Paul Baran is well-known for setting the foundation of the networking system that birthed the Internet we use today.
He was born in Grodno (Poland) on April 29, 1926.
When he was two years old, his family moved to Philadelphia (in 1928). He died on March 26, 2011 at 84 years of age.
Together with Donald Davies and Leonard Kleinrock, Paul Baran invented ‘packed-switched networks’ which formed the basis of message transmission on the Internet today.
How It All Started
Many years ago (1962) during the Cuban missile crisis, Paul Baran was engrossed in helping the military develop a more reliable networking system to respond and reorganize faster after nuclear attacks.
He came up with the idea of sending ‘message blocks’. This was later coined as ‘packets’ from the work of Donald Davies.
His idea was to build a communication network that works like the human brain – relying on different sets of dedicated networks for a given function.
But … his idea was turned down.
The Concept of Message Blocks & How the Internet came from Paul Baran
Paul Baran’s concept of ‘message blocks’ involved breaking down messages into several packets that are sent separately across a network. Each part will join the rest at their destination to form a whole again.
Unlike telephone calls which were continuous and could not be interrupted, Paul Baran was interested in a more efficient data transmission system where there can be a pause in communication.
The ‘message blocks’ idea was perfect. It involved ‘packet switching’ whereby nodes receive separate packets of messages, determine the best path to transmit each of them and send them to the next available node on that path while bypassing damaged nodes.
After Paul Baran’s idea was rejected, Larry Roberts later found his work. He needed it to enhance communication among ARPA researchers where he was working. Paul Baran was eventually taken as the consultant for the ARPANET project.
In just two years of operation, ARPANET became ‘information superhighway’ because of the effectiveness of the distributed networks and packet switching system. ARPA researchers could use it for both technical and personal use.
In no time (in 1989), the word ‘Internet’ replaced ARPANET.
Paul Baran’s work thus became the groundwork that led to the evolution of the World Wide Web.
Today with more reliable communication among very distant locations, the world is best referred to as a global village.
The Education & Work-life of Paul Baran
Paul Baran studied Electrical Engineering at Drexel University at the undergraduate level and moved to UCLA where he obtained a Masters Degree in Engineering in 1959. Immediately, he was employed in Research and Development (RAND) organization.
RAND was a nonprofit organization working mostly to tackle Cold War-related military problems. Paul Baran worked at their computer science department in the mathematics division.
Later in life, he left RAND to begin his entrepreneurship journey.
He founded the first wireless Internet Company, Metricom, which deployed the first ever wireless mesh networking system for the public, though he had founded other companies before then.
Later, he cofounded Com21 followed by GoBackTV and lastly Plaster Networks.
Words of Paul Baran and His Fans
In his lifetime, Paul Baran confessed,
Many of the things I thought possible would tend to sound like utter nonsense, or impractical depending on the generosity of spirit in those brought up in an earlier world.” (Baran in Hafner & Lyon, 55)
Talking about the future of the Internet Paul Baran told Wired Magazine that,
Around December 1966, I presented a paper at the American Marketing Association called ‘Marketing in the Year 2000.’ I described push-and-pull communications and how we’re going to do our shopping via a television set and a virtual department store. If you want to buy a drill, you click on Hardware and that shows Tools and you click on that and go deeper.
As expected, Paul Baran was fascinated by the all the possibilities of the Internet many years ago. Little wonder Jim Thomson, CEO and President of RAND once regurgitated,
Our world is a better place for the technologies Paul Baran has invented and developed, and also because of his consistent concern with appropriate public policies for their use.
Today, most of Paul Baran’s thoughts have materialized. Truly, it’s quite amazing how much this world has change since the advent of the Internet.
May Paul Baran’s soul rest in perfect peace. Amen.
Further Readings on Internet Entrepreneurs.