Government research gave us the Internet … and the iPod too?

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April 21st, 2006

History of the InternetNotwithstanding the urban-folklore legend that Al Gore invented the Internet (which has been debunked, as noted here), most of us are willing to give the credit to the U.S. Department of Defense, whose funding of Arpanet in the 1960s eventually gave us the freely available, worldwide network we depend on so much today (see History of the Internet: A Chronology, 1843 to the Present, by Hillary Poole et al, for more details). And there’s probably a long list of other technologies and inventions that began as military research projects, but eventually found their way into consumers’ hands. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that government research gave us the iPod too.

I’m indebted to a website called enGadget for this; an article entitled “Bush: government research developed iPod” reports that our Great Leader gave a speech at Tuskegee University, in which he said, “the government funded research in microdrive storage, electrochemistry and signal compression. They did so for one reason: It turned out that those were the key ingredients for the development of the iPod.”

Out of Office CountdownHe went on to say, “I tune into the iPod occasionally, you know? (Laughter).” If you’re in the mood, click here to read the transcript of the entire thrilling speech on the whitehouse.gov website. And for those of you who can’t wait for the 2008 elections, order your advance copy of the George W. Bush Out of Office 2007 Countdown Calendar.

enGadget felt obliged to point out that the iPod also depends on research from a number of private-sector companies around the world, including IBM, Hitachi and Toshiba, and that the government can’t take credit for the original MP3 codec (developed by the Fraunhofer Institute) or the AAC music format used by Apple (co-developed by ATT, Sony, and others). Well, regardless of who deserves the credit for inventing the technologies crammed into the iPod, there is one important point for all of us to keep in mind: you never know how certain inventions might be used in the future, and you never know how various technologies, developed entirely independently of one another, might be combined in clever new ways. Even “W” seems to understand the first of these points: right after informing us that he tunes into his iPod from time to time, he said, “Basic research to meet one set of objectives can lead to interesting ideas for our society.”

Flickr HacksOne of the most exciting forms of such interconnections of disparate technologies is the “mashups” that are beginning to appear on the Internet, as part of the broad phenomenon known as “Web 2.0″. Wikipedia informs us that “A mashup is a website or web application that seamlessly combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience.” (Click here to see what else Wikipedia has to say about mashups.) An example that I hope to implement relatively soon is the incorporation of Flickr‘s photo-album capability into this blog site; for those interested in such things, check out Flickr Hacks: Tips & Tools for Sharing Photos Online. And lots of very smart, very entrepreneurial folks around the world are busily scheming to create exciting new mashups that they can transform into profitable businesses of their own. I’ve been looking at several mashups recently, and plan to write about some of them in the days to come.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for a new legend that Al Gore is the one who invented mashups. And I’m breathlessly awaiting W’s profound observations on the subject.

3 responses about “Government research gave us the Internet … and the iPod too?”

  1. Sean C. said:

    While I’m glad to see Ed’s snark directed at both parties, it is unfortunate that he repeats the Fox News-style canard that Gore supposedly claimed to have invented the internet. This isn’t true; in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, he claimed (correctly) to have helped create favorable conditions for the ‘net to grow; this, and many other of his “lies” were tirelessly repeated by a cabal of right-wing operatives and proved all too effective in electing what history will surely judge as one of the worst administrations in US history. (For a detailed explosion of this unfortunately persistent myth, go to http://www.snopes.com/quotes/internet.asp

  2. ed said:

    Alas, I’m afraid that my attempt at tongue-in cheek humor was a little too subtle: note that the word “claim,” at the end of the first clause in the first sentence of my posting, is a hyperlink to this site: . It starts right off with a section of the transcript from the Wolf Blitzer interview, along with commentaries from various other publications.

    To avoid confusion, I’ll go back and edit the post …

    Thanks for the feedback, Sean C.

  3. ed said:

    Well, the hyperlink that I thought I had included in my earlier comment somehow disappeared; it’s http://www.sethf.com/gore/

    But in any case, I did go back to edit the posting. Gore supporters, of whom I suspect there will be many more when his global-warming documentary comes out next month, should feel happier now.

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