Paul Baran, Internet pioneer and Institute for the Future co-founder, RIP

Paul Baran, whose co-invention of packet switching lies at the very foundation of the Internet, has died. He was 84. Baran spent the 1960s at RAND's computer science department where he focused on developing a system for "distributed communications," fundamental research that was seminal to the birth of Arpanet which, of course, became the Internet. In 1968, Baran left RAND to co-found the Institute for the Future, the not-for-profit forecasting group where I'm a research director. His impact was broad, deep, and truly transformational. From the NYT:
 Pioneers Images Pics Baran “The process of technological developments is like building a cathedral,” Baran said in an interview in 1990. “Over the course of several hundred years, new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations, each saying, ‘I built a cathedral.’

“Next month another block is placed atop the previous one. Then comes along an historian who asks, ‘Well, who built the cathedral?’ 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.”

"Paul Baran, Internet Pioneer, Dies at 84"

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  1. Sounds like a wonderfully humble guy. That’s a lovely analogy for the process of scientific/technical discovery and invention. One to remember.

  2. Most excellent quote. Thanks for bringing this interesting man and his interesting life to our attention.

  3. I just found out about this guy last month. I followed a link on BB to Ars Technica and fell down a rabbit hole for the night: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/02/how-the-atom-bomb-gave-birth-to-the-internet.ars/

    “Baran was suggesting combining two previously isolated technologies: computers and communications. Odd as it might appear to readers in a digital age, these were disciplines so mutually distinct that Baran worried his project could fail for lack of staff capable of working in both areas.”

    the comments to that article contained these Baran-specific pages among the many others that I read that night: http://www.cybertelecom.org/notes/baran.htm
    and
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.03/baran.html?pg=1&topic=&topic_set=

    the man was a giant, and humble to the end. respect due. pour a little out for our homie.

    1. Mad respect.

      “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.”
      ^When companies/people complain about their IP being stolen I always raise this point. Everyone’s work, whatever it may be, rests on the shoulders of giants.

      What a humble dude.

  4. Actually, more than the internet: all the digital telecom/telephony systems use packet switching; as does any lan larger than a single segment (and for gigabit ethernet, each endpoint is it’s own segment – so everything is packet switched).

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