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A fun, brief overview of the History of the Internet

The History of the Internet is fascinating when you take a bird’s eye view of the timeline – here’s an extremely concise view to give you some insight.

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history of the internet

A history of the internet

My, doesn’t time fly? It seems like only yesterday that we dialed-up to access the World Wide Web, hoping to hear that familiar “you’ve got mail” jingle. Since its early days, the internet, and how it’s used, have transformed tremendously. The Pew Research Center has put together a pretty cool timeline of major moments in the history of the internet. Let’s look at a few highlights:

1989: it was CERN before it was WWW

The internet was first conceived in 1989 as a project of the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). At the time, less than half of American adults had ever even used a computer. CERN considered calling the internet “The Information Mesh” or “The Mine of Information” before settling on “The World Wide Web.”

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The web wasn’t made publicly available until 1993, when CERN essentially donated it to the world. By that time, AOL had established chat rooms and email, and that same year, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications released Mosaic 1.0, which became the first popular web browser. Said Wired magazine, “the web as we know it begins to flourish.”

1996: first phone with web capabilities

The web wasn’t around long before people realized it could be profitable. In 1994 was one of the first known internet purchases – an extra cheese with mushrooms ordered from Pizza Hut’s website, PizzaNet. That same year, the White House under Bill Clinton got its own website, Yahoo was launched, and spam and banner ads became a thing.

In 1995 we begin seeing many sites that are still around today, including the first dating site, Match.com, as well as Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, and GeoCities. Internet Explorer became standard with Microsoft’s Windows packages. The mid-nineties saw a huge upsurge in internet usage, with 77% of online users exchanging emails regularly by 1996 – the same year the Dancing Baby video went viral. That was also the year that Nokia released the first phone with internet capabilities. By 2013, over half of Americans would own a smartphone with internet access.

1999: consumers still use the web mostly for weather updates

But let’s review a few more highlights from the late 90’s, when citizens could watch the Mars lander, Sojourner, rove the red planet (’97), Google launched (also ’97), and Napster sparked an ongoing controversy about internet piracy (’98). Despite the influx of information on the web, by 1999 the 41% of American adults who are online were still mostly using the web to read the weather report.

2005: YouTube’s first video posted was of an elephant

The aughts brought about more ecommerce, more interactivity, and more of the sites we still use today, with Wikipedia launching in 2001, Xbox Live in 2002, and the iTunes music store, Skype, LinkedIn, MySpace, and WordPress all hitting the web in 2003. Facebook and World of Warcraft joined the ranks in ’05. By 2000 nearly half of internet users had made purchases online, and by 2002, 44 percent of people with internet access were using it for work. In 2005 we freed up our phone lines as broadband surpassed dial up, and YouTube posted its first video on co-founder Jawed Karim talking about elephants.

2007: internet used for voting in Estonian elections

The mid-aughts to the modern day was the age of internet access by cell phone, and more of our now-familiar sites began with Twitter in ’06, Groupon in ’08, and Pinterest and Instagram in ‘10. The internet also became a hotbed of political activity. Estonia was the first country to use the internet for voting in its 2007 parliamentary election. In 2010 Wikileaks exposed U.S. diplomatic cables, and in 2013 Edward Snowden made waves by uncovering a massive government data surveillance program. Egyptian revolutionaries promoted their cause via hashtags online in 2011, prompting the government to shut down the internet.

Dive deeper

Check out the full timeline at The Pew Research Center, which calls their timeline a “living document” and welcomes user contributions. Not only will you be wiser, you’ll rock it at your next trivia night!

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Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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Silicon Valley created tech for your family that’s too addictive for theirs

(TECHNOLOGY) Tech inventors are big on innovating and advancing tools, but a growing parenting trend in tech circles seems hypocritical.

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tech addiction in children

I consider myself an older Millennial. I was slowly but surely introduced to technologies as they became mass-marketable, but they didn’t affect every moment of my day-to-day life. I learned how to use computers in elementary school, I chatted on AOL as a preteen, and when I was 16, my parents gave me my own cell phone “for emergencies.” I promptly dropped it under the car seat, where it remained for a year, before I or my parents even noticed that it was missing.

In less than a generation, our relationship to cell phones has transformed completely. For one thing, my first cell phone didn’t have a touch screen. It didn’t have an internet connection. Hell, for an entire year, I didn’t even use the damn thing.

Fast forward to 2018, when your children can learn to use an iPad at the same time that they learn to use a toilet.

Interestingly, the tech whizzes who designed much of the technology that now pervades nearly every moment of our lives seem wariest of the negative impact screen time might have on kids. The NYT reports that the trend amongst Silicon Valley parents is to severely limit or even ban cell phone use by their children.

Parents in all echelons of the tech industry are limiting their kids’ exposure. Steve Jobs kept iPads out of the hands of his young children. The Gates offspring didn’t receive cell phones until high school (just like me, in 2001), and Tim Cook discourages his nephew from using social networks.

These concerned parents describe the addictive potential and negative consequences of screen time in increasingly pessimistic terms.

Athena Chavarria, a former Facebook employee, believes that “the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

Chris Anderson (yes that Chris Anderson), former editor of Wired and founder of GeekDad, says that when it comes to screens, “On a scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine.”

