Arpanet designer Larry Roberts dies at 81

Lawrence G. Roberts, the man whose work would eventually allow us to send each other cat GIFs and get into arguments in comments sections, has died of a heart attack in his California home. Roberts was a major force behind Arpanet, the direct precursor to the internet. He was 81.

Lawrence "Larry" Roberts. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1960s, Roberts was a manager at the United States' Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA, where he guided the development of Arpanet. Although he worked primarily as a program manager, many of the decisions he made form the basis of the internet as we know it. Roberts made the decision, for example, to use packet switching, which breaks data down into smaller chunks for transmission across a distributed network. This is the basis upon which all network communication is built even today.

From Arpanet sprung many of the concepts that still power the internet, such as electronic mail and FTP. The network even had a primitive voice protocol that was never put into use. Roberts wrote the very first email, according to an interview he gave (transcribed to his personal site, Packet.cc) in 1996 with Silicon Valley Radio, back when there was a question about whether electronic mail without U.S. postage would even be legal. In the same interview, Roberts noted that at the time, the idea of a distributed network was one that even other computer scientists found difficult to get on board with. This is not to mention the resistance he faced from telecom companies who had a vested interest in communication staying a primarily voice-driven thing.

After leaving Arpanet in 1973, the MIT grad would go on to found or co-found a series of companies built upon computer networking, including Telenet, NetExpress, and Anagran. The New York Times notes that Roberts is survived by his partner Dr. Tedde Rinker, his son Pasha, and two sisters.

Comments closed
    • ermo
    • 11 months ago

    Telecom companies *still* have a problem with the idea of the internet being a network where packets are routed freely without their meddling.

      • rika13
      • 11 months ago

      As they should.

      We need to treat traffic differently to keep things working smoothly. Your grandma’s heart monitor should get priority over your porn.

        • DrCR
        • 11 months ago

        With your line of thinking, who gets to decide which traffic gets what priority?

          • jihadjoe
          • 11 months ago

          This is pretty much why I’m a free speech absolutist. When we begin censoring or denying platforms to people because their message ‘has no value’, it’s really hard to argue that similar ‘prioritization’ shouldn’t happen with our internet packets.

            • Spunjji
            • 11 months ago

            That argument is getting repeated a lot at the moment; unfortunately that hasn’t granted it any more validity. The two are not logically equivalent.

            For an obvious and extreme example, Nazi speech has no value because it has been thoroughly examined and found to be without merit on every possible front, from moral through scientific. Therefore we can conclusively state that there is no gain to be had from allowing it to be propagated further outside of very specific contexts, as it stands only to do harm. How does one determine that with a packet?

            • jihadjoe
            • 11 months ago

            This is venturing into R&P so I’ll try to keep it [s<]completely[/s<]mostly logical: IMO the problem is we end up having to install ourselves (or someone else) as a moral barometer that decides the value of an idea. Not to mention being incredibly "holier than thou", there are a great many ideas that were considered abhorrent and without value at the time of their inception: Galileo, acceptance of homosexuals, democracy, etc. and yet have proven themselves over time. I don't want to accidentally quash the next big ideological revolution just because it offends my current sensibilities. Also, by shutting down discussion when it comes to ideas that cut against the grain, we lose the avenues by which we can change other people's minds. Perhaps someone does subscribe to a value-less belief, but if he gets shut down (or shouted down) without any proper discussion he's only going to feel even more oppressed and marginalized. Perhaps my original analogy with ISPs and packets wasn't as good as I thought it was, but I do believe the internet equivalent of this does happen. We have China's great firewall, and certain political speech getting booted off platforms ubiquitious enough that they should be considered monopolies. IMO true net neutrality has to swing both ways. We can't say "don't throttle Netflix", while at the same time forcing Cloudflare to drop services as we DDoS webservers that host speech we don't like.

            • blastdoor
            • 11 months ago

            A relevant idea is the Popper Paradox: [url<]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance[/url<] I think the bottom line is -- the limit of tolerance must be the point at which the intolerant become a threat to tolerance. The upshot is that it's fine to tolerate the intolerant (ie, let Nazis say their stupid crap) so long at they aren't posing a real threat to other people's rights. But if we are in a context in which they are posing a serious threat to other people, then it becomes appropriate to be intolerant of their intolerance. For example, it made sense to outlaw the Nazi party and related symbols in Germany back in 1950, whereas Nazi intolerance could be tolerated in the US in the 1960s.

