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Al Gore's  Pileup on the Information Superhighway

By Gregory Gromov


The phrase information superhighway was coined by Al Gore * while he was  an active promoter of the US government's comprehensive support of technological innovation. It is enough to recall Gore's decisive role in the preparation of one of the most relevant legal initiatives of that time, the Supercomputer Network Study Act of 1986, which he introduced on June 24th of that year.

These facts were already well - known by the mid - 90s, and many assumed they had been widely accepted. For example, Internet pioneers Vint Cerf  and Bob Kahn have noted:  

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  the Internet, as we know it today, was not deployed until 1983. When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication. As an example, he sponsored hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural disasters and other crises.

Al Gore and the Internet. By Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf.

Lastly, it was often noted that during his time in Congress, from the 80s to the early 90s, Gore played the leadership role in development  information superhighway  which also happened to be a similar role to that his father, Senator Albert Gore, Sr., had played in the development of the American Interstate Highway system in the 1950s.

In 1957, in response to the successful launch of Sputnik, President Dwight Eisenhower created two organizations practically simultaneously: The Interstate Highway System and the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which gave birth to the Internet shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned circumstances combined to produce a factor that was frequently referenced as a reason for Gore's dramatic loss - fresh in the minds of many to this day - to Bush in the 2000 presidential elections.

The 2000 national elections were decided in Florida, and the Florida elections were decided by several hundred votes, which kicked off a legal battle over the accuracy of the vote count. The crux of the matter was that the votes of the state's millions of citizens were evenly divided, from the smallest to the largest segments of the population.

In other words, a lead of only a thousand votes in Florida for either candidate would decide the entire national election. It could be said that the long - running drive to advance the development of the Internet lost Gore more than a thousand, if not tens of thousands of his own supporters' votes during the campaign.

Let's review how this happened. On March 9, 1999 Gore gave one of his first campaign interviews on CNN. The evening prime time slot on what was at that point the most popular TV channel in the world, CNN, featured an interview between the station's commentator, Wolf Blitzer, and Al Gore, then current American vice president. At that time, the country's economy had already shown several consecutive years of brisk improvement, and vice president Gore represented everything modern and forward - thinking in the US government's science policy.

In the very beginning of the interview, Wolf Blitzer gave a very basic run - through of questions facing the party at that time, and Gore explained that, as usual, he intends to strive to create a dialogue with voters. He then goes on to say that he had been travelling all around the country for many years, trying to understand Americans' needs, and had always tried to do everything he could to improve the quality of life in the country. It was in this context, relating his most famous initiatives, that he said:

"During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

 Speaking clearly and convincingly, Gore then explained the difference between his party's platform and that of his opponents on issues like education and others. Wolf Blitzer thanked the vice president for the interview and they said goodbye.

TV viewers saw simply the latest step in the country's formation of an opinion on the candidates in a race that would ultimately make one of them president. Everything appeared normal, even later that same evening. It wasn't until the following morning that the scandal broke.

It remains unclear to this day, who carefully reread the transcript of what had appeared to be a perfectly routine interview and found in it the syntactical trigger for a political comedy  that would have such long - lasting impact on the candidates.

The following morning it seemed there wasn't a single American news outlet where commentators were not shaking with laughter, "Just think - Gore says he invented the Internet!"

It was a blow from which there was no recovering, to which there was no adequate defense, and no one, neither Gore, nor anyone in his campaign, tried to make a response, because to do so would have been useless.

The phrase stuck, and had a decisive impact on the entire Gore - Bush election campaign. Until that point, it was clear who was who in the campaign, and afterwards, everything got a great deal more complicated.

After it became known that Gore had said he "invented the Internet', he was unable to utilize this long - cultivated, significant advantage he had over his opponent. Even speaking on other topics became more difficult, as so much of the campaign consists of promises, with candidates asking voters to believe them. Who could trust a politician that was quoted in the morning papers and all over the media saying that he or she had invented the Internet?

It was impossible - literally impossible - at that point to convince anyone that Gore never said any such thing (and that he had been in fact discussing a completely separate issue).

Those to whom such things could be explained would understand readily, but such people do not make up a decisive voting majority in any elections in any country, including America.

Other voters are not interested in any such explanations, as such a rumor is too sensational to be disbelieved, and any attempts to reveal the truth would read as the uncompelling story of a disgraced politician trying to clear his name.

The sentence was final  -  Gore claimed to have "invented' the Internet. People began to joke with each other in different situations, "now you're going to say that you invented the Internet, like Al Gore'.

The questions still  facing journalists: Who coined the phrase "invented the Internet' and associated it with Al Gore?

During a March 1999 CNN interview, while trying to differentiate himself from rival Bill Bradley, Gore boasted: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

That statement was enough to convince me, with the encouragement of my then-editor James Glave, to write a brief article that questioned the vice president's claim. Republicans on Capitol Hill noticed the Wired News writeup and started faxing around tongue-in-cheek press releases -- inveterate neatnik Trent Lott claimed to have invented the paper clip -- and other journalists picked up the story too.

My article never used the word "invented," but it didn't take long for Gore's claim to morph into something he never intended.

The terrible irony in this exchange is that while Gore certainly didn't create the Internet, he was one of the first politicians to realize that those bearded, bespectacled researchers were busy crafting something that could, just maybe, become pretty important.

The Mother of Gore's Invention. By Declan McCullagh.  Wired, 10.17.00


*/There are  also some other sources. See for instance:

Vice President Al Gore says he coined "information highway" in a 1978 meeting with computer-industry leaders. The imagery came from his senator father's work to build the U.S. highway system. Gore also uses the more official-sounding "National Information

But The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center reports that one of the first uses of
"information highway" was by free-lance journalist Ralph Lee Smith in a 1970 story in The
Nation. In his 1972 book, "The Wired Nation, Cable TV: The Electronic Communications
Highway," Smith wrote:

"In the 1960s, the nation provided large federal subsidies for a new interstate highway
system to facilitate and modernize the flow of automotive traffic in the United States. In
the 1970s, it should make a similar national commitment for an electronic highway system to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas."

Information superhighway: the digital future ...


The idea of an 'electronic highway' goes back to the 1970s and draws a comparison between  the large federal subsidies that were invested during the 1960s in 'a new interstate highway  system to facilitate and modernize the flow of automotive traffic in the United States'.    Ralph Lee Smith, The Nation, 18 May 1970, 602 (qtd. in Flichy & ebrary Inc., 2007, p. 18). Smith (1972) afterwards developed his theses in a book: Smith, R. L. (1972). The wired nation; cable TV: the electronic communications highway ([1st ed.). New York,: Harper & Row.

Technology and Metaphors: from Cyberspace to Ambient Intelligence  By Norberto Gomes de Andrade, European University Institute, Observatorio (OBS*) Journal, vol.4 - #1 (2010), 121-146


The Information Superhighway is a phrase coined in late 1960s by journalist Ralph Lee Smith in an article in the New York Times Magazine about cable television. It refers to the
complete international access to news, entertainment, information and technology through a  complex web connecting users' telephones, televisions and computers. Futuristic sounding, but actually not so far from reality, the project would run the telephone system while  allowing electronic mail, newspapers, magazines, shopping guides and any entertainment-all  interactive-to be readily available for use at any time through the family television.

AT&T Connects Automatically to the Information Superhighway




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