Gerald (Jerry) Zezas

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Al Gore and the Internet. Not what you think

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I heard one more Repub this morning making light of the oft-repeated but categorically untrue meme that Al Gore once said that he invented the internet. This has become such a widely repeated falsehood, with the assured looks of those who ignorantly promulgate it, that to believe otherwise has become what is tantamount to implied naivety.

As far back as the 1970s, Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high-speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. As an example, he sponsored hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural disasters and other crises. In June 1986, Gore introduced the Supercomputer Network Act of 1986, and then in 1991 would present what would become known as the “Gore Bill” to Congress, also known as the High-Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991.

UCLA professor of computer science Leonard Kleinrock, said of Gore:
“Al Gore, a strong and knowledgeable proponent of the Internet, promoted legislation that resulted in President George H.W Bush signing the High-Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991. This Act allocated $600 million for high-performance computing and for the creation of the National Research and Education Network. The NREN brought together industry, academia, and government in a joint effort to accelerate the development and deployment of gigabit/sec networking.”

The bill was passed on Dec. 9, 1991, and led to the National Information Infrastructure which Gore referred to as the “information superhighway”. President George H. W. Bush predicted that the bill would help “unlock the secrets of DNA,” open up foreign markets to free trade, and a promise of cooperation between government, academia, and industry.

Prior to its passage, Gore discussed the basics of the bill in an article for the September 1991 issue of Scientific American entitled Scientific American presents the September 1991 Single Copy Issue: Communications, Computers, and Networks. His essay, “Infrastructure for the Global Village”, commented on the lack of network access described above and argued: “Rather than holding back, the U.S. should lead by building the information infrastructure, essential if all Americans are to gain access to this transforming technology “high-speed networks must be built that tie together millions of computers, providing capabilities that we cannot even imagine.”

Gore never said that he “invented the internet”. What he did say was, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of projects and technologies that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, as well as improvements in our educational system.”

The internet as we know it today did not exist before Gore’s initiatives became law. It was a government owned, private academic and military communication system which was off limits to the public.

He did, in fact, take “the initiative in creating the Internet”.

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