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Networking pioneer Paul Baran dies, aged 84

Paul Baran, the engineer credited with the invention of the packet-switching system which underpins the majority of modern digital communication systems, has passed away aged 84.

During his time at the RAND Corporation in the 1960s, Baran is credited with having come up with the concept of a network where data is encoded into message blocks which are transmitted individually through a diverse network and reassembled upon receipt - the basics of packet-switching networks.

These packets, Baran envisioned, would be passed around a distributed switching network which provided far more resiliency than the centralised circuit-switching networks of the day - a process he termed 'hot-potato routing.'

Baran's work was originally rejected by telecoms giant AT&T as being too complicated compared to the circuit-switched networking of the time and seemingly impossible to implement, but stands out in retrospect as one of the biggest game-changers in the telecommunications industry to date.

This technology would find itself used in the Arpanet, the Defense Advanced Researcher Projects Agency's computer network which was the precursor to the Internet - and it's a technique which is still in use today for Internet communications and mobile network communications.

Without Baran's concept of a packet-switched network, the Internet would be a very different place today: far less able to withstand damage and routing issues, the network would likely still be the plaything of the military and academia - and you almost certainly wouldn't be reading your news on a site like thinq_.

While many were involved in the development of the Arpanet and its progression into the Internet, it's hard to imagine how the project could have been had Baran not been involved.

According to The New York Times, Baran died at his Palo Alto home from complications brought on by lung cancer. He is survived by partner Ruth Rothman, son David, and three grandchildren.