Parents are even making contractual agreements to make sure their kids don’t use screens while under the supervision of their nanny or babysitter.

Like basically every human idea or invention ever, connected, screened devices reveal that our ability to create new technologies far outpaces our ability to understand the consequences – positive or negative – of that tech.

Those closest to the situation – the inventors themselves – are often the first ones to sound the alarm when they realize that their hard-won advancements may not have been such a great idea after all.

Said Chris Anderson of the addictive nature of cell phones, “We thought we could control it. And this is beyond our power to control.”

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Amazingly fun tech toys that are secretly educational

(TECHNOLOGY) STEM toys for children are fun *and* educational – here are some that have caught our eye.

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STEM tech toys for kids

There’s a new trend amongst startups – and amongst kids’ toys: educational playthings that teach your little ones STEM skills like programming and coding.

Toys that double as learning tools are nothing new, but digital, connected technology still is, and so is the idea that your toddler can get a leg up in the tech industry by getting an early start.

Parents, universities, and economists seem concerned that acquiring STEM skills will soon be the only way to guarantee a good job, despite reports from the U.S. Census Bureau that 3 out of 4 STEM majors end up in non-STEM fields anyway.

So if your kid is more into, say, baseball or dancing than computers, you might be wasting the pretty pennies these high-powered educational toys will cost you.

Kids, with their alarmingly short attention spans, are as likely to toss these toys back into the toybox as any other. But if your wee one seems to have a knack for all things technical – or if you’d just rather see them learn how to build a device than passively stare at one all day – then check out TC’s guide to STEM toys.

Even though these toys are marketed towards the younger set, I found myself a little envious, wishing I could take a few for a test drive – especially since many of them are modern, high-tech reboots on old standbys from my childhood.

Lego’s Boost Creative Toolbox uses the same classic Lego blocks, but allows you to animate and program your creations.

Several products cross-market with some of my childhood favorites; Dash Robotics has teamed up with Mattel to make Jurassic World robots, and Kano makes a Harry Potter Coding Kit that teaches kids to program a wand that can interact with digital content. There’s even Electro Dough which is basically electrically-conductive Play-Doh that can light up and make sounds. I want!

In fact, a lot of the toys combine arts ‘n’ crafts with STEM lessons. Adafruits makes a marker with electronically conductive ink that can light up circuits and interact with computer programs, and an electronic pencil that synthesizes music. Root Robotic’s little bot can draw pictures and compose songs.

For the more straightforward tech nerds, Makeblock, Evo, Robo Wunderkind, and Wonder Workshop all make programmable robots – a big step up from the “artificially intelligent” Furby’s of my childhood. Sphero’s Bolt is a ball-shaped robot, while Airblock makes a programmable hovercraft.

There’s the Pi-top Modular Laptop that teaching kids coding, and there are even opportunities for kids to build their own electronics; Kano offers a build-it-yourself computer.

The holidays are just around the corner – but whether STEM educational toys will be the next Tickle Me Elmo remains to be seen.

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A deepfakes creator for text so realistic it can’t be made public yet

(TECHNOLOGY) You know about video deepfakes, but the technology exists for doing convincing deepfakes for text. It’s so good that they aren’t ready to release it to the public yet…

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Artificial intelligence is being used to complete more and more human tasks. But as of right now, news stories you read online – including all the articles here on American Genius – have been written by real human beings.

Until recently, even the most intelligent computers couldn’t be trained to recreate the complex rules and stylistic subtleties of language. AI-generated text would often wander off topic or mix up the syntax and lack context or analysis.

However, a non-profit called OpenAI says they have developed a text generator that can simulate human writing with remarkable accuracy.

The program is called GPT2. When fed any amount of text, from a few words to a page, it can complete the story, whether it be a news story or a fictional one.

You already know about video deepfakes, but these “deepfakes for text” stay on subject and match the style of the original text. For example, when fed the first line of George Orwell’s 1984, GPT2 created a science-fiction story set in a futuristic China.

This improved text generator is much better at simulating human writing because it has learned from a dataset that is “15 times bigger and broader” than its predecessor, according to OpenAI research director, Dario Amodei.

Usually researchers are eager to share their creations with the world – but in the case, the Elon Musk-backed organization has, at least of the time being, withheld GPT2 from the public out of fear of what criminals and other malicious users might do with it.

Jack Clark, OpenAI’s head of policy, says that the organization needs more time to experiment with GPT2’s capabilities so that they can anticipate malicious uses. “If you can’t anticipate all the abilities of a model, you have to prod it to see what it can do,” he says. “There are many more people than us who are better at thinking what it can do maliciously.”

Some potential malicious uses of GPT2 could include generating fake positive reviews for products (or fake negative reviews of competitors’ products); generating SPAM messages; writing fake news stories that would be indistinguishable from real news stories; and spreading conspiracy theories.

Furthermore, because GPT2 learns from the internet, it wouldn’t be hard to program GPT2 to produce hate speech and other offensive messages.

As a writer, I can’t think of very many good reasons to use an AI story generator that doesn’t put me out of job. So I appreciate that the researchers at OpenAI are taking time to fully think through the implications before making this Pandora’s box of technology available to the general public.

Says Clark, “We are trying to develop more rigorous thinking here. We’re trying to build the road as we travel across it.”

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