Atomic attacks and the origins of the Internet

Steve Fox’s request for IT myths made me remember something my students tell me whenever I talk about the beginning of the Internet: That it was designed to withstand an atomic attack (through redundancy and automatic rerouting.)
That is a myth which refuses to die – and it may be that the fact that Internet and messaging worked after the September 11, 2001 attacks may have something to do with it. Though Paul Baran mentioned this as a side effect in a paper on packet switching, it was not a factor in deciding on creating Arpanet – until someone came across Baran’s paper and created the myth years later. (Reference: Hafner, K. and M. Lyon (1996). Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet.)
The main motivation for the Internet, according to the same source, was getting rid of the need for multiple terminals – that is, if you were using a remote machine via a telephone line, you had to have a dedicated terminal to it. Initially the hosts were going to interface directly, but for performance reasons, a dedicated subnet with PDP-8s was set up. BBN got the contract.
And the rest, as they say, is history. But I have to convince my students. Every year.

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