The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

6. Video Games

  • The people involved in developing the new technology often had a playful side. Why they may have worked on more serious applications for the boss, their spare time in many cases was devoted to using computers to play games. The term hacker had a positive connotation and was seen to mean “someone who applies ingenuity to create a clever result, called a hack.” The hacker culture was guided by the principles that it should be collaborative, software created should be free and open-sourced, and computers should be personal and interactive with real time responses.
  • As a result of the gaming effort, a new industry was launched. Arcade games, once the domain of pinball companies based in Chicago, was transformed by engineers based in Silicon Valley. Early systems were often hardware based. This means that the program was hard coded in microchips and it couldn’t be changed. The gamers also faced the challenge of creating user interfaces that were simple and intuitive. The post hippie culture of the day created companies where there were no fixed work hours and no dress codes. This was a radical departure from companies like IBM where everyone wore a blue suit. They realized that what innovation required was a great idea, the engineering talent to execute it, and the business savvy to turn it into a successful product.

The Internet

  • The Internet was built by a partnership among the military, universities, and private corporations. During and after World War II, these groups fused together to create the military-industrial-academic complex. A main player here was Vannevar Bush who was a star in all three camps. He realized that basic research provides the seed corn for practical inventions.
  • Isaacson sees John Licklider as the man who was most important in bringing the Internet about. He was the founding director to the military office that funded the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) that was one of the world’s first operational packet switching networks. It was the first network to implement TCP/IP, and one of the progenitors of what was to become the global Internet. TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) provided the end-to-end connectivity specifying how data should be packetized, addressed, transmitted, routed and received at the destination. Licklider had the vision that collaboration was key to innovation and the connecting computers located at large research centers was key to collaboration.
  • Another key advancement was time-sharing. Initially, computers ran one program at a time. With time-sharing, multiple programs could share the processing and memory resources of a computer. At the early stages, a number of terminals would be connected to a computer so that many researchers could use it at the same time. In some cases the terminals could be placed at remote locations, but thanks to TCP/IP, which is still in use, multiple computers could be connected. They were connected in such a way that no single computer was at the hub so all computers were essentially peers. This allowed it to survive the failure of any single computer. By the early 1980s, the ARPANET that started in 1969, had essentially morphed into the Internet as more computers were added.
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