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Frank Heart, Who Linked Computers Before the Internet, Dies at 89

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Frank Heart in an undated photo.

Frank Heart, the engineer who oversaw development of the first routing computer for the Arpanet, died on Sunday at a retirement community in Lexington, MA.

Credit: Rafael Fuchs

Frank Heart, who supervised development of the first routing computer for the U.S. federal government's Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (Arpanet), the precursor to the Internet, has passed away at the age of 89.

In 1969, Heart's team constructed the Interface Message Processor (IMP), a system for switching data among the computers on Arpanet.

Many of the precepts Heart's work stressed, including reliability, error resistance, and self-correction, are core to the current Internet's resiliency.

Incorporated into the IMP's design was a method for detecting and correcting errors as they occurred, which laid the groundwork for the field of remote computer diagnostics.

Heart's team rigged the IMPs for unattended operation, including the ability to restart on their own after an outage or crash.

"The first IMP was delivered on time and on budget, and when it was plugged in, not only did it start working, but it hardly needed debugging," says former team member Alex McKenzie.

From The New York Times
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