Internet Pioneer Paul Baran Dies At 84

Baran helped develop key technology for the modern Internet and went on to launch seven companies, five of which went public.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

March 29, 2011

2 Min Read

Paul Baran, credited with developing technology that became a critical piece of the Internet's foundation, died over the weekend at his Palo Alto, Calif., home. He was 84.

Baran died Saturday of complications from lung cancer, his son David told the Los Angeles Times. The Internet pioneer was one of three inventors of packet-switched technology that made it possible to send data in chunks over a network.

In 2008, Baran received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President George Bush. Baran was inducted a year earlier in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Baran's pioneering work occurred at the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research and development organization he joined in 1959. RAND at the time received government grants to work on Cold War-related military problems.

Baran became interested in developing communication networks that could survive a nuclear attack. Long-distance communication networks at the time were extremely vulnerable, which could leave the U.S. severely crippled if the country were to be attacked by its biggest rival at the time, the Soviet Union. "That was the issue," Baran said, according to the book "Inventing the Internet" by Janet Abbate. "Here a most dangerous situation was created by the lack of a survivable communication system."

In 1969, the Department of Defense folded Baran's work into the Advanced Research Projects Agency, called ARPANET, which later became the foundation for today's Internet.

While still at RAND, Baran in 1964 developed the doorway gun detector and became an early writer on computer privacy, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional association in which Baran was a member. Baran left RAND in 1968 and co-founded the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit group dedicated to taking research from the public arena to the business sector. Baran started seven companies of his own and five went public.

"Paul was absolutely an engineer's engineer," Vinton Cerf, another Internet pioneer and longtime friend, told BBC Radio 5. "He was one of the most modest, most smartest and most prolific of inventors. He was always pursuing a path that other people thought would be, if not crazy, than at least unlikely to succeed."

Baran was born in Grodno, Poland, and moved with his family to the United States in 1928. They settled in Boston and later moved to Philadelphia, where his father opened a grocery store. Baran did his undergraduate work at Drexel University and earned a masters degree in engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1959.

Baran's wife Evelyn died in 2007. Besides his one son David, Baran is survived by three grandchildren.

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