When was the Internet invented?

The invention of the Internet

Thanks to the scale of the digital revolution, for most of us, trying to imagine our lives today without the Internet is an impossibility. In simple terms, the Internet is a global network of computers that communicate in a standardized way, like a network of networks that aims to allow any device to communicate with any other device.

The invention of the Internet led to the greatest expansion of information access in human history, facilitating a spread of knowledge that was inconceivable even as recently as the early 1990s.

Worldwide Internet users are currently estimated at more than 5 billion, roughly 63% of the global population. That ever-increasing trend also saw a surge in its growth rate during the COVID-19 pandemic. But who was responsible for this huge jump in human development and when did it take place?

When, where and by whom was the Internet invented?

Unlike other life-changing but more self-contained inventions, such as the lightbulb or car engine, the Internet was not invented by a single “inventor,” as such. The prototype for the Internet as we know it today came into being in the United States more than 50 years ago as a government weapon during the Cold War, when scientists and researchers used it to share data and communicate between themselves.

What most of us think of as the Internet today is only part of the information superhighway, which is really backed by a complex set of protocols and rules that were developed by computer scientists. The first scientific and academic network in the world, known as ARPANET, was founded in 1968. Long-distance networking between computers was first achieved in 1969 in an experiment between two research teams based in California, at UCLA and Stanford. Despite initial teething problems, this resulted in the first two-node network and the birth of so-called “packet switching,” still the foundation of data transfer today.

This network slowly grew, although it could not yet be thought of as a single worldwide “Internet.” This was accomplished in the late 1970s by computer scientist Vinton Cerf, who developed a way for every computer on every mini-network to communicate with each other, something described by some as a “handshake” introducing different computers in different locations. This worldwide network was used during the 1980s before undergoing a dramatic change in 1991 at the hands of British programmer Tim Berners-Lee. Berners-Lee created a “web” (the World Wide Web/WWW) that allowed anyone on the Internet to retrieve information, something we would recognize as the Internet we use today. He also devised the web-like system that is tied together by a series of what have become known as “hyperlinks.”

Why was the Internet invented?

The invention of the Internet derived first and foremost from the need for government researchers to share information. The revolution in computer networking that resulted in the Internet began in the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, with the focus on military purposes and creating a secure communications protocol. As progress was made, development expanded from the US to encompass researchers working all over the world, involving employees at the French government-sponsored computer network Cyclades, the National Physical Laboratory in the UK, and the University of Hawaii.

When was the Internet made available for public use?

In 1992, it was decided by US Congress that the World Wide Web could be used for commercial purposes, opening the floodgates for the websites and e-commerce channels that have since become part of our lives.

On April 30, 1993, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), based in Switzerland and at which Tim Berners-Lee was a fellow, brought the World Wide Web into the public domain. CERN began sharing access with other institutions, making it relatively easy to take the next step and make it public. This was the point at which the Internet became free and easy to explore, and led to the creation of simple first-generation browsers like Mosaic.

Social communications platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin were introduced in the mid-2000s, raising the profile of the Internet and increasing the number of regular users in the public domain. YouTube, Reddit, and Wikipedia also came into being at this time, coinciding with the revolution in mobile phone technology and other cellular devices that today provide near-total access to the Internet. The term “Web 2.0”, which also emerged in the mid-2000s, referred to cumulative changes in the making and use of web pages, a change in approach that focused on making it possible for users to interact in a social media environment and create content in a virtual community.