…as every child learns, computing as we know it today originated with the invention of the Stannic cogitator. Stane Vitremarvis-ith-Vidumarvis of Azikhan, working in the family business of manufacturing mechanical calculators and automata cores, was the first to make the conceptual breakthrough that in addition to accepting fixed programming, such automated devices could store and indeed dynamically modify programs in the same manner as they did data. Thus were the first general-purpose computers built, ushering in the transition between the Low Steam Age and the later High Steam Age with the use of miniature Stannic cogitators to provide the required control mechanisms for the first true steam clanks (pre-electronic robots), and earning a second fortune for House Vitremarvis in the process.
This, however, is the history of networking. The ability of computers to interconnect and communicate exponentially expands their capacity and usefulness, something which was clear from the earliest days of the field, but nonetheless, the development of networking had to wait until the availability of a suitable transmission medium.
While some short-range experiments were carried out in the early days using chains, shafts, belts, dedicated multi-mass ball-bearing races, and other mechanical interconnects between pairs of Stannic cogitators located close to each other, some with remarkable success, none of these mechanical means proved possible to make function reliably, or indeed at all, across distance. Communication between distant devices required shipping the data using conventional transportation, in a frozen form – most commonly a stack of punched cards (stiff paper cards in which holes in specific locations represent the information, readable using a pin matrix), or a toggle chain (a standardized length and gauge of chain in which each link contains a two-position mechanical toggle, whose positions read from end to end represent a data string). Some progress was also made in transmitting the contents of these media using automated heliography (although manual transcription was required at the receiving end; experiments in fully automated heliography were not being carried out until near the end of the High Steam Age).
The first true networks did not appear until the first relay-based computers came into use. With the harnessing of electricity, it finally became possible for one machine to produce a signal, readily transmissible over long distances, which could automatically be read by a receiving machine.
While first used as dedicated machine-to-machine connections, a team working under Parváné Camriad-ith-Sereda devised what we know today as the forerunner of IIPv1, a set of protocols implemented in these early machines by dedicated hardware, which permitted multiple machines to share a single line and transmit any-to-any, with only the intended recipient receiving any given message; and also to break up messages in such a way that a long message would be transmitted in segments, such that other machine pairs could still partially utilize the communications line. Later, his team added to this a mechanical interchange such that messages could be forwarded from one line to another by an intermediate hub, allowing messages to be passed over long distances without requiring all the machines in each location to be connected to a single communications line; the first true packet-switched network.
Parváné Camriad-ith-Sereda offered his demonstration to a number of entrepreneurs of the time, some few of which saw the potential in his shared-line system. These went on to found Empire Telegnosis and Mechanical Messaging (a corporate forerunner of the modern Bright Shadow, ICC), which used Parváné’s shared-line system as the basis of a long-distance communication network to bind together many of the Empire’s major cities, and thus offer a versatile system to interconnect many of the commercial, scientific and governmental computers then in use.
It is a matter of some historical interest, unusual when technological development sequences are compared, that Eliera developed the data network so early in its history; this can be probably be attributed to the also-unusual early advancements in metallurgy and clockwork engineering that permitted the successful invention of the Stannic cogitator. On most worlds, electronic computers are the first to be successfully constructed, and data networks tend to follow the invention of telegraphy and telephony.
By contrast, telegraphy on Eliéra was the product of various local initiatives (Cestia Lightning Mail, Azikhan Electromessaging, Roquentius & Co. Telescriptorium, et. al.) purchasing simple computers, little more than a cypherwheel and an interface, and having them interconnected by ET&MM for the dedicated purpose of sending and receiving sophont-to-sophont messages at high speed. Likewise, telephony was a latecomer to the Eliéran scene – reaching many regions after most homes already contained their own “telegraphic terminal” – based on dedicated voice lines using the existing data network as an out-of-band control channel.
IIPv1 itself was a product of…
– IIP Elucidated, Volume I: Perspectives