Paul Baran, one of the original developers of the packet switching systems on which all internet traffic is based, has died at home in Palo Alto.
In the early 1960s Baran, a naturalised Pole, wrote a series of papers for RAND looking at network resiliency. After a series of tests he determined how the loss of network nodes would degrade performance, and proposed a solution whereby data was split into packets that could reroute around damaged parts of the network by using redundant capacity elsewhere.
At around the same time British computer scientist Donald Davis was developing a similar idea, which he called packet switching. Baran never claimed to be the inventor of the concept, but rather saw it as an idea whose time had come.
""If you are not careful you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part," he said in a 1990 interview.
"But the reality is that each contribution has to follow onto previous work. Everything is tied to everything else."
The concept wasn't popular at first. Baran took his idea to AT&T, which said it was inefficient and unworkable. However, the US military did take an interest and Baran worked for them with Leonard Kleinrock and others to build Arpanet, the precursor to the modern internet.
"Paul wasn't afraid to go in directions counter to what everyone else thought was the right or only thing to do," said Vint Cerf, a vice president at Google who was a colleague and long-time friend of Baran's.
"AT&T repeatedly said his idea wouldn't work, and wouldn't participate in the Arpanet project," he told the The New York Times.
In recognition of his pioneering work Baran was awarded the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal, a National Medal of Technology and Innovation and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
After leaving RAND, Baran set up a variety of companies, primarily in the computer networking field. The last was started to investigate using housing wiring to deliver data. He is also credited with inventing the modern metal detector.
Baran had been suffering from the effects of lung cancer and died at home from complications. He is survived by his son and three grandchildren.
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