Al Gore Never Said He Invented the Internet

Daven Hiskey 12
Myth: Al Gore said he invented the internet.

One of the things Al Gore gets made fun of most often in popular media tends to be the misconception that he at one point supposedly said he invented the internet. Now, all politics aside, whether you hate/mildly dislike/like/love/are indifferent to Al Gore, he doesn’t really deserve to be made fun of for this one; not only because he really didn’t ever say that, but also because he really did play a significant role in the creation of the internet and the World Wide Web.

Let’s look at the actual quote from which he supposedly said he invented the internet, from a March of 1999 interview with Wolf Blitzer (full transcript can be found here):

Blitzer: “… Why should Democrats, looking at the Democratic nomination process, support you instead of Bill Bradley, a friend of yours, a former colleague in the Senate? What do you have to bring to this that he doesn’t necessarily bring to this process?”

Gore: “… During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.”

First, remember that he’s a politician and, in political context, the word “initiative” has a slightly different meaning than is typical outside of politics. Specifically, in non-political context, it means something to the effect of: “an introductory act or step which leads to some action”. In political context, however, it means either “a procedure by which a specified number of voters may propose a statute, constitutional amendment, or ordinance, and compel a popular vote on its adoption” or “the general right or ability to present a new bill or measure, as in a legislature.” Obviously, Gore was speaking in terms of the latter and his opponents wanted people to believe he was speaking in terms of literally creating the internet himself.

Unfortunately for them, Gore really did “take the initiative”, as he stated. As Vincent Cerf, the “Father of the Internet” said, “The Internet would not be where it is in the United States without the strong support given to it and related research areas by the Vice President in his current role and in his earlier role as Senator… As far back as the 1970s, Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship…  His initiatives led directly to the commercialization of the Internet. So he really does deserve credit.”

Indeed, even former Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, stated: “In all fairness, it’s something Gore had worked on a long time. Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness, Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet…”

But even though he did all that and could rightly say he played a part in the early creation of the Internet, in this quote from Gore, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet”, he was most likely referring to a specific initiative, namely the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which is also known as “The Gore Bill”. Gore originally started crafting this bill in 1988 after hearing a report “Toward a National Research Network”, which was submitted to congress by a group of UCLA computer science professors, including Leonard Kleinrock who was one of the original creators of the ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet.

Gore’s bill eventually passed on December 9, 1991 and led to, among a lot of other things that contributed to the growth and creation of the Internet, the National Information Infrastructure (NII), which Gore referred to as the “Information Superhighway”. Basically, this was a proposed “advanced, seamless web of public and private communication networks, interactive services, interoperable hardware and software, computers, databases, and consumer electronics to put vast amounts of information at users’ fingertips.”

This bill also ended up resulting in providing funding to Marc Andreessen, the inventor of the Mosaic Web Browser. Without this grant, there would have been no Mosaic Web Browser. Why is this important? Because the Mosaic Web Browser’s release took the World Wide Web from a fledgling technology used by very few people and rocketed it into the most popular information sharing model on the Internet. Prior to Mosaic’s launch, the web was much less popular than older protocols for dealing with files on the internet, such as Gopher and Wide Area Information Servers.

Unlike many of the existing web browsers of the day, Mosaic was very easy for non-technical users to install on a variety of systems. The creators also offered 24 hour phone support to help people setup the browser on their particular system. They also offered great continual support for bug fixes and the like, something that was lacking in a lot of other browsers. Another feature it had that distinguished it from other browsers was that it included the ability to view web pages with inline images, instead of having them load in separate windows, as other web browsers at the time. Mosaic’s popularity declined with the release of Netscape Navigator, but it was the browser that is credited with spurring the popularity of the World Wide Web, which was one of the “Killer Apps” of the Internet.

The other thing the media and Gore’s opponents did was change the word “create” to “invent”. These two words mean similar things, but with a very key distinction that is important, particularly in cases like Gore’s quote. Had he used “invent”, his opponents might have had a leg to stand on. “Invent” implying “to devise by thinking” or “discover”. Gore certainly didn’t think up or discover the Internet or the World Wide Web.

On the other hand, “create” has a slightly different meaning: “to produce or bring about by a course of action or behavior” or “to bring into existence”. Gore absolutely helped “bring about by a course of action or behavior” the Internet and the World Wide Web which runs on top of it. This is why most opponents of Gore changed the wording to say that he said he “invented” it, because he did not do that and thus would look like a liar. His opponents knew that most people don’t look into these things and the main stream media knew that by going along with this, the story would get better ratings.

