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Paul Baran

Last Edit: 11/04/17

Paul Baran was born into a Jewish family in what constituted Poland (the city he was born into is now part of the Republic of Belarus) in 1926. Baran's family emigrated to the United States of America when he was two year's old. Baran studied electrical engineering at Drexel University in 1949, and would receive a Masters from UCLA while working at Hughes Aircraft in the 1950's. While working at the RAND corporation in the 1960's, Baran was tasked with designing a communications system that could survive a nuclear attack. Baran's work built upon Franklin Collbohm's - former RAND director - radio network. Baran did this by proposing a system which sent data in separate "packets"; Baran termed these "blocks". These "packets" are routed (in a packet switching system) through nodes; each node decides where the packet should be sent, and can route a packet "around" a node (if it's been damaged in a cold war nuclear attack for example, as was Baran's objective). In 1964, Paul Baran, published the paper "On Distributed Communications Networks" to outline his military packet network - this paper is claimed as the first theoretical paper for packet switching.

Paul Baran, developed the idea of a packet switching network.
(Pictured: Paul Baran)

While Paul Baran did conduct simulation tests to prove his network design could survive a 50% node loss, his work did not evolve into a working computer network that was built by RAND. At the same time Donald Davies independently developed a similar idea, and eventually built the Mark I packet switching network; built at the National Physical Laboratory in the United Kingdom. In 1969, the first American packet switching network was built: ARPANET; this network and it's protocols would evolve into the Internet. It has been suggested that Baran's paper, "On Distributed Communications Networks", inspired the creation of ARPANET - as ARPANET was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense - but Larry Roberts (who built ARPANET) said that ARPANET was not built on this premise and that ARPANET was based upon the work of Kleinrock, Licklider, and Roberts; rather than on Baran's work. That said, Paul Baran's work must have had some influence: as he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame as a Pioneer in the first year of inductees (2012).

In 1968, Baran founded a spin-off Rand organisation: named the Institute for the Future (IFTF). The institure is still based in Palo Alto, California - Marina Gorbis is the current director - and is a non-profit organisation that is involved in future forecasting. Baran founded the company PacketCable, Inc, in the 1980's: that would be involved in using the IP networking protocol to provide cable TV services. Baran founded Telebit in 1985, which was involved in building dial-up modems: which were renowned for their high-build quality and ability to operate with a high level of line interference; which is common on old copper line connections. In 1985, Baran founded the wireless Micro Cellular Data Network (Internet service) with David M. Elliott; Microsoft founder Paul Gardner Allen would eventually buy a stake in this company. In the 1990's, Baran founded 3com, a company that attempted to provide Internet access via a cable television network: this company was involved in developing the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) protocol; which is a part of the Internet Protocol Suite.

Paul Baran died on the 26th of March, 2011: Baran was noted as a silicon valley 'creative', who was at the forefront of innovations developed by the Palo Alto community.