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Fathers of the Internet and Their Lesser Known Invention – The Knowbot

Happy 30th Anniversary to the World Wide Web! Now, I know that this isn’t the anniversary of the internet, but without the internet, there would be no world wide web. Thus, please allow me to present to you, an invention by the pair who are often referred to as the Fathers of the internet.

Often cited as the ‘Fathers of the Internet’, Robert E. Kahn and Vinton G. Cerf are recognized for developing the protocol TCP/IP that networked computers use to communicate. These networked computers make up ‘the Internet’. One of their lesser-known inventions is of a concept they called “The Knowbot” which they basically took from the movie Terminator – remember Skynet the self-aware app that tried to conquer the world? Skynet, I mean, “The Knowbot” was patented by Robert and Vinton as US6574628B1.

Indeed, the Fathers were ahead of their time in recognizing that networked computers can share tasks and work together to execute a computer program. The shared computer programs, which they call ‘Knowbot programs’, are envisioned to execute in a coordinated manner between the networked computers. Any of the participating computers can control the Knowbot program. In briefly looking through the dependent claims, it is not exactly clear what the inventors had in mind as far as the features of a Knowbot program, but it appears that the Knowbot program was envisioned to perform a wide variety of tasks.

For example, a task of the program can include: making a security determination, protocol transformation, providing directory to task locations, providing a ‘whats new’ service, providing a ‘clipping’ or ‘abstracting’ service, providing version control of the Knowbot program, creating a derivative work from an existing work, and generating another mobile program (slow down guys, don’t let Skynet repopulate!).

I am not exactly sure what all this means, practically speaking, but it sounds like the Knowbot program could have done anything, including going back in time to hunt down Sarah Connor. All Terminator references aside, however, I would not be surprised to find that some of today’s distributed application architectures at least resemble The Knowbot. Truly remarkable given the infancy of the internet at the time.

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