The Future Is All Around You

The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.—WILLIAM GIBSON, science fiction writer

You’ve probably never heard of J.C.R. Licklider, but you owe him a big debt of gratitude.

In 1957, the Soviet Union had just launched Sputnik, demonstrating that it held a lead in missile technology and could conceivably initiate a missile-based nuclear first strike against the United States. The following year, the U.S. Department of Defense formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Among its first mandates was to develop a reasonable defense to a Soviet first strike.

High on ARPA’s list of priorities was ensuring vital communications among various military installations. At the time, communications ...

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