So taken in context, his statement, though somewhat poorly worded, is simply saying that he promoted and helped get funding for the system that eventually became the Internet and for the World Wide Web, which runs on top of the Internet. This, in turn, contributed significantly to the economic growth seen as a result of the Internet and the World Wide Web. So his statement really was pretty accurate.

Bonus Facts:

  • Al Gore was one of the so called “Atari Democrats”. These were a group of Democrats that had a “passion for technological issues, from biomedical research and genetic engineering to the environmental impact of the greenhouse effect”. They basically argued that supporting development of various new technologies would stimulate the economy and create a lot of new jobs. Their primary obstacle in political circles, which are primarily made up of a lot of “old fogies”, was simply trying to explain a lot of the various new technologies, in terms of why they were important, to try to get support from fellow politicians for these things. For instance, “Before computers were comprehensible, let alone sexy, the poker-faced Gore struggled to explain artificial intelligence and fiber-optic networks to sleepy colleagues.”
  • The term “Atari Democrat” was first popularized in the early 1980s.
  • Gore was also largely responsible for the “Information Superhighway” term becoming popular in the 1990s. The first time he used the term publicly was way back in 1978 at a meeting of computer industry workers. Originally, this term didn’t mean the World Wide Web. Rather, it meant a system like the Internet. However, with the popularity of the World Wide Web, which most people incorrectly think of as the Internet, the three terms became synonymous with one another. In that speech, Gore used the term “Information Superhighway” to be analogous with Interstate Highways, referencing how they stimulated the economy after the passing of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. That bill was introduced by Al Gore’s father. It created a boom in the housing market; an increase in how mobile citizens were; and a subsequent boom in new businesses and the like along the highways. Al Gore saw that an “information superhighway” would have a similar positive economic effect, hence his tireless support of it.
  • In 2005, Al Gore won the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award “for three decades of contributions to the Internet”. His acceptance speech was limited to five words (Webby Award rules). His speech thus was: “Please don’t re-count this vote.”
  • In 2000 on the Late Show with David Lettermen, Gore read the Top Ten Rejected Gore-Lieberman Campaign Slogans. Number nine was “Remember, America, I gave you the Internet, and I can take it away!”

*For reference, so nobody thinks this article is coming from a fanatical supporter of Gore, I was on the “indifferent” and occasional “mildly dislike” end of things when it came to Gore before, but since researching this article have upgraded more towards a solid “indifferent”, due to learning of his constant political support of quite a lot of nerdy things in his time in politics.

Expand for References:

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12 Comments »

  1. StevenX August 7, 2012 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Great article (except for the fact that you didn’t seem to know the difference between “to” and “too” in the first paragraph’s last long, long sentence). It’s so easy to dispel myths now with the advent of the Web (whether or not it’s Al’s baby). I wish more people would do it, and loudly. There are far too many lies presumed as truth in America, which is one of its biggest problems.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey August 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm - Reply

      @StevenX: Thanks for the compliment on the article. :-) On the grammar note, though, it always seems odd to me that people in comments seem to assume that grammatical errors a 7 year old understands are the author not knowing the difference, rather than just a simple typo. Not that you were overly rude about it, as Grammar Nazis often are, but it also always strikes me that Internet Grammar Nazis seem only capable of spotting those types of typos. More complex grammatical errors never seem to get noticed. As all writers know, it’s extremely hard to edit your own work, particularly directly after spending many hours researching and writing it. On the rare occasion I actually go back and read my own work much later after writing it, I’ll invariably spot things much more readily, but unfortunately I don’t have the time to do that much. This is particularly a shame for many of my earliest articles where typos abound. With practice, my rough drafts have become more polished right off the bat, requiring much less editing, though still always containing at least 10-20 typos per article before I’m done editing them (and probably a few after that I missed). ;-)

      As such, I do appreciate people pointing out grammar errors, so I can fix them without taking the time to re-read all my old articles. I’ve just always found it odd that in doing so, the vast majority of the time the commenter seems to assume it was author ignorance, rather than just a simple typo. Thus far, only once has someone pointed out a grammatical error that I really didn’t know was an error (something far more grammatically complex than a “too/to” mistake obviously) and, interestingly, they assumed it was just me making a typo. :-)

      As far as the long sentences goes, that’s just personal preference. Some writing professors will tell you to keep it short and simple with sentences, others will tell you not to be afraid of long sentences. As one of my favorite such professors used to say, “Don’t be afraid to take your readers on a journey in a sentence.” The latter is more of the classic style, where authors would frequently have paragraph long type sentences; the former more of the new, “See Dick Run.” I tend to lean towards preferring the latter, obviously. :-)

