Saturday 24/02/2018 - 03:59 pm

Did Einstein Invent the Internet?

2017.03.04 04:39

How Einstein’s equations about stimulating light, published 100 years ago today, were transformed into the backbone of the Internet.

On March 3, 1917, Albert Einstein published his revelation about how light is created by ‘stimulated emission.’ So why is this worth celebrating? Well, virtually every time you log-in or use a mobile device, you are benefiting from his theory. But the best may be yet to come: augmented reality, ubiquitous AI, the Internet of Everything, and other light-based wonders we haven’t even dreamed of.

How did this happen? When Gordon Gould invented the first laser 60 years ago, he mastered Einstein’s theory of light. His employee and protégé, another physicist, Dr. David Huber, was particularly interested in using light amplification for high-speed communication, so he designed a way to send multiple, parallel waves of light through tiny glass fibers, a light multiplexing technology known as Dense Wave Division Multiplexing (DWDM). To commercialize optical amplification on a massive scale, Dr. Huber and Kevin Kimberlin, Chairman of Spencer Trask & Co., founded Ciena Corp.

When the first DWDM system was commercially introduced in 1996, everything changed. Referring to the rays of light that drive the system, Kimberlin calls this “the real dawn of the Internet.”

The authors of “Advanced Optical Communications Systems Networks” documented the significance of DWDM: “The introduction of Wave Division Multiplexing signaled a real start to optical networking.” The New York Times reported on June 12, 1996: “Ciena is the first company to market with a technology called wave division multiplexing.” George Gilder also recognized Ciena’s role in popularizing the all-optical amplifier in Forbes (1997) comparing this invention to the integrated circuit because it makes possible a new global economy. Gilder correctly saw optical amplification as the key to DWDM, which in turn was the key to scalable communications.

The bandwidth created by DWDM enabled the rapid adoption of the World Wide Web, while demand from users of the Web drove the need for more high-capacity networking. These mutually dependent, and mutually reinforcing phenomenon enabled the Internet explosion which began in the 1990s and continues to this day. “The growth of the fiber network core coincided with the rise of the World Wide Web, making possible the enormous expansion of services that has made the Internet of such overwhelming importance to social, political and economic affairs around the globe,” noted Bernard Finn, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution.

So this is how Einstein’s concept of stimulating light became one of the miracles of modern civilization. It started 100 years ago with his realization of the principle, and then Gould put Einstein’s theory to practice 60 years ago by inventing the laser. When Ciena Corp started just 20 years ago, they first inaugurated the technology that powers our global communications.

As we celebrate these anniversaries, let’s also raise a glass to light itself, a force so mysterious that Einstein himself said, “I will spend the rest of my life trying to understand what light is.”

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