BOX 1.1

Research and Innovation in IT: A Historical Perspective

Many of the information technologies commonly used today have roots in research conducted decades ago. That research was often supported by a combination of government agencies and private firms. Federal funding for computing research began in earnest immediately following World War II and supported the development of many of the nation 's earliest computers. Beginning in the late 1960s, federal support for long-term fundamental research created a growing knowledge base for exploitation by innovators and entrepreneurs. Industry also funded such research and brought the new technologies to the marketplace. The following list presents some of the better-known examples of current technologies that leverage historical investments in research:

  • The Internet—The seeds of today's Internet were planted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the late 1960s, when it began to develop the ARPANET, a packet-switched network used to connect its computing researchers. This work sparked the development of the basic communications protocols used for the Internet as well as electronic mail.

  • Graphical User Interfaces—Work sponsored by DARPA in the late 1960s led to development of the computer mouse and its use as part of a graphical user interface. The technology was later incorporated into the Xerox Corporation 's Alto computer and then into Apple Computer's MacIntosh. It has since become the standard interface for personal computers.

  • Computer graphics—Work on computer graphics dates back to Project Whirlwind in the late 1940s and its successor, the U.S. Air Force air defense system SAGE, which used interactive graphics consoles and displays. Algorithms for rendering graphical images (in three dimensions) on a computer screen were first developed during the 1960s, with many advances emerging from DARPA-funded work at the University of Utah.

  • Speech recognition—Today's speech-recognition programs build on decades of research in artificial intelligence and speech recognition sponsored by both industry and government. AT&T and IBM Corporation maintained programs in the field, as did DARPA, which seeded early work in hidden Markov models on which the first commercial products were based.

  • Reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC)—Many of today's fastest computer workstations rely on RISC, a technology pioneered by IBM in the 1970s and further developed by researchers with funding from DARPA's Very Large Scale Integrated Circuit Program, which ran until the early 1980s.

  • Relational databases—The relational databases sold by companies like IBM, Informix, Oracle, and Sybase are the products of research first conducted at IBM in the 1970s. Simultaneously, relational databases were pursued by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley with funding from the National Science Foundation. Today's products still rely on the relational model developed by those early projects.

SOURCE: Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (1999a).



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