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Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn

Few individuals contributed more to the early history of computer communications than did Robert (Bob) Kahn. While earning his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University in 1962 and 1964, respectively, Kahn worked as a member of the technical staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories (Bell Labs). After graduating, he joined the faculty at MIT. In the fall of 1966, Kahn took a leave of absence to work at Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN). His interest in networking led to a key role as a member of the BBN team that won the contract let by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to build Arpanet. Soon after the initial public demonstration of Arpanet in 1972, Kahn left BBN to work within ARPA to begin planning the world’s first packet radio network. Then in 1974, Kahn and Vinton (Vint) Cerf co-authored the seminal paper: “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication.” It set forth the initial design of TCP – Transmission Control Protocol. In 1986, Kahn left DARPA and founded the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) to provide leadership and funding for research and development of the National Information Infrastructure.

From the very first conversations I had with Paul Baran regarding this project, he counseled that it was imperative that I interview certain individuals, Robert Kahn among them. Of course it didn’t hurt that Paul offered to introduce me and recommend they sit for an interview. Paul called that day and arranged interviews with Kahn and Cerf for the next week at CNRI. On arriving I was informed that Kahn had an emergency that precluded talking with me that day but wanted to schedule another time. I followed through with Cerf, and would later wish that I had even more time to prepare, for both men were especially helpful. (I had to cut the Cerf conversation short for suddenly we were blanketed in a serious snowstorm.) I recommend any reader interested in the history of these events excuse my abilities and enjoy the contributions of an exceptional individual and a most gracious Bob Kahn. This conversation had a wonderful influence on my ideas of how to organize this book and my commitment to see it through.

Keywords: Bell Labs, MIT, BBN, packet radio network, Arpanet, TCP/IP, CNRI

Robert Kahn Interviewed by James Pelkey 2/22/88