information via the Internet. Tim berners-lee invented the core on which most websites work, he allowed the Internet to become uniform and usable yet he never patented his idea. One can only imagine the riches he gave up in order to allow for his invention to flourish!
The modern Internet is now a huge array of interconnected points across the globe, so the question must be asked… how exactly does the internet connect us all together?! While cables span across entire oceans to connect countries, this isn’t a new idea as we’ve been laying cables since 1854 when construction began on the first transatlantic telegram cable. The process is a surprisingly simple engineering feat for incredible complex technology.
Each cable consists of nothing more than some optical fibres wrapped in materials for protection, globally approximately 420 cables have been laid spanning over 1.1 million kilometers as of 2017, so here’s how it works… A ship pulls a cable from one country to another and then on the seafloor, the cable is laid by sea plows, they dig a little trench for the cables to fall into and eventually natural ocean currents bury the cable. If the ground is uneven however, the cable is unburied and vulnerable to damage from ship anchors and other natural disasters.
In 2008 one such disruption happened due to cable damage, about 60% of India and 70% of Egypt’s Internet services were briefly cut, with this being said damaged cables are not uncommon. Repairs are constantly carried out on severed cables around the world, but really it is interesting to think of how physically vulnerable the Internet is, of course there are so many other routes for traffic to take, it is almost nearly impossible to kill the Internet by just cutting off one cable, especially in more recent times since satellites now circling the earth beaming down the internet from the skies.
After their path across the sea there are systems of cables spanning across your country leading right up to your door that is, if you’re lucky and live in a place wealthy enough and populated enough to allow for a cable connection to the internet as a whole. The internet is still growing and about half of everyone that lives on earth has access to it so we still have yet to see what the internet evolves into by the time mass adoption reaches saturation.
So who owns the Internet? Well technically, no one.. and everyone. The internet itself is an autonomous interconnection of various voluntary networks, it’s decentralized so no one government or body owns or controls the internet, however governments have the ability to control their citizens access to the Internet via laws that impact the Internet service providers or ISPs of that nation, for example China restricted its citizens from accessing YouTube in 2016.
The US government officially handed over the ownership of the database which holds the domain names of the Internet to a body called ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and numbers. These guys have been overseeing this database for the last 20 years, this meant that we reached a point where the ownership was given back to the people. ICANN is an independent body which is comprised of a multi-stakeholder community, this means that ICANN tries to consult the internet community about changes and at least tries to be as open and as transparent as possible. So it’s unlikely that you’ve ever heard of ICANN, but the nonprofit organization performs one of the most important rituals “to keep the internet safe”, they manage the domain name system or DNS.
ICANN the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and numbers which basically assigns web addresses, the california-based organization is technically a non-profit, but it has one of the biggest jobs in governing. They intend to manage the domain name system or DNS, this means that when you type in WWE in Google, the response you receive is from Google and not a fake version of Google created by a nine trillion prints or other scammer websites.
Every three months a group of trusted community members gather to perform a ritual which will renew and insure the DNS system for the next three months, the ceremony is recorded with tight security such as guards, safes cages, and alarms.. in fact the alarms are so sensitive that at one ceremony a slamming door set off the seismic sensor locking people in one of the cages,
an evacuation had to be triggered to release them. The master key is stored in a cryptographic device, this device if dropped or tampered with will erase all of its contents, fragments of keys are distributed among the trusted members ensuring that no one person can create the master key. This requires the presence of at least five of these people to come together to do so at the heart of this new system lies one master key that key is controlled by seven smart cards locked in one of two high security deposit boxes, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.
The keys to those boxes are scattered around the world in the hands of two groups of seven online security experts, this is just one organization that helps make sure the internet runs smoothly.
But they’re not the only ones, there’s a host of others such as the internet Engineering Task Force, and the World Wide Web Consortium run by none other than Tim berners-lee. These organizations set the standards, make the protocols and ensure that the Internet is safe and open. It’s undeniable that the Internet has changed our lives forever, it has taken over so many facets of our lives, it’s allowed people to carry around every encyclopedia in the world in the palm of their hand.
I wonder how many people have used Google to solve arguments, but with massive information also comes massive misinformation. It’s much easier now for people to use confirmation bias to validate their own point of view, leading to the infamous echo chamber effect. The use of social media has also drastically changed our lives, it’s been said to be tearing apart the actual foundational fabric of how society functions. So of course the Internet has some negative aspects as does any technology, and this is because human nature is to blame for the way we use the tools.
With that being said the internet also has many positives, the Internet has given creators, artists, journalists and many others a platform that would otherwise just not exist. Your favorite youtubers wouldn’t be able to make their videos without the internet. You couldn’t share it instantly and discuss it and develop a rapid wider community around it a rate of spread a magnitude of reach of information that was only once possible if you owned a whole media outlet for a country, which is now to some extent possible by anyone with an internet connection, and a potent message.. you can look at the French yellow vest protest for example that had gained momentum after an online petition, the WikiLeaks revelations that have gripped the attention of much of the world.
So it comes down to this, the Internet is an immensely powerful tool, but we have to use it right. So how will the internet evolve, well for starters it’s going to get faster! 5g is set to yield at least a tenfold increase in speed, there are some scientists and political figures who are questioning the safety of 5g, these concerns arise from the high frequencies associated with a high data transfer speeds, however the frequencies produced by 5g are an order of magnitude less than the current international limit of 300 gigahertz.
5g is set to arrive somewhere in 2019 or 2020 depending on which country you live in, perhaps the most uncertain part of the Internet’s future is article 13, the European Union has recently approved a controversial copyright law called article 13. However on the question of debating amendments,e five Swedish MEP members accidentally pressed the wrong button, meaning no debates, and the vote was binding while the law has been amended since 2018 to exclude memes from its scope, people still have fears that these laws will kill small independent creators and cause massive undesired side effects.
At the end of the day we are the majority, we are in control and the Internet is what we make it.