Paul Baran, whose work with packaging data in the 1960s has been credited with playing a role in the later development of the Internet, died March 26 of complications from lung cancer at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 84.
Mr. Baran is best known for the idea of “packet-switching,” in which data are bundled into small packages and sent through a network. He outlined the concept while working on Cold War issues for the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., in 1963 and 1964.
In 1969, the technology became a concept the Department of Defense used in creating the Arpanet, a precursor to the Internet, according to numerous reports on the subject.
The idea had been so advanced at its development that private companies had passed on it.
“Paul wasn’t afraid to go in directions counter to what everyone else thought was the right or only thing to do,” Vinton Cerf, a vice president at Google and Mr. Baran’s colleague and longtime friend, told the New York Times, which first reported Mr. Baran’s death.
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 in Akron, Ohio, joining the likes of Thomas Edison.
He told the Associated Press around that time that he was pleased there was such a hall.
“I think that we give a lot of attention to music and football, why not those who come up with ideas that we use in a different way?” he said.
Mr. Baran’s method of moving data was designed to continue functioning after a nuclear attack. Because there were no centralized switches, and bundles of data could find a new route if one were not working, the system could still work even if much of it were destroyed, Rand said on its Web site.
He called the process “message blocks.” Donald Davies of Great Britain independently developed a similar system and his term, “packet-switching,” was eventually adopted, Rand said.
It would be decades before the social and commercial possibilities of the technology would become clear, and Mr. Baran missed out on much of the money and glory that came with it. But he was happy to see the Internet flourish, his son, David Baran, said in a telephone interview.
“He was a man of infinite patience,” he said.
The younger Baran said his father recently shared a paper that he wrote in 1966, speculating on the future of the computer networks he was working on.
“It spelled out this idea that by the year 2000 that people would be using online networks for shopping and news,” he said. “It was an absolute lunatic fringe idea.”
Paul Baran was born in Grodno, Poland, in 1926. His family moved to the United States when he was 2 years old, according to the Rand Web site.
Mr. Baran received many accolades late in life for his pioneering work, but he was eager to widely distribute the credit.
“The process of technological developments is like building a cathedral,” he told the Times in a 1990 interview. “Over the course of several hundred years, new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations, each saying, I built a cathedral. . . . If you are not careful you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part.”
Mr. Baran’s wife since 1955, Evelyn, died in 2007.
Survivors include his son and three grandchildren.