An Obituary to the great James Martin

But he was far from believing the future would be trouble-free. He poured his wealth into philanthropic endeavors to safeguard mankind’s future in the face of potential disasters from food shortages to mass atrocities.

In doing so he became the largest individual benefactor to Oxford University with a donation of £60 million in 2005. His endowment founded the Oxford Martin School, a research school devoted to tackling the challenges of the 21st century such as climate change and vaccine development.

His donation also led to the creation of the Future of Humanity Institute at the university; his vision was to find ways around society’s problems using a multidisciplinary approach.

He later announced that for a year he would match £36 million of funding from other benefactors who pledged significant sums to the Oxford Martin School. His plan was a success and drew support from donors including the financier George Soros.

In addition to funding a chair in computer science at Oxford University, Martin founded the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society in 2003, which later became part of his School.

Martin’s expertise in new technologies had led him to become an adviser to the US Department of Defence in the 1990s and in 1992 he was ranked fourth in Computerworld’s list of the top 25 people to have influenced computer science. But it was his 1977 book The Wired Society: A Challenge for Tomorrow that brought him to prominence, earning him a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. “When I wrote The Wired Society in the mid-1970s there were no personal computers, and the internet was little more than an idea about how large computers could be interlinked,” Martin said in 2004. “Some 25 years later it was hailed as an astonishingly accurate forecast of a world using the global internet.”

Martin wrote further popular works including Technology’s Crucible (1987), which contained a premonition of terrorist attacks on New York, and The Meaning of the 21st Century (2006), which outlined many of the struggles facing society that the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University is seeking to address. The book was later made into an hour-long film featuring interviews with leading scientists and a commentary narrated by Michael Douglas.

James Martin was born in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, in 1933, the son of a clerical worker. He won a scholarship to Oxford in 1952, reading physics at Keble College. After graduating, and National Service, he joined IBM and worked on the emerging computer technologies. This included working on the IBM 305 RAMAC — a cumbersome machine that was the first to have a hard disk drive.

In the 1960s he also worked on Boadicea, the computer system used to make reservations and track cargo by the British Overseas Airways Corporation. At the same time Martin began writing his technology-based books. He remained at IBM until the mid-1970s, when he left to create a lecturing business that included an immensely popular five-day seminar series on the impact of new technology on businesses. He made much of his fortune through this means, supplemented by sales of his many books (he wrote more than 100 in total) and educational videos.

Martin set up several software and communications companies after leaving IBM. In the early 1980s he developed some of the earliest software for computer-aided systems engineering through his James Martin Associates, later partially acquired by Texas Instruments, and KnowledgeWare, subsequently bought by Sterling. Moreover, he created James Martin and Company from James Martin Associates which, following a merger in 2000, emerged as Headstrong.

He was a Senior Fellow of the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, part of the Monterey Institute for International Studies in the US, which aims to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction. His contributions to technology and business earned him the Queen’s Award for Export in 1985 and the Lifeboat Foundation Guardian Award for safeguarding humanity in 2007, in addition to a LittD from the University of Oxford.

He lived in Bermuda for some years. In 1997 he bought Agar’s Island and built himself a home there. Situated in the Great Sound the island was used by the British military in the 19th century to house a vast gunpowder store and also has a 300-year-old temple that was transported from Bali. His body was found floating off-shore.

He was married three times. He is survived by his wife, Lillian, a daughter from his first marriage, and four stepchildren.

Dr James Martin, computer scientist, author and philanthropist, was born on October 19, 1933. He died on June 24, 2013, aged 79