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Paul Baran, who played role in development of Internet, dies at 84

March 28, 2011 |  9:09 am

Paul Baran, whose work with packaging data in the 1960s has been credited with playing a role in the later development of the Internet, has died. He was 84.

Baran died at his home in Palo Alto on Saturday night of complications from lung cancer, said his son, David.

Baran is best known for the idea of "packet-switching," in which data is bundled into small packages and sent through a network. Baran outlined the concept while working on Cold War issues for the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica in 1963 and 1964.

In 1969, the technology became a concept the Department of Defense used in creating the Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet, numerous reports on the subject said.

The idea had been so advanced at its development that private companies had passed on it.

President George W. Bush presented him with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2008. A year earlier, he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.

Baran's method of moving data was designed to function after a nuclear attack. Because there were no centralized switches and bundles of data could simply find a new route if one weren't working, the system could still work even if much of it were destroyed, the Rand Corp. said on its website.

He called the process "message blocks." Donald Davies of Britain independently developed a similar system and his term, "packet-switching," would eventually be adopted, Rand said.

It would be decades before the social and commercial possibilities of the technology would become clear, and Baran would miss out on a lot of the money and glory that came with it, but he was happy to live to see it happen, his son said.

"He was a man of infinite patience," David Baran said.

Paul Baran was born in Grodno, Poland, in 1926 and his family moved to the United States when he was 2 years old, according to the Rand website.

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-- Associated Press