What if the military still controlled the internet?
Darien Graham-Smith imagines what would have happened if the military had retained control of the internet
The army always keeps the good stuff for itself. Of course it does: if you give the general public access to a satellite-based positioning and targeting system, for example, that means the enemy will have it too, and then bang goes your advantage.
All the same, we at PC Pro think it's time the Arpanet – the "network" of computers that connects military bases to each other, and to carefully vetted international research facilities, universities and so on – was opened up to public use.
If you’re not familiar with the Arpanet, think of it as similar to the phone network, only with no need to dial: every computer on the Arpanet is constantly connected to every other computer, and any two computers can exchange data without disturbing the others using the connection.
It sounds like science fiction, but unredacted papers from the Lincoln Laboratory archives in Massachusetts clearly indicate this is how the Arpanet works.
You might ask why we need a network such as this. As things stand, it’s easy enough to move files from one system to another using a flash drive. But the Arpanet isn’t only about moving documents back and forth; indeed, it can also be used for direct, real-time communications across any distance.
In a closed demonstration at a secret location last year, members of the PC Pro team saw how Arpanet techniques can be used to transmit any amount of text instantly from one computer to another over a simple length of copper telephone wire.
This technology isn’t complicated or expensive: the only reason the capability isn’t widely used today is the military prohibition on its supply and implementation.
You can understand why the authorities are reluctant to open up the Arpanet. Back in the 1970s, when arms limitation talks had collapsed and the US was drawing up plans for its first full-scale confrontation with Soviet forces, the Arpanet was seen as a key strategic weapon – a system that could be used to convey intelligence and orders instantly and securely between military emplacements.