Computerworld on Sputnik, DARPA and Computing
Computerworld has fantastic coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch (Oct. 4th, 1957) and why, in a sense, we can thank the Soviets for helping create the conditions that led the U.S. to become the technological superpower we’ve become.
Computerworld’s Gary Anthes’ piece “Happy Birthday Sputnik! (Thanks for the Internet)” does a great job of chronicling how the federal government’s reaction to the surprising Soviet launch created an agency and a research funding culture that proved so extraordinarily productive that nearly every billion-dollar sub-sector of the IT economy today bears its stamp. In the process, he checks in with a number of important figures from computer science who note that the productive culture within DARPA responsible for much of that early innovation seems to have waned — and perhaps isn’t even possible today.
Rather than quote snippets from the piece, I’d just encourage you to read all of it — it’s the piece I would’ve tried to write in honor of Sputnik’s 50th if Anthens hadn’t (I’m glad he did…it’s assuredly better than anything I would’ve come up with).
Two other portions of the coverage are worth checking out, too. Computerworld did a pretty good job of simplifying the CSTB’s “tire tracks” chart that shows the development of technologies from the initial research in university or industry labs to the time the products that resulted became billion-dollar industries.
And there’s a good interview with former (D)ARPA director Charles M. Herzfeld on the state of IT research now.
It’s all definitely worth a read.