James Martin, the technology pioneer whose Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, The Wired Society, predicted the coming of the internet age, has died aged 79.
A combination of extraordinary intellect, vision and drive, he authored more than 100 books on computer technology, and later made the largest single benefaction to Oxford University in its 900-year history to found the Oxford Martin School. The school stands as his permanent legacy: a unique interdisciplinary community of more than 300 scholars working collaboratively to address the biggest challenges and opportunities faced by humankind in the 21st Century.
Born in the small mining village of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, England, in 1933, Martin won a scholarship to study physics at Oxford University, in 1950, and then started his career in information technology at IBM, installing 30 tonne computers and going on to programme the world's first international airline reservation systems.
Moving into the firm's elite Systems Research Institute in New York in the mid-1960s, he was at the forefront not only of development - he is commonly referred to as the "Father of CASE" (Computer-Aided Systems Engineering) - but of thinking regarding the implications for future computing. It was in 1977 that he wrote The Wired Society, subtitled A Challenge For Tomorrow, which contained remarkably accurate descriptions of future technologies and their impacts, predicting the widespread use of global information networks by the year 2000. Leaving IBM to go it alone, he travelled the world giving seminars and lectures on emerging technology to businesses and governments, his expertise and electrifying delivery ensuring he was in high demand.
The 1980s saw him further cement his reputation as the go-to expert for businesses, with the creation of James Martin Associates in London. The firm signed with Texas Instruments to develop the first methodology for translating business needs into system solutions, and went on to become a global leader in IT services.
From his first-hand understanding of business, and through his increasing encounters with academics and others, he became concerned about the problems facing society in the 21st century, and came to the conclusion that there needed to be more interdisciplinary thinking and research.
Seeing the issues as increasingly complex but the response from academics and policy makers as increasingly insular, his wide-ranging intellect led him to believe that thinkers needed to be encouraged out of their disciplines, and he was optimistic about what could be achieved with the right approach. He discussed with the University of Oxford the concept of a research community where broad and unusual collaborations could take place, and in 2005 made the $100 million donation that founded the Oxford Martin School. Five years later he pledged a further $50 million in a match-funding initiative to further expand the scope and scale of the school's cross-cutting research.
Today the Oxford Martin School is home to programmes on topics ranging from modelling climate change to nanotechnology, or the impacts of ageing populations to the impacts of future technologies and cybersecurity. It aims to provide an incubator for original thinking and remains unique - there is still no similar research centre anywhere else in the world, in terms of the breadth, depth and interdisciplinary academic excellence and relevance of the work undertaken.
The Oxford Martin School embodies Jim's concern for humanity, his creativity, his curiosity, and his optimism. Jim provided not only the founding vision, but was intimately involved with the School and our many programmes. We have lost a towering intellect, guiding visionary and a wonderful close friend.
~ Professor Ian Goldin, Director, Oxford Martin School
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