Internet pioneer Paul Baran dies, aged 84
Written by Historian   
Monday, 28 March 2011

Paul Baran, whose work in the 1960's helped create the technical underpinnings for the Arpanet, the government-sponsored precursor to today's Internet, died at his home in Palo Alto, California, on March 26, 2011.


The Internet is now a boon and a blessing to individuals and businesses around the world. But look back over 40 years and you'll find that the Internet as we know it today was born out of the cold war between the USA and the USSR.

In the 1960s  there was a very real fear that there would be nuclear war between the superpowers and the US military decided that it needed to find a way to keep its lines of communication open during an exchange of nuclear devices.  It was in order to make communication networks resilient to attack or traffic surges, that Paul Baran, working in the "think tank" at RAND corporation, came up with the idea of splitting the data sent over networks into chunks.

Although his idea for building a redundant network was turned down by AT&T it was later adapted into the packet switching technology used by the Arpanet, later to be replaced by the Internet, which continues to use packet switching.


Paul Baran's sketches for possible net topologies


Vinton Cerf, who with Bob Kahn developed the TCP/IP protocol and who is now a vice president at Google, said of his colleague and longtime friend:

“Paul wasn’t afraid to go in directions counter to what everyone else thought was the right or only thing to do. AT&T repeatedly said his idea wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t participate in the Arpanet project.”

Paul Baran's son David Baran has told how  his father had recently shown him a paper written in 1966 which speculated about what people would do with the telecommunication networks in the future.

"It spelled out this idea that by the year 2000 that people would be using online networks for shopping and news. It was an absolute lunatic fringe idea."

In 2007 Paul Baran was awarded the United State's National Medal of Technology and Innovation for the invention and development of the fundamental architecture for packet switched communication networks.

Paul Baran (1926 - 2011)

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