Unlocking the Digital Time Capsule: A Journey with Steve Crocker, Internet Visionary, on 50 Years of the Internet

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Internet, we had the privilege of sitting down with Steve Crocker, a true pioneer in the field. Steve’s journey takes us back to the early days of the ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet, and reveals his unique insights into the Internet’s transformation over the years. He shares thoughts on the role of the Internet in the age of AI, its governance, and offers a message to the global PCI community.

Q: Let’s begin by discussing your early involvement in the development of the Internet. What was the landscape like in those formative years?


My involvement goes back to the ARPANET, an early experiment in linking different computers in the research community. Initially, it was a single network, but its success led to a rapid expansion of diverse networks that needed to connect. I was excited to see the potential for researchers to collaborate, share ideas, and create new things. 

In the late ’60s, the landscape was dominated by big, expensive computers used for heavy-duty tasks, and the idea of interactive computing was emerging, but it was far from today’s reality. People worked on different aspects of the problem. Some focused on graphics, others on multi-computer architectures, and others on storage systems. We were at the birth of interactive computing that we take for granted today. The idea of connecting these research laboratories was revolutionary, allowing a high level of interaction and collaboration.

Q: What was life like in those early days of networking, especially considering the limitations of technology?


Life back then was different. Computers were big, expensive, and hidden away in special rooms. They were remotely operated and lacked user interaction. Writing programs and understanding the technology took time. Meanwhile, research labs across the country were making exciting advancements.

Q: Could you provide us with a glimpse into the early networking environment, the birth of the Internet?


In the late ’60s, DARPA sponsored research in various places like MIT, Berkeley, and Harvard. These were at the forefront of computer science. We were working on different aspects of computing, from graphics to storage, but everything was in its infancy. Computers had minimal memory by today’s standards, and the idea of interconnected computing was emerging.

Q: How did the idea of interconnecting these research labs come about?


With the success of the ARPANET, it became evident that different networks needed to be interconnected. Technologies varied, and so did administrative authorities, creating a challenge. The concept of the Internet emerged to address this. It was a big step towards fostering collaboration and interaction, which was a stark contrast to the computing of that era.

Q: Back then, you also witnessed the early developments in AI. How do you envision the Internet’s role in empowering individuals in this AI-driven era?


In those days, AI research was part of the grand vision alongside networking. I initially thought networking was a diversion, and AI was the primary focus. The core questions about AI’s impact today are what we expected 50 years ago. We’ve come a long way in AI, and its integration into our lives is happening naturally. The generation growing up with AI-based interactions takes them for granted, similar to how today’s children are accustomed to electricity. The future will be characterized by seamless interaction between humans and machines, driven by AI.

Q: How do you think we can ensure that Internet governance remains people-centered, promoting openness, accessibility, and inclusivity?


Ensuring people-centered Internet governance in a world of diverse governments and legal systems is a formidable challenge. Governments naturally aim to protect their interests and populations. A delicate balance is needed between maintaining an open Internet and respecting national initiatives and priorities. Cutting off Internet access during conflicts is usually a bad idea, as it harms the population. There’s a learning curve, but we need to work through these issues and build common ground.

Q: As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Internet, what message would you like to share with the PCI community?

The past 50 years have been an incredible journey. The Internet has opened up endless possibilities and continues to evolve in unimaginable ways. One noteworthy example is the existence of the People Centered Internet itself, which wouldn’t have been possible without the Internet. 

My hope is that we continue to embrace this progress, enabling new opportunities and experiences that benefit us all. As the Internet and AI become even more integrated into our lives, we should work collectively to ensure these technologies serve humanity and uphold principles of openness and inclusivity.

Here’s to the next 50 years and beyond!

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