Friday, April 15, 2016

Energy and Artificial Intelligence Expert Professor Sir David J.C. MacKay Has Died, Age 48

We visited Dr. MacKay once per year, on average, usually in the spring.
From The Register:

Brit AI daddy Sir David MacKay dies
Polymath rebooted debate on climate change, co-founded software biz
David MacKay, or more formally Sir David John Cameron MacKay, FRS, FInstP, FICE, was a true polymath who achieved greatness in the fields of physics, computer science and energy policy. He died of cancer this week aged 48. 
His Royal Society Biography listed just some of his achievements here:
 David developed a way to correct signal interference, which is now used in digital broadcasting and magnetic storage of information, such as on computer hard drives. He also advanced the field of machine learning by improving artificial neural networks. Furthermore, he invented Dasher, an assistive software application that enables communication in any language with any muscle of the body.
He also co-founded Transversal, a software company that specialises in search based on natural speech and wrote the textbook "Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms", available online for free. 
In the wider world MacKay is best known for his 2008 book “Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, (it’s free in PDF format), which had a major impact on thinking about energy. Within nine months of its publication, MacKay was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, a role he occupied until 2014.
The Register is a fan of his book: In our 2009 review, we wrote: 
Steering away from politics and economics, Sustainable Energy is satisfied with providing you with the numbers that are both thought provoking and easy to grasp. MacKay encourages you to make your own mind up - leaving you to ponder the hard facts (which are simplified by using a single measurement for each form of power consumption and production) and decipher sense from nonsense when looking at the alternatives to fossil fuels. 
So why did he feel compelled to venture into such a thorny area? "I was distressed by the poor quality of the debate surrounding energy," he said in 2009, in an interview with The Guardian. 
"I was also noticing so much greenwash from politicians and big business. I was tired of the debate - the extremism, the nimbyism, the hairshirt. We need a constructive conversation about energy, not a Punch and Judy show. I just wanted to try to reboot the whole debate. Most of physics is about energy, and physicists understand inefficiencies. I wanted to write a book about our energy options in a neutral, human-accessible form."...MORE
HT on his passing, Next Big Future.

Cambridge's Varsity has "Tributes paid to Professor Sir David MacKay"

I said in last October's "Bill Gates: ‘We Need an Energy Miracle’":

For folks who are actually interested in this stuff and not just talking political b.s. while nibbling the canapés, from April 2014's "If It's April It Must Be Time to Visit Professor MacKay and His Map of the World":

...David  MacKay used to hang his hat at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory.
I don't really know what they do at the lab, I think it's where the Nobel Prize in Physics is made.

Mackay left the lab in 2013 to be Cambridge's first Regius Professor of Engineering.
He has a bunch of letters after his name.
April, 2007
Sustainable Energy-without the hot air
April 2013
Here is THE Problem Facing Alternative Energy

We also visited the Professor in 2012. By then I had shortened the introduction to:
His Wikipedia entry is basically "David J.C. MacKay, see: heavyweight."*
Here's another April 2013 visit:
"16 Lectures on Information Theory and all that"

Here's his Cambridge website.
When people want to talk energy with me I usually ask if they have read his book

And if you don't read his book, you have no excuse. He put it on the internet for free download.