Sunday 3 April 2011

A Tribute to Paul Baran on BBC Radio 4

In what turned out to be an appropriate conclusion to Requiem for the Network, my series of talks for Radio 3 last week, I had an opportunity to pay tribute to the design genius of Paul Baran. Talking with Paul about his experiences at the RAND Corporation during the 1960s for my R3 feature All Your Tomorrows Today provided not only one of the highpoints of that particular show but also one of my fondest memories of working in radio to date. I am pleased to say that you can hear extracts from that original conversation intercut with my own commentary on Paul’s remarkable career in a sequence from the April 1 edition of Radio 4’s regular broadcast obituary The Last Word.

The piece sticks pretty closely to the story of Baran’s development of the distributed network, the basic conceptual architecture of the internet, but also gives some sense of the man and his relationship to the Cold War world of strategic thinking. My favourite moment in the original interview was when he revealed that his papers on distributed communication were translated into Russian so that the Soviets could have easy access to them: ‘We wanted them to have that information,’ he explained. ‘Their communication systems were even worse than ours.’ His tremendous work at the Institute for the Future, the think tank which he cofounded in 1968 with Jacques VallĂ©e and Olaf Helmer is yet to be fully assessed – but then it’s still a going concern, as my friend David Pescovitz told me in a recent conversation which we recorded together for broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM sometime later this year. Paul Baran will be greatly missed. The future may well go on without him – but it won’t be same.

The edition of The Last Word featuring Paul Baran is currently available on i-Player and can be accessed by clicking here. It also comes as a podcast and can be found here. This feature should stay up online for about a month - but you can never tell theses days.

See also:
In Memoriam: Paul Baran, 1926-2011
‘Requiem for the Network’ on BBC Radio 3

Pictured above: the Institute for the Future logo – where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.

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