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Lawrence Roberts (scientist)

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Lawrence Roberts
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

Larry Roberts (December 21, 1937 – December 26, 2018) was an American computer scientist and Internet pioneer.

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 engineer Paul Baran.[4][5] The ARPANET's principal designer was Bob Kahn who worked at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN). Roberts asked Leonard Kleinrock to apply mathematical methods to model and measure the performance of the network, which was a predecessor to the modern Internet.

Roberts later was CEO of the commercial packet-switching network Telenet, the first public data network in North America.

Early life and education[edit]

Lawrence Gilman Roberts, who was known as Larry, was born and raised in Westport, Connecticut.[6] 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.[7]

Roberts attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he received his bachelor's degree (1959), master's degree (1960), and Ph.D. (1963),[8] all in electrical engineering.[7] Due to his Ph.D. thesis "Machine Perception of Three-Dimensional Solids"[8] he is known as the father of computer vision.[9][10]



After receiving his PhD, Roberts continued to work at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.[7] 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. Roberts met Paul Baran in February 1967, but did not discuss networks.[12][13] He asked Frank Westervelt to explore the initial design questions for a network.[14] Roberts prepared a proposal that all host computers would connect to one another directly.[15] 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.[14][16]

At the Symposium on Operating System Principles that year, Roberts presented the plan based on Clark's message switching proposal.[17][18][19] 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.[20][21] Roberts applied Davies's concepts of packet switching for the ARPANET, and sought input from Paul Baran.[22][23][24][25]

Roberts' plan for the ARPANET was the first wide area packet-switching network with distributed control, similar to Donald Davies' 1965 design.[26] 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.[11] Roberts managed its implementation and contracted with Leonard Kleinrock in 1968 to carry out mathematical modelling of the packet-switched network's performance.[27] 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.[28] 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 Roberts' proposal to connect his research group at University College London (UCL) instead. UCL provided interconnection with British academic networks, forming the first international resource sharing network.[29] 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.[30]

In early 1973, Roberts predicted the network would run out of capacity in nine months. In practice, it was found that the time-sharing host computers ran out of capacity before the network did.[31]


In 1973, Roberts left ARPA to join BBN's effort to commercialize the nascent packet-switching technology in the form of Telenet,[32] the first FCC-licensed public data network in the United States. He was 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.[33][34] 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.[35] Roberts promoted this approach over the datagram approach in TCP/IP being pursued by ARPA, which he described as "oversold" in 1978.[11]

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.[36]

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.[37]

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.[38]

Since September 2012, he was CEO of Netmax in Redwood City, California.[39]

Personal life[edit]

Roberts married and divorced four times. At the time of his death, his partner was physician Tedde Rinker.[6] Roberts died at his California home from a heart attack on December 26, 2018.[6][40]

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."[41]
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering (1978)[42]
  • L.M. Ericsson Prize (1982) in Sweden[42]
  • Computer Design Hall of Fame Award (1982)[42]
  • IEEE W. Wallace McDowell Award (1990), "For architecting packet switching technology and bringing it into practical use by means of the ARPA network."[42][43]
  • Association for Computing Machinery SIGCOMM Award (1998), for "visionary contributions and advanced technology development of computer communication networks".[42][44]
  • IEEE Internet Award (2000) For "early, preeminent contributions in conceiving, analyzing and demonstrating packet-switching networks, the foundation technology of the Internet."[42][45]
  • International Engineering Consortium Fellow Award (2001)[42]
  • National Academy of Engineering Charles Stark Draper Prize (2001), "for the development of the Internet" [46][47]
  • 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."[48]
  • 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."[49]
  • In 2012, Roberts was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame by the Internet Society.[50]

