R.I.P. Paul Baran — Internet Pioneer, Engineer

Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or FarmVille, the very reason we can use these services is thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of many Internet legends who helped build the network we can’t live without. One of those giants, Engineer Paul Baran, passed away today at age of 84 due to lung complications. He lived in Palo Alto, Calif.

Baran was born April 29, 1926 in Grodno, Poland, moved to the United States in 1928 and grew up in Philadelphia. He attended Drexel University and worked for Univac. He later attended UCLA and got a master’s degree in engineering. In 1960s, as an engineer working for the RAND Corporation, Baran came up with the idea of packaging data into packets, sending them along the network, then re-assembling them at the destination point. In his bio, Computer History museum notes:

At RAND he wrote a 13-volume set of reports defining in detail an all digital nationally distributed network for digital voice and data. (Several years later packet switching was invented independently by Donald Davies in the UK and who gave it the name “packet switching.”) Baran left Rand in 1968 to co-found the Institute for the Future, a not-for-profit research group specializing in long-range forecasting.He has authored over 150 papers and 40 patents. Among his many awards are the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal in 1990 for his work on packet switching, and the Franklin Institute’s Bower Award and Prize in Science in 2001.

“Paul wasn’t afraid to go in directions counter to what everyone else thought was the right or only thing to do. AT&T (s t) repeatedly said his idea wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t participate in the Arpanet project,” Vincent Cerf, one of the godfathers of the Internet told the New York Times (s nyt).

That concept eventually came to be known as packet switching and formed the under-pinning of Arpanet, the network that led to the formation of the modern Internet. Baran started seven companies, five of which went public. Baran was involved in Packet Technologies, Telebit, Com21, Metricom (a wireless ISP), and more recently, he started Plaster Networks. He also co-founded the Institute for the Future.

If you want to know more about his impact on the Internet, check out this interview from 1990 and this interview in Wired magazine.

Feature image courtesy David de Ugarte. Public Domain.