Video: Paul Baran

Forerunner of the Internet: Early RAND Work in Distributed Networks and Packet Switching (1960-1965)

At a recent RAND Alumni Association event, RAND alumnus Paul Baran discussed his work on distributed networks and packet switching. In the early 1960s, RAND borrowed ideas about rerouting and redundancy that had been developed in neurobiology and applied them to strengthening the ability of Air Force communications to survive a nuclear attack. The resulting concept of "distributed communications" worked by breaking messages into smaller units of information that were sent independently through the communication system, each on the fastest path available to it, and reassembled at the end into the original message. When the Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, began looking for an information-sharing system, it arrived at the same concept of "packet switching" for what later became the Internet.

RAND Alumni Association

The RAND Alumni Association was established in 1992 as an independent organization. Its primary purpose is to provide a forum for social and professional activities of former and current RANDites. Since then, we have grown from the first 100 Charter Members to more than 2,000 strong, across the United States and around the world. Every three years, a 12-member volunteer Board of Directors is elected to guide and govern the Association, with support provided by RAND's Development Office.