            • cynan
            • 11 months ago

            Not just obvious and extreme, but a complete non sequitur (not to mention intellectually lazy) example.

            So while 99.9999% might agree that everything Nazi is hateful nonsense. Does this extend to all nationalistic politics? If not, where is the line drawn? Who gets to decide? And while we’re at it, why didn’t you pick pro-communist speech as an extreme example… ensue R&P rabbit hole.

            I think the analogy is a sound one. I think society can agree on a few protected usages of packets (like the heart monitor example). Just like there are legalized limits on speech (inciting physical/sexual violence, yelling “fire”). Outside of things that cause grievous and direct personal harm that can be underwritten by our legal system (failing pacemakers and being trampled in a theater), we limit at our peril.

        • Srsly_Bro
        • 11 months ago

        What if Grandma watches porn and has a heart monitor? Does she die under your rules?

          • FranticBeaker
          • 11 months ago

          Grandma doesn’t die because now that the unnecessary regulations that limited infrastructure investment and that slowed broadband deployment have been removed, per FCC website description, Grandma will suddenly have 40 Gbps speeds and a direct neural link, for a $1 fee, from benevolent, caring, non-competitive companies climbing over each other to help her. In the space of maybe two to four days from now. You’ll see.

          • cynan
          • 11 months ago

          No, but she might have to watch in SD from HD for a while if there is bandwidth constraint, while the HR will receive its full required bandwidth.

          The real question, however, is whether it should it be up to grandma to choose which would be compromised or the telecom companies/state.

        • Sahrin
        • 11 months ago

        The hilarious thing about this post is that the things that the anti net neutrailty crowd want to do are slow down traffic, not speed it up. No packets would be served better or more reliably without net neutrality, the telecoms won’t invest any new money in ‘fast lanes’ – everything else would just go in a slow lane.

        Core Routing (the routing governed by peering networks) is always done in the most optimal fashion, *unless* the border router refuses the route due to settlement agreements (ie, paying for peering).

        Reality is literally the opposite of what you’re saying.

        • K-L-Waster
        • 11 months ago

        Obvious straw-man argument is obvious.

        What the telecoms want to do is throttle everything except their own offerings so that customers buy (for example) *their* streaming video service instead of Netflix.

        • Wirko
        • 11 months ago

        How many Mbit/s does that heart monitor need?

          • DrCR
          • 11 months ago

          All of them

        • nanoflower
        • 11 months ago

        Sending critical information like a grandma’s heart monitor over the public Internet is a horrible idea. Ignoring all the security issues there’s simple fact that delivery isn’t insured (even with TCP) as lines can be cut so that the data physically isn’t available.

          • FranticBeaker
          • 11 months ago

          Nonsense. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the “lowest possible bidder” method of cheaply constr- er, I mean, thriftily sourced and priced quality medical equipment for fiscally concerned health care providers. She’ll be fine. Probably.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 months ago

    F for respects

      • Jing
      • 11 months ago

      F

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 11 months ago

      I never understood this one.

        • Krogoth
        • 11 months ago

        It is from a forced interaction from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare where you have to pay respects to a teammate who was KIA in order to advance the game.

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 11 months ago

          That makes a lot more sense.

            • green
            • 11 months ago

            [quote<]That makes a lot more sense.[/quote<] No it doesn't. Well I guess technically yes. In that it explains where the meme comes from. But makes no sense whatsoever in why that would be part of a game. Particularly as you can't [i<]not[/i<] pay respect and continue on.

            • Krogoth
            • 11 months ago

            It is called drama and plot development. The joke comes from the fact that they took what suppose to be a somber scene and unintentionally turned into a gag by poor delivery. It also happens to be a tongue-in-cheek lash at franchise and FPS genre in general. Removing player choice and agency by forcing a scripted event. Hell, they could have an alternative take where the other characters would react differently if you didn’t do chose to pay respects.

      • Prestige Worldwide
      • 11 months ago

      F

      • Chrispy_
      • 11 months ago

      (Sorry, I’m on PS4 at the moment)

    • CuriouslySane
    • 11 months ago

    [url<]https://www.amazon.com/Where-Wizards-Stay-Up-Late/dp/0684832674[/url<] Great read for more about this unique period in computing history.

    • Delphis
    • 11 months ago

    RIP

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