[SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking

thomas.haigh at gmail.com thomas.haigh at gmail.com
Tue Aug 24 15:13:53 PDT 2021

Hello Doug,


First off, you’ll find that while mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists often suggest that the computers constructed in the 1940s were in some way inspired or prompted by Turing’s theoretical work, the professional historians who’ve looked at the period generally agree that they weren’t. You’ll see some pointers to relevant work in my snappy summary “Actually, Turing Did Not Invent the Computer.” https://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2014/1/170862-actually-turing-did-not-invent-the-computer/fulltext


The impetus to provide remote access to computers likewise came from practical needs of the 1950s and early 1960s rather than theory. Two important early examples are the SAGE air defense network, described by Paul Edwards in _The Closed World_ and timesharing at Dartmouth University (and elsewhere) to provide multiple users with simultaneous interactive access to a single computer, described by Joy Rankin in _A People’s History of Computing in the United States_.


The idea of connecting several computers together for general purpose communication, rather than hooking up terminals, peripherals, or data capture devices to a single computer, came slightly later. The idea was first realized in the ARPANET, which evolved to become the Internet. A great deal has been written on its history, beginning with Janet Abbate’s classic _Inventing the Internet_. I’d also recommend Mitch Waldrop’s _The Dream Machine_ for a broader look at interactive computing, timesharing, and networking in the era. 


In this case there was a conceptual work that predated and heavily influenced the actual network: Paul Baran’s description of what became known as packet switching. Though the relative conceptual contributions of Paul Baran, Leonard Kleinrock, and Louis Pouzin to the ideas that underlie these networks have been enthusiastically debated. You might look at the articles published in the journal Internet Histories, including several relevant publications by Morton Bay, for more on this topic. See https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rint20. Also Andrew Russell’s _Open Standards and the Digital Age_. And many others – it’s a substantial literature, much too large to describe in a single message, but if you want to know about the history of networking you should read on this topic rather than about Turing….


Best wishes,




From: Members <members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org> On Behalf Of Douglas Lucas
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2021 4:44 PM
To: members at sigcis.org
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] Query about invention of wired networking


Dear SIGCIS members,

I'm a freelance writer/journalist who's published in multiple news outlets on hacktivism and who's lurked on this email list for some time. The past several months, I've been reading a great dealing about Alan Turing and the math behind Computable Numbers (fundamental theorem of arithmetic, Gödel encoding, etc). A fairly straightforward question occurred to me, one I hope this list can help answer:

As is well known, Turing's 1936 paper Computable Numbers invented the concept of a universal machine, which includes what today would be called an airgapped computer. For quite a while, all computers (universal machines) were airgapped devices. The historical casual chain is clear: first the idea documented in Computable Numbers came into existence, and only later are physical computers actually built, initially as standalone, airgapped devices.

But how did plugging computers into one another with wires/cables begin? Did a thinker first conceive of a profound idea underpinning wired/cabled networking, and then only later, engineers implemented that concept in the physical realm? Or, did people first begin hooking computers up to one another, perhaps experimentally, and then a theorist subsequently created an idea to describe/frame what was happening (maybe a mathematical graph theory or something)?

To put it another way, in terms of a simple standardized test-like verbal analogy, Computable Numbers is to airgapped computers as ??? is to wired/cabled networking of computers.

I omit wireless connections (e.g., Bluetooth) for the time being.

Thanks much,

Doug Lucas

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/attachments/20210824/0f82d3fa/attachment.html>

More information about the Members mailing list