Internet pioneer Robert Kahn: It was a different world back then

Robert Kahn was one of the industry titans that was awarded one of the Computer History Museum's Fellow Awards on Tuesday night (earlier this week). Kahn's resume places him squarely at ground zero of the innovation on which most of the Internet and the Web is based.

Robert Kahn was one of the industry titans that was awarded one of the Computer History Museum's Fellow Awards on Tuesday night (earlier this week). Kahn's resume places him squarely at ground zero of the innovation on which most of the Internet and the Web is based. According to the Computer History Museum's bio for Kahn:

Shortly after graduating from university, Kahn took a leave of absence from MIT where he was an Assistant Professor to join the research firm Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN). While there, he was responsible for the system design of the Arpanet, the first wide area packet-switched network. He was also a part of the BBN team developing the Interface Message Processor (IMP), a small computer that served as the Arpanet packet switch and standardized the network interface to all attached host computers.

In October 1972, he organized a demonstration of the Arpanet at the International Computer Communication Conference in Washington, D.C. He then moved to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and subsequently became Director of its Information Processing Techniques Office. Soon after arrival, he initiated the Internetting project to develop an open architecture for networking, ensuring that communications could occur in a network-independent manner.

While devising methods of ensuring reliable communications between such networks, he and Vint Cerf (CHM Fellow, 2000), developed the Internet architecture and basis for the TCP/IP protocol suite, first described publicly in May, 1974.

And that's only part of what he's accomplished. Just before the main dinner reception began on Tuesday night, I caught up with Kahn and Computer History Museum chairman Len Shustek on the red carpet to hear from Kahn if he had any idea what would happen after TCP/IP, the ARPANET and DARPANET. Said Kahn:

You have to realize that the world was very different back then. There were no perosnal computers. Very few companies had time-sharing computers. We were really investing in an idea that we thought was technically interesting and it has turned out that the world caught up and it turned out to have a much bigger impact than we ever had any reason to expect it would. We had one company in the United States that dealt with telecommunications basically and that was AT&T and this could have been a big business for them because there just wasn't a market out there at the time. But it caught up. 

Here's the under-5 minute video interview:

See also:The tech giants whose shoulders we stand on

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