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Foundational Strategic Technologies and Systems

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ARPA research played a central role in launching the “Information Revolution,” including developing or furthering much of the conceptual basis for ARPANET, a pioneering network for sharing digital resources among geographically separated computers. Its initial demonstration in 1969 led to the Internet, whose world-changing consequences unfold on a daily basis today. A seminal step in this sequence took place in 1968 when ARPA contracted BBN Technologies to build the first routers, which one year later enabled ARPANET to become operational.

DARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) was born in 1962 and for nearly 50 years was responsible for DARPA’s information technology programs. IPTO invested in breakthrough technologies and seminal research projects that led to pathbreaking developments in computer hardware and software. Some of the most fundamental advances came in the areas of time-sharing, computer graphics, networking, advanced microprocessor design, parallel processing and artificial intelligence.

IPTO pursued an investment strategy in line with the vision of the office’s first director, J. C. R. Licklider. Licklider believed that humans would one day interact seamlessly with computers, which, in his words, “were not just superfast calculating machines, but joyful machines: tools that will serve as new media of expression, inspirations to creativity, and gateways to a vast world of online information." IPTO was combined with DARPA’s Transformational Convergence Technology Office (TCTO) in 2010 to form the Information Innovation Office (I2O).

ARPA research played a central role in launching the Information Revolution. The agency developed and furthered much of the conceptual basis for the ARPANET—prototypical communications network launched nearly half a century ago—and invented the digital protocols that gave birth to the Internet.
A groundbreaking computer framework known as oN-Line System (NLS) got off the ground thanks to funding from DARPA and the U.S. Air Force. Conceived by Douglas Engelbart and developed by him and colleagues at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), the NLS system was the first to feature hypertext links, a mouse, raster-scan video monitors, information organized by relevance, screen windowing, presentation programs and other modern computing concepts. In what became known as "The Mother of All Demos," because it demonstrated the revolutionary features of NLS as well as never-before-seen video presentation technologies, Engelbart unveiled NLS in San Francisco on December 9, 1968, to a large audience at the Fall Joint Computer Conference. Engelbart's terminal was linked to a large-format video projection system loaned by the NASA Ames Research Center and via telephone lines to a SDS 940 computer (designed specifically for time-sharing among multiple users) 30 miles away in Menlo Park, California, at the Augmentation Research Center, which Engelbart founded at SRI. On a 22-foot-high screen with video insets, the audience could see Engelbart manipulate the mouse and watch as members of his team in Menlo Park joined in the presentation. With the arrival of the ARPA Network at SRI in 1969, the time-sharing technology that seemed practical with a small number of users became impractical over a distributed network, but NLS opened pathways toward today’s astounding range of information technologies.
In a seminal moment in the development of the Internet, DARPA’s Robert Kahn (who joined the Information Processing Techniques Office as a program manager in 1972) asked Vinton Cerf of Stanford University to collaborate on a project to develop new communications protocols for sending packets of data across the ARPANET. That query resulted in the creation of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), most often seen together as TCP/IP. These protocols remain a mainstay of the Internet’s underlying technical foundation.