Professor Sir David MacKay passes away

There is sad news that computer scientist and energy policy expert David J.C. MacKay passed away on April 14.  Professor Sir MacKay was knighted earlier this year.

In computer science Professor MacKay is known for his work on information theory, signal correction, machine learning, and assistive software.

In 2008 he published “Sustainable Energy — without the hot air” in which he analyzes the UK’s ability to operate on renewable energy sources only.  This is a self-published, freely-downloadable book that is also a highly-praised — not characteristics one often sees in one book! Bill Gates says of it,

…this is one of the best books on energy that has been written. If someone is going to read just one book I would recommend this one. It isn’t an easy read but that’s because you learn so much. Even after you read this book you will want to keep it around since whenever you read about a new development in energy technology, the framework in this book will help you understand how important it is and where it fits in.

A 10-page synopsis of the book is available.

I am not intimately familiar with Professor MacKay’s work in computer science and related fields, but it appears that his research in these areas was, on the surface, independent from his work on energy policy. Underpinning both, however, is a sharp analytical and computational approach. David MacKay spoke at UAI 2015 on climate change, and at ICML 2012 on “Information Theory and Sustainable Energy. This latter talk, in particular, may reveal his synthesis of his two areas of broad expertise. The video of the talk is not viewable at time of writing this post, but I will back edit with a link to a functioning video if and when I find it.

At times like this I am reminded of Turing Award winner Judea Pearl’s injunction to put human faces to science, and I will be doing that when I cover Sir David MacKay’s research in my computational sustainability course this Fall. Professor Sir David MacKay has left us with an impressive legacy of science and service at their very best.

Douglas H. Fisher is CompSustNet’s Director of Outreach, Education, Diversity, and Synthesis. The opinions expressed herein are Doug’s and not necessarily those of Cornell University. Contact Doug at