Communication & Creativity

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“Where there’s a will there’s a way” seems to be the theme when it comes to software development on the ARPAnet. There were definitely strong wills and a lot of stubbornness at play in the software community (e.g. the Big Indian vs. Little Indian bit processing debate that was discussed in class). Perhaps the most important program in the network’s history, email was developed through humans simply playing around. It is basic human nature to want to communicate and the grad students and other programmers found a way to do it even though the network was not explicitly designed for this task.

It seems to me that the history of technology has been clearly linked with a history of communication. In ancient times, technology enabled the creation of road systems to allow for better communication and a very physical manifestation of a network. Similarly, ship technology was improved to allow for intercontinental communication, among other things. Next came steam engines, cars, airplanes, the telephone and other technologies that allowed for the movement of human “packets” of information.

The most primal of human desires is connection. Communication systems make us feel connected (though they may seem impersonal today). The jump from physical mail, or even systems of communication like the telephone or telegram, to email and file transfer systems is monumental. It represents communication on an entirely new level, opening up new modes of communication that are still being explored. It’s amazing to think that this was created almost illicitly, outside of the parameters for which the network was created.

Today we take for granted the constant connection to the rest of world and our ability to access information. We have Snapchat, texting, FaceTime, and so many other forms of communication based around the network created by a group of determined individuals less than fifty years ago. In this short time, communication has transformed exponentially, and it makes one think about what might be next.

Funding and Fusion

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The thing that struck me while completing the readings and during our class discussion was that much of the innovation that came out of ARPA was the result of giving scientists and engineers free reign over what they wished to pursue. The ARPA directors, including Ruina and Herzfeld, operated under the principle of bringing in the brightest individuals that they could find and allowing them to steer the ship for the most part. The readings even reference an instance where Taylor was able to acquire one million dollars in funding from Herzfeld in a matter of twenty minutes.

This model of organization made me think about the current attitude towards science in the United States and among the U.S. government. Obviously, it is important to note the pressures created by the Cold War at the time of ARPA’s free-flowing funding methods, yet I feel that the government has strayed from placing the proper emphasis on research and development, and funding for the sciences in general. Investment in the science and technology sector has had a history of paying dividends and driving the economy forward by providing new jobs and new industries.

In particular, I feel that if ARPA’s “modus operandi,” as it is described in the reading, along with an appropriate level of funding, were applied to the energy crisis, a solution would be inevitable. Simply assemble the field’s top scientists in an incubator with enough funding, and allow them to decide the best course of action.

The chart below looks at the levels of funding for nuclear fusion technology, which many believe to be the key to solving the current energy crisis and over-dependence on fossil fuels. From the chart, it is clear that the current level of funding is inadequate. Even if nuclear fusion is infeasible, or not the appropriate solution to the energy problem, providing funding more generally for the research of alternative energy sources should be a top priority.

Many will point to the growth of the private sector as the main source of technological growth today, failing to note the importance of government funding in technological and scientific endeavors. Companies like Google, Spacex, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and many others produce technological growth and innovation, as we discussed in class with the partnership of Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana to produce a better A.I., yet cooperation between the private and public sector is important.

Maximum innovation is achieved when there is a symbiosis between government and private companies, as demonstrated by the creation of ARPAnet, where ARPA, BBN, Honeywell, and universities worked together to make the network possible. The importance of this cooperation should not be forgotten.

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