Lawrence Roberts (scientist)

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Lawrence Roberts
Larry Roberts.jpg
Roberts in 2017
Lawrence Gilman Roberts

(1937-12-21)December 21, 1937
DiedDecember 26, 2018(2018-12-26) (aged 81)
Alma materMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Known forARPANET, founding father of the Internet
Scientific career
InstitutionsLincoln Lab, ARPA, Telenet
InfluencesJ. C. R. Licklider, Ivan Sutherland

Lawrence Gilman Roberts (December 21, 1937 – December 26, 2018) was an American engineer who received the Draper Prize in 2001 "for the development of the Internet",[4] and the Principe de Asturias Award in 2002.

As a program manager and later office director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Roberts and his team created the ARPANET using packet switching techniques invented by British computer scientist Donald Davies and American Paul Baran.[5][6][7] The ARPANET, which was built by the Massachusetts-based company Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), was a predecessor to the modern Internet. He asked Leonard Kleinrock to apply mathematical models to simulate the performance of the network. Roberts later served as CEO of the commercial packet-switching network Telenet.

Early life and education[edit]

Roberts, who was known as Larry, was born and raised in Westport, Connecticut.[8] He was the son of Elizabeth (Gilman) and Elliott John Roberts, both of whom had doctorates in chemistry. It is said that during his youth, he built a Tesla coil, assembled a television, and designed a telephone network built from transistors for his parents' Girl Scout camp.[9]

Roberts attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he received his bachelor's degree (1959), master's degree (1960), and Ph.D. (1963),[10] all in electrical engineering.[9] His Ph.D. thesis "Machine Perception of Three-Dimensional Solids"[10] was in the field of computer vision.



After receiving his PhD, Roberts continued to work at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.[9] Having read the seminal 1961 paper of the "Intergalactic Computer Network" by J. C. R. Licklider, Roberts developed a research interest in time-sharing using computer networks.[11]


In 1967, although at first reluctant, he was recruited by Robert Taylor in the ARPA Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) to become the program manager for the ARPANET. He asked Frank Westervelt to explore the initial design questions for a network.[12] Roberts prepared a proposal that all host computers would connect to one another directly. Taylor and Wesley Clark disagreed with this design and Clark suggested the use of dedicated computers to create a message switching network, which were later called Interface Message Processors.[12][13]

At the Symposium on Operating System Principles that year, Roberts presented the plan based on Clark's message switching proposal.[14][15] There he met a member of Donald Davies's team (Roger Scantlebury) who presented their research on packet switching and suggested it for use in the ARPANET.[16][17] Roberts applied Davies's concepts of packet switching for the ARPANET, and sought input from Paul Baran.[18][19][20]

Roberts' plan for the ARPANET was the first wide area packet-switching network with distributed control, similar to Donald Davies' 1965 design.[21] ARPA issued a request for quotation (RFQ) to build the system, which was awarded to Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN). Significant aspects of the networks's operation including routing, flow control, software design and network control were developed by the BBN IMP team, which included Bob Kahn.[22] Roberts managed its implementation and contracted with Leonard Kleinrock in 1968 to carry out mathematical modelling of the packet-switched network's performance.[23] Roberts engaged Howard Frank to consult on the topological design of the network. Frank made recommendations to increase throughput and reduce costs in a scaled-up network.[24] When Robert Taylor was sent to Vietnam in 1969 and then resigned, Roberts became director of the IPTO.

In 1970, he proposed to NPL's Donald Davies that the two organizations connect their networks via a satellite link. This original proposal proved infeasible, but in 1971 Peter Kirstein agreed to connect his research group at University College London (UCL) instead,[25] which was later interconnected with the NPL network. Roberts proposed in 1973 that it would be possible to use a satellite's 64 kilobit/second link as a medium shared by multiple satellite earth stations within the beam's footprint. This was implemented later by Bob Kahn, and resulted in SATNET.

The Purdy Polynomial hash algorithm was developed for the ARPANET to protect passwords in 1971 at the request of Roberts.

Roberts approached AT&T in the early 1970s about taking over the ARPANET to offer a public packet switched service but they declined.[26]


In 1973, Roberts left ARPA to join BBN's effort to commercialize the nascent packet-switching technology in the form of Telenet,[27] the first FCC-licensed public data network in the United States. He served as its CEO from 1973 to 1980. Roberts joined the international effort to standardize a protocol for packet switching based on virtual circuits shortly before it was finalized.[28][29] Telenet converted to the X.25 protocol, which was adopted by PTTs across North America and Europe for public data networks in the mid-late 1970s.[30] Roberts promoted this approach over the datagram approach in TCP/IP being pursued by ARPA, which he described as "oversold" in 1978.[22]

Later career[edit]

In 1983 he joined DHL Corporation as President. At the time, he predicted bandwidths would go down driven by voice compression technology.[31]

