Daniel Lemire's blog

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The Internet is a product of the post-industrial age

The Internet is on fire with this question: who invented the Internet?

A couple of weeks ago, the president of the USA said:

Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Crovitz replied in the Wall Street Journal:

It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks.

Manjoo replied in Slate:

Researchers working directly for the government and at university labs funded by the government were some of the first people on the planet to think up a worldwide network, (…)

Did Xerox or the US government invent the Internet?


The Internet is not an industrial product or service. It lacks the uniformity and consistency. Instead, the Internet is one of the first product of the post-industrial age.

Industrial products, like the iPad, can be neatly attributed to a single individual (e.g., Steve Jobs). They are produced within a regulated and somewhat hierarchical environment. The Internet is of a higher order: it could simply not be invented in this setting.

Governments and corporations supported specific technologies, like the transistor and TCP/IP. They made money, collected taxes and created jobs. But it is simply not possible to get venture capital to build something like the Internet that nobody can control. Likewise, no government agency would build something it can’t easily regulate like the Internet. The Internet is not a highway.

Some of us are worrying, instead, that governments and corporations are trying to kill the Internet. After all, the US government specifically wants to install a kill switch on the Internet. Many corporations are complaining that the Internet is a threat to their intellectual property. It is a bit disingenuous that they would also claim credit for it.

Further reading: The Government Did Too Invent the Internet