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Claim: * Vice-President Al Gore claimed that he "invented" the Internet.

Status: * False.

Origins: * No, Al Gore did not claim he "invented" the Internet, nor did he say anything that could reasonably be interpreted that way. The derisive "Al Gore said he 'invented' the Internet" put-downs are misleading distortions of something he said (taken out of context) during an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Late Edition" program on 9 March 1999. When asked to describe what distinguished him from his challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Gore replied (in part):

During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

Clearly, although Gore's phrasing was clumsy (and self-serving), he was not claiming that he "invented" the Internet (in the sense of having designed or implemented it), but that he was responsible for helping to create the environment (in an economic and legislative sense) that fostered the development of the Internet. Al Gore might not know nearly as much about the Internet and other technologies as his image would have us believe, and he certainly has been guilty of stretching (if not outright breaking) the truth before, but to believe that Gore seriously thought he could take credit for the "invention" of the Internet — in the sense offered by the media — is just silly. (To those who say the words "create" and "invent" mean the same thing: If they mean the same thing, then why have the media overwhelmingly and consistently cited Gore as having claimed he "invented" the Internet when he never used that word? The answer is that the words don't mean the same thing, but by substituting one word for the other, commentators can make Gore's claim sound [more] ridiculous.)

However, validating even the lesser claim Gore intended to make is problematic. Any statement about the "creation" or "beginning" of the Internet is difficult to evaluate, because the Internet is not a homogenous entity (it's a collection of computers, networks, protocols, standards, and application programs), nor did it all spring into being at once (the components that comprise the Internet were developed in various places at different times and are continuously being modified, improved, and expanded). Despite a spirited defense of Gore's claim by Vint Cerf (often referred to as the "father of the Internet") in which he stated "that as a Senator and now as Vice President, Gore has made it a point to be as well-informed as possible on technology and issues that surround it," many of the components of today's Internet came into being well before Gore's first term in Congress began in 1977, and it's hard to find any specific action of Gore's (such as his sponsoring a Congressional bill or championing a particular piece of legislation) that one could claim helped bring the Internet into being, much less validate Gore's statement of having taken the "initiative in creating the Internet."

It's true that Gore was popularizing the term "information superhighway" in the early 1990s (when few people outside academia or the computer/defense industries had heard of the Internet) and has introduced a few bills dealing with education and the Internet, but even though Congressman, Senator, and Vice-President Gore may always have been interested in and well-informed about information technology issues, that's a far cry from having taken an active, vital leadership role in bringing about those technologies. Even if Al Gore had never entered the political arena, we'd probably still be reading web pages via the Internet today.

Last updated: * 27 September 2000
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