Though it hasn’t been around all that long in the grand scheme of things, for many of us it’s hard to imagine life without the internet. One of the pioneers whose work helped bring us the modern web passed away recently in Palo Alto, California.
Paul Baran, who was born in Poland in 1926 and moved to the U.S. with his family in 1928, conceived the idea for bundling data into small groups and transmitting it over a network while working for the Rand Corporation in the early ’60s — an idea he called “message blocks” that became known as “packet switching” after Britain’s Donald Davies developed and named a similar technology. Private companies passed on the idea, calling it too advanced, but in 1969 the Department of Defense adopted the system for its Arpanet, which was an ancestor of the internet. Baran’s system was designed to keep working even after a major catastrophe or a nuclear war because there was no central “hub” required and the network could continue to work even if large parts of it were destroyed.
In 1966, Baran wrote a paper in which he stated that in the future, computer networks would be used for shopping and news, predicting that such a network would be in place and in use by the year 2000.
Though Baran did not receive much monetary compensation for his idea, he did receive numerous accolades, including a National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2008 and induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.