Robert E. Kahn

Corporation for National Research Initiatives

Primary Section: 34, Computer and Information Sciences
Secondary Section: 31, Engineering Sciences
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2015)


Robert E. Kahn is Chairman, CEO and President of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), which he founded in 1986 after a thirteen year term at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). After receiving a BEE from the City College of New York in 1960, Dr. Kahn earned MA and PhD degrees from Princeton University in 1962 and 1964 respectively. He worked on the Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories and then became an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT. In 1966, he took a leave of absence from MIT to join Bolt Beranek & Newman (BBN), where he was responsible for the system design of ARPANET, the pioneering packet switched computer network. In 1972, he moved to DARPA and subsequently became Director of DARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO). While Director of IPTO he initiated the United States government's billion dollar Strategic Computing Program, the largest computer research and development program ever undertaken by the federal government. Dr. Kahn conceived the idea of open-architecture networking. He is a co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocols and was responsible for originating DARPA's Internet Program. More recently, he has been involved in the development and deployment of the Digital Object Architecture, an open architecture for managing information in the Internet. Dr. Kahn has received numerous honorary degrees and fellowships. He has twice received the Secretary of Defense Civilian Service Award. He is a recipient of the 1997 National Medal of Technology, the 2001 Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering, the 2002 Prince of Asturias Award, and the 2004 A. M. Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. In 2005, he was awarded the Townsend Harris Medal from the Alumni Association of the City College of New York, the 2004 Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the C & C Prize in Tokyo, Japan. His was the recipient of the Japan Prize in 2008 and is one of the inaugural winners of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in 2013.

Research Interests

Dr. Kahn is best known for his work on computer networking. He was responsible for the system design of ARPANET, the pioneering packet switched network, and for initiating DARPA’s internetworking program that led to the Internet. He was a co-inventor, along with Vinton Cerf, of the TCP/IP protocol that enables computers and networks to inter-communicate. Under Dr. Kahn’s leadership at DARPA, two other packet network efforts were created – packet radio, which is a forerunner of today’s CDMA type cellular networks, and SATNET, an Ethernet-like capability that used a single channel on Intelsat IV to link research networks in the United States and Europe.  He started the packet voice program at DARPA, which demonstrated and validated the use of packet networks to communicate real-time signals, which was a forerunner to today’s VOIP technology in widespread use today for speech communication. In addition to networking, his current interests focus on evolving the Internet to enable information to be managed effectively on a global basis using unique identifiers, and to enable heterogeneous information systems to work together with a focus on security and persistence as well as interoperability.

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