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. Archived from the original on April 2, 2013. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  4. ^ Abbate, Jane (1999). Inventing the Internet. MIT Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0262261333. The manager of the ARPANET project, Lawrence Roberts, assembled a large team of computer scientists ... and he drew on the ideas of network experimenters in the United States and the United Kingdom.
  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. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b c Josh McHugh (May 2001). "The n -Dimensional Superswitch". Wired. Wired Magazine.
  8. ^ a b Roberts, Lawrence Gillman. "Machine Perception of Three-Dimensional Solids" (PDF). Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  9. ^ Mayor, Dana (January 4, 2021). "Larry Roberts - Complete Biography, History and Inventions". History-Computer. Retrieved June 21, 2024.
  10. ^ "Seminar about Computer Vision".
  11. ^ a b c Roberts 1978.
  12. ^ Waldrop, M. Mitchell (2018). The Dream Machine. Stripe Press. pp. 285–6. ISBN 978-1-953953-36-0. Oops. Roberts knew Baran slightly and had in fact had lunch with him during a visit to RAND the previous February. But he certainly didn't remember any discussion of networks. How could he have missed something like that?
  13. ^ O'Neill, Judy (March 5, 1990). "An Interview with PAUL BARAN" (PDF). p. 37. On Tuesday, 28 February 1967 I find a notation on my calendar for 12:00 noon Dr. L. Roberts.
  14. ^ a b Pelkey, James. "4.7 Planning the ARPANET: 1967-1968 in Chapter 4 - Networking: Vision and Packet Switching 1959 - 1968". The History of Computer Communications. Archived from the original on December 23, 2022. Retrieved May 9, 2023.
  15. ^ Press, Gil (January 2, 2015). "A Very Short History Of The Internet And The Web". Forbes. Archived from the original on January 9, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2020. Roberts' proposal that all host computers would connect to one another directly ... was not endorsed ... Wesley Clark ... suggested to Roberts that the network be managed by identical small computers, each attached to a host computer. Accepting the idea, Roberts named the small computers dedicated to network administration 'Interface Message Processors' (IMPs), which later evolved into today's routers.
  16. ^ "SRI Project 5890-1; Networking (Reports on Meetings).[1967]". web.stanford.edu. Archived from the original on February 2, 2020. Retrieved February 15, 2020. W. Clark's message switching proposal (appended to Taylor's letter of April 24, 1967 to Engelbart)were reviewed.
  17. ^ Naughton, John (2015). A Brief History of the Future: The origins of the Internet. Hachette. ISBN 978-1474602778. they lacked one vital ingredient. Since none of them had heard of Paul Baran they had no serious idea of how to make the system work. And it took an English outfit to tell them. ... Larry Roberts paper was the first public presentation of the ARPANET concept as conceived with the aid of Wesley Clark ... Looking at it now, Roberts paper seems extraordinarily, well, vague.
  18. ^ Tanenbaum, Andrew S.; Wetherall, David (2011). Computer networks (PDF) (5th ed.). Boston Amsterdam: Prentice Hall. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-13-212695-3. Roberts bought the idea and presented a some what vague paper about it at the ACM SIGOPS Symposium on Operating System Principles held in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in late 1967
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ Hafner, Katie; Lyon, Matthew (1996). Where wizards stay up late: the origins of the Internet. Internet Archive. Simon & Schuster. pp. 76–78. ISBN 978-0-684-81201-4. Roger Scantlebury ... from Donald Davies' team ... presented a detailed design study for a packet switched network. It was the first Roberts had heard of it. ... Roberts also learned from Scantlebury, for the first time, of the work that had been done by Paul Baran at RAND a few years earlier.
  21. ^ Trevor Harris, University of Wales (2009). "Who is the Father of the Internet?". Variety in Mass Communication Research. Archived from the original on October 10, 2021. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  22. ^ Abbate, Jane (2000). Inventing the Internet. MIT Press. pp. 37–8, 58–9. ISBN 978-0262261333. The NPL group influenced a number of American computer scientists in favor of the new technique, and they adopted Davies's term "packet switching" to refer to this type of network. Roberts also adopted some specific aspects of the NPL design.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "Shapiro: Computer Network Meeting of October 9–10, 1967". stanford.edu. Archived from the original on June 27, 2015.
  26. ^ Roberts 1978 "In nearly all respects, Davies’ original proposal, developed in late 1965, was similar to the actual networks being built today."
  27. ^ Abbate, Jane (2000). Inventing the Internet. MIT Press. pp. 37–8, 58–9. ISBN 0262261332.
  28. ^ "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.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Roberts 1978
  31. ^ Heart, F.; McKenzie, A.; McQuillian, J.; Walden, D. (January 4, 1978). Arpanet Completion Report (PDF) (Technical report). Burlington, MA: Bolt, Beranek and Newman.
  32. ^ Otis Port (September 27, 2004). "Larry Roberts:He made the Net Work". Business Week. Archived from the original on September 22, 2004.
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ Enterprise, I. D. G. (March 14, 1983). Computerworld. IDG Enterprise. p. 71.
  37. ^ Bobby White (October 2, 2007). "Its Creators Call Internet Outdated, Offer Remedies". The Wall Street Journal.
  38. ^ "Management Team". Anagan web site. Archived from the original on May 1, 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
  39. ^ Fang, Bingxing (2018). Cyberspace Sovereignty: Reflections on building a community of common future in cyberspace. Springer Nature. p. 154. ISBN 978-9811303203.
  40. ^ "Dr. Larry Roberts, Internet Pioneer, is dead". On my Om. December 29, 2018.
  41. ^ "Harry H. Goode Memorial Award". Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. April 4, 2018. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  42. ^ a b c d e f g "Brief Summary of Recipients' Careers". NEC. November 17, 2005.
  43. ^ "W. Wallace McDowell Award". IEEE. Archived from the original on November 7, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2008.
  44. ^ "SIGCOMM Awards". ACM SIGCOMM.
  45. ^ "IEEE Internet Award Recipients". IEEE.
  46. ^ "Lawrence G. Roberts Lawrence G. Roberts – Draper Award". NAE Website. Retrieved September 10, 2017.
  47. ^ "Draper Prize Honors Four 'Fathers of the Internet'". Wall Street Journal. February 12, 2001. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  48. ^ "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.
  49. ^ "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.
  50. ^ 2012 Inductees Archived December 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Internet Hall of Fame website. Last accessed April 24, 2012


External links[edit]