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Lawrence Roberts, Who Helped Design Internet’s Precursor, Dies at 81

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It was under Robertss leadership at ARPA that the possibilities of computer networking began to grow clear to a community beyond the core of scientists who built the Arpanet.

Lawrence Roberts, far left, with other Internet pioneers, from left, Robert Kahn, Vint Cerf, and Tim Berners-Lee, at a conference in Spain in 2002.

Credit: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

In late 1966, a 29-year-old computer scientist drew a series of abstract figures on tracing paper and a quadrille pad. Some resembled a game of cat's cradle; others looked like heavenly constellations; still others like dress patterns.

Those curious drawings were the earliest topological maps of what we now know as the internet. The doodler, Lawrence G. Roberts, died on Dec. 26 at his home in Redwood City, Calif. He was 81.

The cause was a heart attack, said his son Pasha.

As a manager at the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, Roberts designed much of the Arpanet — the Internet's precursor — and oversaw its implementation in 1969.

Roberts called upon a circle of colleagues who shared his interest in computer networking for help in creating the technical underpinnings of the Arpanet, integrating and refining many ideas for how data should flow.

Roberts was considered the decisive force behind packet switching, the technology that breaks data into discrete bundles that are then sent along various paths around a network and reassembled at their destination. He decided to use packet switching as the underlying technology of the Arpanet; it remains central to the function of the internet.

And it was Roberts's decision to build a network that distributed control of the network across multiple computers. Distributed networking remains another foundation of today's Internet.


From The New York Times
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