June 25, 2013

I am proud to call myself a James Martin Research Fellow

James MartinToday we lost another great human. I got the sad news that James Martin had died.

I met him for the last time last week in New York, where we spoke at the GF2045 conference - he did the thunder and brimstone talk about ecocalypse, human renaissance, huge challenges and amazing technologies (and whimsically concluded by suggesting we should make penguins immortal). He was doing fine, telling me about a recent project to reduce nuclear war risk. It is shocking that he has disappeared so quickly.

I am proud to call myself a James Martin Research Fellow. It is because of the Oxford Martin School that I ended up in Oxford. It is also a major reason I have stayed: this is where truly interdisciplinary research about the Big Problems can be done. There are many problems in the world, but not all are worth solving - much of academia looks at short term career profit rather than trying to tackle the biggest, hardest and most pressing problems. James dropped by our institute regularly, prodding us with questions and eager to hear what we had achieved. That stimulated us enormously; even when we disagreed (I remember my director wincing when I contradicted him about brain emulation) it was fun and inspirational. In the interaction was worth as much as the original research seed money.

Shape the future

I think one of his final slides makes a very fitting epitaph. "We should not ask: what will the future be like, we should ask: how can we shape the future". That is his enduring legacy. He shaped the future.

Posted by Anders3 at June 25, 2013 10:52 PM