Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy's contribution to the ARPANET: the Interfaith Message Processor

My other eternal memory of Ted Kennedy is his famous contribution to ARPANET lore, the "Interfaith Message Processor." In all honesty, Ted did make a significant contribution (albeit non-technical) to the ARPANET, the forerunner of today's Internet. Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) was the major contractor for much of the ARPANET development. Being a big-deal government contractor and a Massachusetts-based company, BBN was championed in Washington, D.C. by Ted Kennedy and the other members of Massachusetts' congressional delegation.

Back in 1974/1975 (or so I recall) a few us from Stevens Institute of Technology drove up to Cambridge, MA to "visit" the famed AI lab at MIT one summer Saturday evening. A couple of the guys knew some people and had been there before. There was hardly anybody in the lab, we had the place to ourselves. We didn't do anything other print out some code, copy some LISP and assembler code onto tape, and take some copies of the infamous "AI Memos" from their storage room.

Mostly I just wandered around to see what all of their computer hardware was. They had old PDP-10 boxes from Digital Equipment Corporation with special virtual memory hardware and their homegrown ITS operating system.

Off in one corner was their ARPANET IMP. The IMP, Interface Message Processor, is the box that hooked their computers up to "the net".

Taped onto the front of the IMP was a clipping of some text that basically said that Senator Edward Kennedy was congratulating BBN on getting a big-deal contract for development of their... Interfaith Message Processor. We thought it was really funny. It let us technies feel infinitely more superior to a mere politician.

-- Jack Krupansky


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