Robert Kahn

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Affiliation: CNRI
Country: USA

Robert E. Kahn is the co-inventor of the TCP/IP system that established the architectural basis of the Internet. He worked with Vinton Cerf to write the famous paper, "A Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection".[1]

Dr. Kahn is the Founder, Chairman, CEO, and President of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives;[2] his work with DARPA and the CNRI constituted the largest computer research and development program ever undertaken by the federal government.[3]

The Beginning

Dr. Kahn first met Dr. Cerf at UCLA in 1969, after the ARPANET nodes had been nationally distributed. At that time, he was working at an engineering firm in Cambridge, Mass., and travelled to UCLA to experiment with the new network. While at Bolt Beranek and Newman in Cambridge, Mr. Kahn helped build the Interface Message Processor.[4]

By the time they published their famous paper, in 1973, Vinton was a professor at Stanford, and Robert was working within the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, the founders of the ARPANET. They did not claim their protocols as intellectual property, and thus it was able to flourish as an open standard.[5]

In 1972, while working at DARPA, he gave a presentation of the an ARPANET network, connecting 40 different computers at the International Computer Communication Conference. This was the first time that much of the computing world, and the general population were introduced to the revolutionary network.[6]

Robert Kahn has rejected any type of "Father of the Internet" label, saying that today's Internet was created through a community effort.[7]


While working at DARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office Kahn took up work on a current project to establish a satellite packet network, and began a project on creating a ground-based radio packet network. Through his work in these projects he became aware of the need for an open-architecture network; wherein any network could communicate with any other individual hardware and software configuration. He created four goals for what was to the Transmission Control Protocol:

  1. Network Connectivity - any network could connect through another via a gateway
  2. Distribution - No central hub or control
  3. Error Recovery - Lost packets would need to be retransmitted
  4. Black Box Design - No internal changes would be necessary to facilitate new networks

Less than a year later, in 1973, Vinton Cerf joined the project. They began by researching reliable data communications across packet radio networks, accounted for lessons learned from the Networking Control Protocol, and subsequently created the next generation Transmission Control Protocol, which was to become the standard protocol continually used on the Internet.

They designed powerful error and retransmission capabilities into TCP in order to provide more reliable communications; the design was thus formed around two protocols, TCP/IP. TCP is in charge of handling high level services, like the retransmission of lost packets, and IP addresses and transmits packets.[8]

Contemporary Work

In 2007, Robert strongly came out against Net Neutrality legislation; this type of legislation is largely opposed by prominent Internet engineers. Dr. kahn fears that discouraging experimentation on the fringes of the net's architecture will compromise the development of the still "very fragile" Internet. He calls the neutrality issue a bigger threat to the health of the Internet than possible fragmentation.[9]

Robert is still very much working in a role focused on technological advancement and infrastructural development with the CNRI, and has welcomed renewed government interest in infrastructural R&D within the context of the economic downturn.[10]

Dr. Khan has been recently involved in Digital Object Architecture, which aimed to create a network model whose main goal was to manage information, not switch packets as in the case of the Internet. An interview wherein Robert technically parses his current work can be found here.

He has said that further developing the Internet today is akin to “changing the wings and the engines on a flying aircraft without being able to ever land it”; though he claims that the research community must take a more active role in innovating on the Internet.[11]


Career History

  • Technical Engineer, Bell Laboratories
  • Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, MIT
  • Engineer, Bolt Beranek and Newman
  • Director of Information Processing Techniques, DARPA
  • Founder, Chairman, CEO and President, CNRI[15]

Awards and Recognition

Robert, along with Vinton Cerf, recieved the 2004 ACM Turing Award. When they received the prize it was the first time in the 39 year history of the award that it was conferred in honor of work done on computer networking.

In 1997, Robert received the National Medal of Technology. That year he and Vinton also received the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal.[16] He shared the 2001 Charles Stark Draper Prize with other important pioneers of the early Internet networking system.[17]

Prof. Kahn is a two-time recipient Secretary of Defense Civilian Service Award; and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Other awards include:

  • AFIPS Harry Goode Memorial Award
  • The Marconi Award
  • ACM President's Award
  • IEEE Koji Kobayashi Computer and Communications Award
  • IEEE Third Millennium Medal
  • ACM Software Systems Award
  • Computerworld/Smithsonian Award
  • Computing Research Board ASIS Special Award
  • Computing Research Board Public Service Award
  • 2002 Prince of Asturias Award
  • 2003 Digital ID World award for the Digital Object Architecture
  • 2005, Townsend Harris Medal from the Alumni Association of the City College of New York
  • C & C Prize in Tokyo, Japan
  • 2006 Inductee, National Inventors Hall of Fame
  • 2008 Japan Prize for his work in ICT Theory
  • 2010 Harold Pender Award from the University of Pennsylvania

Honorary Degrees

He has received honorary degrees from the following institutions:

  • Princeton University
  • University of Pavia
  • ETH Zurich
  • University of Maryland
  • George Mason University
  • The University of Central Florida
  • University of Pisa, and an
  • Honorary Fellow, University College[18]


  • B.E.E, City College of NYC, 1960
  • M.A., Princeton University, 1962
  • Pd.D., Princeton University, 1964