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<nettime> Paul Baran, Internet Pioneer, Dies at 84
nettime's note taker on Mon, 28 Mar 2011 11:32:42 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Paul Baran, Internet Pioneer, Dies at 84

March 27, 2011
Paul Baran, Internet Pioneer, Dies at 84



Paul Baran, an engineer who helped create the technical underpinnings for 
the Arpanet, the government-sponsored precursor to todayâs Internet, died 
Saturday night at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 84.

The cause was complications from lung cancer, said his son, David.

In the early 1960s, while working at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, 
Calif., Mr. Baran outlined the fundamentals for packaging data into 
discrete bundles, which he called âmessage blocks.â The bundles are then 
sent on various paths around a network and reassembled at their 
destination. Such a plan is known as âpacket switching.â

Mr. Baranâs idea was to build a distributed communications network, less 
vulnerable to attack or disruption than conventional networks. In a series 
of technical papers published in the 1960s he suggested that networks be 
designed with redundant routes so that if a particular path failed or was 
destroyed, messages could still be delivered through another.

Mr. Baranâs invention was so far ahead of its time that in the mid-1960s, 
when he approached AT&T with the idea to build his proposed network, the 
company insisted it would not work and refused.

âPaul wasnât afraid to go in directions counter to what everyone else 
thought was the right or only thing to do,â said Vinton Cerf, a vice 
president at Google who was a colleague and longtime friend of Mr. Baranâs. 
âAT&T repeatedly said his idea wouldnât work, and wouldnât participate in 
the Arpanet project,â he said.

In 1969, the Defense Departmentâs Advanced Research Projects Agency built 
the Arpanet, a network that used Mr. Baranâs ideas, and those of others. 
The Arpanet was eventually replaced by the Internet, and packet switching 
still lies at the heart of the networkâs internal workings.

Paul Baran was born on April 29, 1926, in Grodno, Poland. His parents moved 
to the United States in 1928, and Mr. Baran grew up in Philadelphia. His 
father was a grocer, and as a boy, Paul delivered orders to customers in a 
small red wagon.

He attended the Drexel Institute of Technology, which later became Drexel 
University, where he earned a bachelorâs degree in electrical engineering 
in 1949. He took his first job at the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation 
in Philadelphia, testing parts of radio tubes for an early commercial 
computer, the Univac. In 1955, he married Evelyn Murphy, and they moved to 
Los Angeles, where Mr. Baran took a job at Hughes Aircraft working on radar 
data processing systems. He enrolled in night classes at the University of 
California, Los Angeles.

Mr. Baran received a masterâs degree in engineering from U.C.L.A. in 1959. 
Gerald Estrin, who was Mr. Baranâs adviser, said Mr. Baran was the first 
student he ever had who actually went to the Patent Office in Washington to 
investigate whether his masterâs work, on character recognition, was 

âFrom that day on, my expectations of him changed,â Dr. Estrin said. âHe 
wasnât just a serious student, but a young man who was looking to have an 
effect on the world.â

In 1959, Mr. Baran left Hughes to join RANDâs computer science department. 
He quickly developed an interest in the survivability of communications 
systems in the event of a nuclear attack, and spent the next several years 
at RAND working on a series of 13 papers â two of them classified â under 
contract to the Air Force, titled, âOn Distributed Communications.â

About the same time that Mr. Baran had his idea, similar plans for creating 
such networks were percolating in the computing community. Donald Davies of 
the British National Physical Laboratory, working a continent away, had a 
similar idea for dividing digital messages into chunks he called packets.

âIn the golden era of the early 1960s, these ideas were in the air,â said 
Leonard Kleinrock, a computer scientist at U.C.L.A. who was working on 
similar networking systems in the 1960s.

Mr. Baran left RAND in 1968 to co-found the Institute for the Future, a 
nonprofit research group specializing in long-range forecasting.

Mr. Baran was also an entrepreneur. He started seven companies, five of 
which eventually went public.

In recent years, the origins of the Internet have been subject to claims 
and counterclaims of precedence, and Mr. Baran was an outspoken proponent 
of distributing credit widely.

âThe Internet is really the work of a thousand people,â he said in an 
interview in 2001.

âThe process of technological developments is like building a cathedral,â 
he said in an interview in 1990. âOver the course of several hundred years, 
new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old 
foundations, each saying, âI built a cathedral.â

âNext month another block is placed atop the previous one. Then comes along 
an historian who asks, âWell, who built the cathedral?â Peter added some 
stones here, and Paul added a few more. If you are not careful you can con 
yourself into believing that you did the most important part. But the 
reality is that each contribution has to follow onto previous work. 
Everything is tied to everything else.â

Mr. Baranâs wife, Evelyn, died in 2007. In addition to his son, David, of 
Atherton, Calif., he is survived by three grandchildren; and his companion 
of recent years, Ruth Rothman.

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