He was CEO of NetExpress, an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) equipment company, from 1983 to 1993. Roberts was president of ATM Systems from 1993 to 1998. He was chairman and CTO of Caspian Networks, but left in early 2004; Caspian ceased operation in late 2006.[32]

As of 2011, Roberts was the founder and chairman of Anagran Inc. Anagran continues work in the same area as Caspian: IP flow management with improved quality of service for the Internet.[33]

Since September 2012, he was CEO of Netmax in Redwood City, California.[34]

Personal life[edit]

Roberts married and divorced four times. At the time of his death, his partner was physician Tedde Rinker.[8] Roberts died at his California home from a heart attack on December 26, 2018.[8][35]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • IEEE Harry H. Goode Memorial Award (1976 ), "In recognition of his contributions to the architectural design of computer-communication systems, his leadership in creating a fertile research environment leading to advances in computer and satellite communications techniques, his role in the establishment of standard international communication protocols and procedures, and his accomplishments in development and demonstration of packet switching technology and the ensuing networks which grew out of this work."[36]
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering (1978)[37]
  • L.M. Ericsson Prize (1982) in Sweden[37]
  • Computer Design Hall of Fame Award (1982)[37]
  • IEEE W. Wallace McDowell Award (1990), "For architecting packet switching technology and bringing it into practical use by means of the ARPA network."[37][38]
  • Association for Computing Machinery SIGCOMM Award (1998), for "visionary contributions and advanced technology development of computer communication networks".[37][39]
  • IEEE Internet Award (2000) For "early, preeminent contributions in conceiving, analyzing and demonstrating packet-switching networks, the foundation technology of the Internet."[37][40]
  • International Engineering Consortium Fellow Award (2001)[37]
  • National Academy of Engineering Charles Stark Draper Prize (2001), "for the development of the Internet" [41]
  • Principe de Asturias Award 2002 in Spain "for designing and implementing a system that is changing the world by providing previously unthought of opportunities for social and scientific progress."[42]
  • NEC C&C Award (2005) in Japan "For Contributions to Establishing the Foundation of Today's Internet Technology through ... the Design and Development of ARPANET and Other Early Computer Networks that were Part of the Initial Internet."[43]
  • In 2012, Roberts was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame by the Internet Society.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lawrence Gilman Roberts" (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). World of Computer Science. Gale. 2006. Gale Document Number GALE|K2424100099. Retrieved January 16, 2013. Gale Biography In Context (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Big achievements included room-size computers". MIT News. May 21, 2003. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  3. ^ "Lawrence G. Roberts: 1990 W. Wallace McDowell Award Recipient". IEEE Computer Society. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  4. ^ "Draper Prize Honors Four 'Fathers of the Internet'". Wall Street Journal. February 12, 2001. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  5. ^ "A Flaw In The Design". The Washington Post. May 30, 2015. Historians credit seminal insights to Welsh scientist Donald W. Davies and American engineer Paul Baran
  6. ^ "Donald W. Davies, 75, Dies; Helped Refine Data Networks". New York Times. June 4, 2000. Retrieved September 4, 2017.
  7. ^ Abbate, Jane (2000). Inventing the Internet. MIT Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0262261333.
  8. ^ a b c Hafner, Katie (December 30, 2018). "Lawrence Roberts, Who Helped Design Internet's Precursor, Dies of a heart attack at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c Josh McHugh (May 2001). "The n -Dimensional Superswitch". Wired. Wired Magazine.
  10. ^ a b Roberts, Lawrence Gillman. "Machine Perception of Three-Dimensional Solids" (PDF). Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  11. ^ Roberts 1978.
  12. ^ a b "Planning the ARPANET: 1967-1968" in Chapter 2 on Networking: Vision and Packet Switching 1959-1968 Intergalactic Vision to Arpanet, Entrepreneurial Capitalism and Innovation: A History of Computer Communications 1968-1988, James Pelkey, 2007
  13. ^ Press, Gil. "A Very Short History Of The Internet And The Web". Forbes. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  14. ^ "SRI Project 5890-1; Networking (Reports on Meetings).[1967]". Retrieved February 15, 2020. W. Clark's message switching proposal (appended to Taylor's letter of April 24, 1967 to Engelbart)were reviewed.
