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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Give thanks to the private sector primate

If it wasn't for this gal, we'd have no internet!

Farhood Manjoo, a blogger at PandoDaily is one of many intelligent people who believe silly things. Arguing that Eduardo Saverin (a very early investor and member of Facebook) owes the U.S. everything (he's renouncing his citizenship, something that is becoming more popular for very good reasons) because...the government invented the foundations of the internet.

To make his argument Manjoo has to rely on one of the biggest fallacies of the internet age. He writes,
The American government’s creation of the Internet. The strangest thing about Silicon Valley’s libertarian politics is how few people here recognize how the Internet came about. ARPANET, the earliest large-scale computer network that morphed into the Internet, was funded by the U.S. Defense Department, as was the research into fundamental technologies like packet switching and TCP/IP. Delve deeper into the network and you get to the microprocessors that run the world’s computers—another technology that wouldn’t have come about by loads of federal research grants.
His argument is nonsense for several reasons.

1) ARPANET was built with private and public sector money by many private sector researchers (many private university academics). To say it was all government resources just isn't truthful. 

2) ARPANET, (nor any government official) in no way shape or form planned the internet as it unfolded and evolved. ARPANET ended in 1989 and the vast majority of the internet development since then has been advanced by the private sector and university researchers, NOT government planning. 

3) Just because ARPANET was funded, in part, by government research grants DOES NOT MEAN something equivalent never would have been invented. Manjoo has fallen in to the "Things Seen and Unseen" fallacy. He assumes that because it exists today there is no other way it could have existed. Given the many different programming languages for many different purposes, many of them not built or planned by government we can assume that something could/would have been invented, but maybe just a little later. Heck, a lot of the "foundations" of the internet are simply graduate level CS course material today.

Keep reading, this is where the fun begins!

4) Reducto Ad Absurdum - If, Saverin owes his wealth to a government funded invention that ended 23 years ago, was capable of carrying less data than my phone, performed relatively few functions and served just a select few compared to the millions upon millions of internet users today.... well, where does Manjoo's logic end? Shouldn't we then give thanks to the first computer language? The inventor of the first computer?

Shouldn't Saverin then owe his wealth to Texas Instruments, or Xerox, or maybe Konrad Zeus the inventor of the first programmable computer - he was funded by the Nazi Government. By Manjoo's logic does that mean we owe our gratitude for the internet to the Nazis?  

Well technically the Nazi's couldn't have achieved this without electricity so Saverin must owe his wealth to Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, James Watt or maybe Benjamin Franklin.

But they couldn't have done that without the mathematics advanced by Greeks and Arabs, nor without the invention of the abacus... 

No, Manjoo's (and others) flawed logic must ultimately take us back to the time when an ancestor of ours - some private sector primate - overcame their instinct to run from fire and instead learn to master it. 

So ultimately, Saverin owes his wealth (according to the nonsensical logic of Manjoo and others) some ancient ancestor, perhaps Australopithecus. So without further ado, I present to you THE INVENTOR OF THE INTERNET:

So Mr. Saverin, leave the U.S. if you must, you don't owe the government anything (except taxes which you are under threat of force and imprisonment if you don't pay). You owe Lucy, or maybe her uncle (we aren't sure). If you care, make a donation to your local natural history museum to say thanks!

In all seriousness, the internet we have today is thanks to millions of people acting harmoniously without the coordinated top-down effort of some mythical all-planning government.