Was the Son of Rhondda Pit-Man the Real 'Father of the Internet'? Welsh Scientist Developed System for World Wide Web

Article excerpt

Byline: Robin Turner

A WELSHMAN born in the rugby, singing and mining stronghold of Treorchy in the Rhondda Valley should be recognised as the true "father of the internet".

That is the view of Trevor Harris, a lecturer in the Department of Film and Media at Lampeter University.

He has now had his paper Who is the Father of the Internet? The Case for Donald Davies published in the latest edition of the scientific journal Mass Communication Research.

It was back in 1965 when Tom Jones was in the charts with It's Not Unusual and the first US combat troops went into Vietnam that father-of-three Davies helped pave the way for all our web-surfing, e-mailing and downloading.

He developed "packet switching" - a system that enabled computers to communicate with each other by sending information in small segments which were then reassembled in the right order.

This innovation meant expensive long-distance phone calls were no longer needed to transfer data, and laid the foundations for the internet service providers we use today.

Without packet switching, it is unlikely any of us would ever have heard of the likes of Google or Facebook.

Born in Treorchy in 1924, the son of a pit clerk, Davies showed touches of genius while obtaining a doctorate in physics at Imperial College London.

During World War II, he worked on the top secret "Tube Alloys" programme in Birmingham University, a code name for the Government's top-secret nuclear bomb research which would later be subsumed into the US's Manhattan Project.

He became a pioneer in digital computing while working with brilliant mathematician Alan Turing in the UK's National Physics Laboratory.

He even annoyed the Bletchley Park Enigma code-breaker by pointing out errors in his seminal paper "On Computable Numbers".

Davies went on to develop early computer games with his noughts and crosses machine in 1949 before directing his considerable intellect into advising banks and government agencies such as MI6 on computer security issues.

But it was his ground-breaking concept of packet switching that was his most lasting legacy.

Davies was appointed a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1975, and made a CBE in 1983 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1987.

He died in May 2000, leaving a widow Diana, a daughter and two sons.

Trevor Harris said: "I never met Donald Davies, but for those that knew him, he was thought of as an unassuming man but one who deserves as much as anyone to be thought of as the father of computer communication.

"While working at the United Kingdom's National Physical Laboratory, Donald's invention of packet switching made the internet, and ultimately the world wide web, possible.

"In any dispassionate analysis of the development of today's pervasive personal computer technology and its impact on our lives today then Donald Davies, a humble man from Treorchy in the Welsh mining valleys, is one of the most outstanding figures in that history."

Larry Roberts, of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the United States, became aware of Dav-iesidea and built it into the Arpanet in 1969, a secure data communication network between four US universities which later evolved into the internet. …