How Internet is going to change the world in next 30 years

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How Internet is going to change the world in next 30 years

By Bennett Voyles

The internet just turned 30. That might come as a surprise, as the global computer network seems both older and younger than that. Older because it is such a part of life now - roughly a third of humanity is now regularly online, and its use is so ubiquitous, even people over 40 find it hard to remember a world without it.

And younger because it's still constantly changing, showing us new games, new programes and new fads. Whether it is relaying the latest gossip or teaching us how to do a South Korean rapper's pony dance, our electronic pal seldom acts a day over 13. For better and worse, the internet has changed the world, not least for India. But some analysts say that the changes we have seen in the past 30 years are nothing compared with what we may see in the next 30.

Birth of a Network

Although scientists had networked computers as far back as the 1950s, no one had developed a common language that would allow these networks to communicate easily between each other until the late 1970s. At that point, the US military had realised that because of the wide variety of communications systems they used, their communications networking problems were bad and only going to get worse.

"They would never be able to get out from under this diversity... and they would constantly have to adapt to the future," says David P Reed, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist who was part of the group the military asked to design "an internetwork" to bridge those gaps. Reed and his colleagues found the problem an interesting one. "We weren't particularly focused on military effectiveness, but saw this an early warning of all kinds of challenges," he says.

The outcome of their experiments was the Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), the data protocol adopted on January 1, 1983, which made it possible to create a single network of roughly 500 host computers at universities and various US government installations.

spreading the net

Reed says he and his colleagues had a sense that they were doing something important, but thought TCP/IP would be the first of many iterations. "Most of us never thought that this particular internet, which would be a very experimental thing, would last very long," says Reed, now an adjunct professor at MIT. TCP/IP solved several problems that had vexed US military communication specialists: like, how do you maintain control of a computer network even as you add more computers to it without having it collapse?

The TCP/IP designers' answer was: you don't. Instead, by keeping the structure as simple as possible, not requiring 100% delivery of data, and making security the concern of each end of the system rather than the entire network, they created a structure that had no central control and could easily reroute packets of data if one path were congested or closed.