The History of the Internet Often Rhymes

Around 60 years ago, the US and USSR were in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis.

The big concern for the US Administration was:

  • What happens if our long-distance telephone plant goes down?
  • How can we communicate?

A missile could target the “center” of the network and it would be destroy everything. The US was worried about how they would communicate in a post-nuclear attack.

Paul Baran had an idea:

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

A New System

What if a network existed where there was no centralized entity?

This system could be made up of unmanned nodes that act as switches. Those unmanned nodes would have links to all other nodes and act as routing bridges for the information to reach its final destination.

Paul called this new network schema “hot potato routing”, or as we know it, “distributed communication”.

Unlike most routing techniques, this allowed every node the opportunity to share information with another.

All the nodes are interconnected. So if a missile strike hit one, then there were X number of nodes ready to take its place and relay information.

But does this system architecture scale for mass communication? Paul went on to attack the scalability problems.

Packet Switching

These messages are being relayed through unmanned nodes, but is the entire “set” of information going to every node?

Paul had an idea that still makes up the foundation of the internet.

Dividing information into message blocks before sending them to their destination. These blocks would be distributed and go different ways on the network. Ultimately they would meet back up at the destination, in the correct order.

Packet Switching:

Paul called this technique “message blocks”, but another British engineer by the name Donald Davies called them “packets”.

We still use packets on our internet infrastructure to this day.

The Future

This sounds very similar to today.

We have global turmoil and talks of war looming everywhere. Nations are buying radiation drugs, just to be prepared. Not saying this is anywhere near the Cuban missile crisis, but history does rhyme.

Could a new technological infrastructure be created to withstand this war decade?

Well, we already have one. Blockchain technology uses a distributed network, which is essentially what Paul Baran created.

This network:

  • has zero dependencies on a 3rd party system,
  • everyone gets equal access
  • the information is transparent and accessible from anywhere

No, I’m not talking about crypto ponzi schemes with DeFi applications where tokenomics only make the administration money. I’m talking about the real-world technological use cases for Blockchain technology.

This creation started 60 years ago, with no financial assets backing it. We can do the same. I think most of the wars that play out this decade will be data-driven.

Going back to our foundation for solutions seems like a great idea to me.

It will be interesting to see what types of technological advances come from this negative situation.

Published on: January 7, 2024