Would we be blogging without him?

Paul Baran, who, as an engineer working for the Rand corporation in America, was one of the pioneers of the data networks that developed into the Internet, died recently.  There are different stories about the development of this technology in Britain and the US, and the (British) obituarist writing in the Guardian is careful to position Baran as one of two pioneers who came up with similar ideas concurrently.  The other pioneer was Donald Davies, and it is correctly pointed out that Davies was working in the high-tech centre of Teddington, and that he is usually credited with the invention of the term ‘packet-switching’.  Apparently Davies and Baran came up with rather similar ideas quite independently, and in different countries, but at about the same time.

This pattern, suggesting that when technology reaches a certain level, several people simultaneously will come up with similar ways to exploit it, has been replicated elsewhere.  One notable example, recorded by Simon Singh in the Code Book, also covered British and American scientists coming up with similar ideas at the same time – he discovered a close overlap between work carried out by American cryptographers on public key encryption (the technology that you use every time you use a secure website) and work being done in secret at GCHQ in Cheltenham.

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