This map from 1972 shows the layout for ARPANET, a predecessor to the Internet.

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Let's get the obvious joke out of the way: It wasn't Al Gore who invented the Internet. In fact, Mr. Gore never really claimed to have done so. In a 1999 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, the then-vice president said that he had taken the initiative in creating the Internet, meaning that as a politician he had supported the computer scientists, programmers and engineers who built the global network through legislation.

The truth is, a group of people are responsible for building the Internet. First, there were the visionaries who imagined that computers would one day communicate with each other. Early computers were isolated devices that lacked the ability to share data without a lot of physical effort on the part of computer users. If you wanted to port information from one machine to another, you had to carry boxes of punch cards or reels of magnetic tape.

But some people glimpsed a future in which computers could work together to create access to the world's information and provide massive amounts of processing capability. One such person was Vannevar Bush, a man who played a vital role in the Defense Research Committee during World War II. Bush wrote in 1945 that information would play a significantly larger role in all future conflicts based upon the experience of World War II. He also recognized that the amount of information we generate each day is enormous. How could anyone manage it?

Bush envisioned an automatic device that could manage information. It was essentially a computerized library. He named this theoretical engine memex. This wasn't necessarily a network of computers but more of a conceptual approach to solving the problem of data management. His ideas would inspire future computer scientists to find a way to build a real memex device.

Eventually, technological developments caught up to these visions of a massive digital library. What really set development into motion was the U.S. Department of Defense's plan to create a wide area network that would allow different computers running various operating systems to share information between them.

A man named J.C.R. Licklider picked up where Vannevar Bush left off. He too saw the need for a new approach to managing information. He estimated that sorting through information took up about 85 percent of the time he dedicated to completing tasks. Licklider also understood the potential for computer networks. He envisioned a network composed of other networks that would create a computing system more powerful than any in existence. He called his idea of a massive network of computers the Intergalactic Network.

These visionaries provided the ideas that the next round of engineers and scientists would expand upon to build the first wide area network: ARPANET.