Paul Baran. The history of the Internet cannot be told without mention of his name. I remember reading him while still in grad school.
I was reminded of what he wrote about information utilities when engaging in debates about cloud computing in recent times. In my book, if you can have readers think about what you wrote 30 years down the road in relation to contemporary debates, you made an impact as a scholar.
But of course, that is small potatoes. He has the Internet as a memorial:
In the early 1960s, while working at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., Mr. Baran outlined the fundamentals for packaging data into discrete bundles, which he called “message blocks.” The bundles are then sent on various paths around a network and reassembled at their destination. Such a plan is known as “packet switching.”
Mr. Baran’s idea was to build a distributed communications network, less vulnerable to attack or disruption than conventional networks. In a series of technical papers published in the 1960s he suggested that networks be designed with redundant routes so that if a particular path failed or was destroyed, messages could still be delivered through another.
Mr. Baran’s invention was so far ahead of its time that in the mid-1960s, when he approached AT&T with the idea to build his proposed network, the company insisted it would not work and refused.
“Paul wasn’t afraid to go in directions counter to what everyone else thought was the right or only thing to do,” said Vinton Cerf, a vice president at Google who was a colleague and longtime friend of Mr. Baran’s. “AT&T repeatedly said his idea wouldn’t work, and wouldn’t participate in the Arpanet project,” he said.
And the fact that AT&T gave him the stiff arm which could not stop him makes him a hero.