  2. Joe M. October 24, 2012 at 7:27 am - Reply

    Sorry. I have to disagree. Your article seems like political bias to me. To create something is to be responsible for bringing something into being or existence, as you pointed out. Al Gore passed a bill to help other people create something. Let’s use an example

    You come across a woodworker who had a simple table that worked okay but was rough around the edges. You went and gave him tools to make it look and work a lot better. The woodworker does a great job and delivers a fabulous table. Would you stand up to everyone and say “I took the initative and created this table!” No, because it’s a lie. You didn’t create the table. The woodworker created it. Gore did the same thing. He passed a bill that helped engineers and business people expand the already existing capabilities of the Internet. He gave them the tools to make it better, he didn’t create it like he said.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey October 24, 2012 at 6:06 pm - Reply

      @Joe M: “Your article seems like political bias to me.” It may seem that way, but it is not possible for that to be the case as I dislike very much both the Democrat and Republican parties. Further, I’ve never been a fan of Gore himself, so cannot possible be unintentionally bias for Gore. Against Gore, that’s a possibility. But all that’s really beside the point. The fact is, no rational (non-politically biased) person could ever believe that any serious Presidential candidate is going to sit their on national TV and mean to say that he invented the internet. No high level professional politician is that stupid. Was his comment poorly worded? Of course. Was it technically accurate. Yes, as illustrated in the article. The aftermath from this was very much like the Sarah Palin “I can see Russia from my house!” hoopla that was taken out of context and blown way out of proportion, particularly as she never actually said those exact words. The two situations parallel one another well and in both cases were just used as excuses for politically biased people to further vilify and belittle candidates who they already didn’t like. It didn’t matter in either case whether the candidates actually said them or even if it was what they were meaning.

  3. steve May 6, 2013 at 8:01 am - Reply

    It was Tina Fey who made the “Russia” comment, not Palin.

  4. TejasEric October 25, 2013 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    Sorry but “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” sounds an awful lot like someone saying they created it and I have to agree with an earlier comment that this whole article sounds very biased. I don’t buy into the notion that says that ‘initiative’ means something else to politicians. His statement was him trying to take credit for it. There is no other way to take that unless you are biased.

  5. john January 30, 2014 at 10:07 am - Reply

    The truth is, Al Gore lies so much that people will believe just about any lie credited to him.

  6. Steven Wilson May 5, 2014 at 11:17 am - Reply

    The Internet and World Wide Web are NOT synonymous. That’s like saying the Hi-way and the Car are one and the same.

    There is still plenty of debate as to how much if anything Al Gore had to do with the Internet or the WWW which was started at CERN in 1989 and implemented by Tim Berners-Lee in December 1990.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web

    “On March 12, 1989, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal that referenced ENQUIRE, a database and software project he had built in 1980, and described a more elaborate information management system.

    With help from Robert Cailliau, he published a more formal proposal (on 12 November 1990) to build a “Hypertext project” called “WorldWideWeb” (one word, also “W3″) as a “web” of “hypertext documents” to be viewed by “browsers” using a client–server architecture. This proposal estimated that a read-only web would be developed within three months and that it would take six months to achieve “the creation of new links and new material by readers, [so that] authorship becomes universal” as well as “the automatic notification of a reader when new material of interest to him/her has become available.” While the read-only goal was met, accessible authorship of web content took longer to mature, with the wiki concept, blogs, Web 2.0 and RSS/Atom.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet

    “The origins of the Internet date back to research commissioned by the United States government in the 1960s to build robust, fault-tolerant communication via computer networks. While this work, together with work in the United Kingdom and France, led to important precursor networks, they were not the Internet. There is no consensus on the exact date when the modern Internet came into being, but sometime in the early to mid-1980s is considered reasonable. From that point, the network experienced decades of sustained exponential growth as generations of institutional, personal, and mobile computers were connected to it.”

    I would say that no matter the context you want to put Al Gore’s statement it rings as taking credit for something he didn’t have but a small hand in, KUDOS for him doing what he did, but I would say others would have done the same, they went to him and he got the ball rolling.

    So the Internet had been around already and the WWW was mostly at work at CERN in 1988, when he started.

    I lessen his efforts as well, because he seemingly didn’t know the difference in Internet and WWW when he made his statement.

    Seems also to me, you did not do a whole lot of research.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey May 5, 2014 at 12:02 pm - Reply

      @Steve Wilson: “The Internet and World Wide Web are NOT synonymous” I have a bacherlor’s and master’s in Computer Science, as well as a Web Programmers certificate, and specialized in advanced networks and artificial intelligence. Needless to say, nowhere in this article do I claim they are the same. As for the rest of your points, they are addressed in the article.

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