  15. ^ Roberts, Lawrence (1967). "Multiple computer networks and intercomputer communication" (PDF). Multiple Computer Networks and Intercomputer Communications. pp. 3.1–3.6. doi:10.1145/800001.811680. S2CID 17409102. Thus the set of IMP's, plus the telephone lines and data sets would constitute a message switching network
  16. ^ Gillies, James; Cailliau, Robert (2000). How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web. Oxford University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0192862075.
  17. ^ Trevor Harris, University of Wales (2009). "Who is the Father of the Internet?". Variety in Mass Communication Research.
  18. ^ Isaacson, Walter (2014). The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. Simon and Schuster. pp. 237–246. ISBN 9781476708690.
  19. ^ Katie Hefner (November 8, 2001), "A Paternity Dispute Divides Net Pioneers", New York Times; Robert Taylor (November 22, 2001), "Birthing the Internet: Letters From the Delivery Room; Disputing a Claim", New York Times, Authors who have interviewed dozens of Arpanet pioneers know very well that the Kleinrock-Roberts claims are not believed.
  20. ^ Scantlebury, Roger (June 25, 2013). "Internet pioneers airbrushed from history". The Guardian. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  21. ^ Roberts 1978 "In nearly all respects, Davies’ original proposal, developed in late 1965, was similar to the actual networks being built today."
  22. ^ a b "The Evolution of Packet Switching" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 3, 2020.
  23. ^ Abbate, Jane (2000). Inventing the Internet. MIT Press. pp. 37–8, 58–9. ISBN 0262261332.
  24. ^ "Howard Frank Looks Back on His Role as an ARPAnet Designer". Internet Hall of Fame. April 25, 2016. Archived from the original on March 21, 2020. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  25. ^ Kirstein, P.T. (1999). "Early experiences with the Arpanet and Internet in the United Kingdom" (PDF). IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 21 (1): 38–44. doi:10.1109/85.759368. ISSN 1934-1547. S2CID 1558618. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 7, 2020.
  26. ^ Roberts 1978
  27. ^ Otis Port (September 27, 2004). "Larry Roberts:He made the Net Work". Business Week.
  28. ^ Despres, Remi (2010). "X.25 Virtual Circuits - TRANSPAC in France - Pre-Internet Data Networking". IEEE Communications Magazine. 48 (11): 40–46. doi:10.1109/MCOM.2010.5621965. ISSN 1558-1896. S2CID 23639680.
  29. ^ Rybczynski, Tony (2009). "Commercialization of packet switching (1975-1985): A Canadian perspective [History of Communications]". IEEE Communications Magazine. 47 (12): 26–31. doi:10.1109/MCOM.2009.5350364. ISSN 1558-1896. S2CID 23243636.
  30. ^ Mathison, Stuart L.; Roberts, Lawrence G.; Walker, Philip M. (2012). "The history of telenet and the commercialization of packet switching in the U.S.". IEEE Communications Magazine. 50 (5): 28–45. doi:10.1109/MCOM.2012.6194380. ISSN 1558-1896. S2CID 206453987.
  31. ^ Enterprise, I. D. G. (March 14, 1983). Computerworld. IDG Enterprise. p. 71.
  32. ^ Bobby White (October 2, 2007). "Its Creators Call Internet Outdated, Offer Remedies". The Wall Street Journal.
  33. ^ "Management Team". Anagan web site. Archived from the original on May 1, 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
  34. ^ Fang, Bingxing (2018). Cyberspace Sovereignty: Reflections on building a community of common future in cyberspace. Springer Nature. p. 154. ISBN 978-9811303203.
  35. ^ "Dr. Larry Roberts, Internet Pioneer, is dead". On my Om. December 29, 2018.
  36. ^ "Harry H. Goode Memorial Award". Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g "Brief Summary of Recipients' Careers". NEC. November 17, 2005.
  38. ^ "W. Wallace McDowell Award". IEEE.
  39. ^ "SIGCOMM Awards". ACM SIGCOMM.
  40. ^ "IEEE Internet Award Recipients". IEEE.
  41. ^ "Lawrence G. Roberts Lawrence G. Roberts – Draper Award". NAE Website. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  42. ^ "The Internet is one of the most eloquent examples of the benefits that accrue from scientific research and a commitment to technological innovation. A myriad of people and institutions were involved in this work. The jury wishes to acknowledge them all in awarding the prize to the four leaders of so extraordinary a development."José Luis Álvarez Margaride; Ernesto Carmona Guzmán; et al. (May 23, 2002). "Minutes of the Jury – Technical and Scientific Research 2002". Fundación Príncipe de Asturias. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  43. ^ "The great success and popularity of the Internet are due to the efforts of a great many people, but it was the three members of Group B who truly created the technological foundation for its success ... Dr. Roberts, at ARPA, was responsible for creating the first computer network, the ARPANET, and for its architecture and overall management." "Foundation for C&C Promotion Announces Recipients of 2005 C&C Prize – Mr. Kei-ichi Enoki, Mr. Takeshi Natsuno, Ms. Mari Matsunaga, Dr. Robert E. Kahn, Dr. Lawrence G. Roberts, & Professor Leonard Kleinrock". NEC. November 17, 2005.
  44. ^ 2012 Inductees, Internet Hall of Fame website. Last accessed April 24, 2012


External links[edit]