Dr. James Martin’s ‘Target Earth’, the 2008 Turing Lecture

I promised a couple of months ago to do a review of the 2008 Turing Lecture, but I’ve changed my mind, and here’s why…

Basically I enjoyed it so much I think you should see it yourself, here’s the link from the IET.tv site, so go to it.

2008 with James Martin

Target Earth: The IET/BCS Turing Lecture

James Martin

Speaker: James Martin, Savoy Place, London, UK

2008-02-19 12:00:00.0 IT Channel

>> go to webcast

The Lecture was done by Dr. James Martin, the “RAD father”[1], or at least the father of RAD (Rapid Application Development).

Dr. Martin reminds me of another hero of mine, E. Gary Gygax (who sadly passed away recently), the father of the RPG, without whom we wouldn’t have MMORPGs as we know them today. Of course without James Martin, and his work developing RAD, it’s likely we wouldn’t have it’s progeny, like RUP, DSDM, XP, SCRUM, or any of the other myriad of agile, re-iterative and rapid approaches to development (certainly not in the form we see them now anyway).

The tweleve mega-problems

James went on to speak about the twelve mega-problems facing us today:

  • Climate Change
  • Population Growth
  • Water / Soil / Farm Shortage
  • Oceans Destroyed (polluted)
  • Failed Nations
  • Mass Famine
  • Automated Global Triage
  • Religious Extremism
  • Failed Nations
  • Terrorism with Atomic Weapons
  • War Ending Civilization
  • Existential Risks

A major issue with the mega-problems, James mentioned, is that they will combine to make a crescendo of disaster.

I really enjoyed the lecture, and although I’m not going to go into it deeply (cause I think you should watch it), I did catch the following notes, which must have interested me at the time.

Growth in China

Growth in China is such that they are building a new power station every week and a new city (of 2 million plus inhabitants) per month. I find this staggering, China’s economic value and growth is incredibly impressive and constantly amazes me.

The Singularity and the Law of Accelerating Returns

James spoke about a number of the predictions in Ray Kurzweil’s major work on futurology: ‘The Singularity is Near‘.

Like many people I’d already been turned onto the idea of ‘The Singularity’, but James positioned Kurzweil’s ‘Law of Accelerating Returns‘ as a significant influence on our combined ability to respond to the ‘mega-problems’.

The basic premise of this law is “an increase in the rate of technological (and sometimes social and cultural) progress throughout history, which may suggest faster and more profound change in the future”.

This first slide shows a correlation of fifteen preeminent lists of innovation, disruptive change and paradigm shift throughout history, that suggest an exponential trend.

Ray uses this as a primary source of data for the aforementioned law.

In Kurzweil’s 2001 essay ‘The Law of Accelerating Returns’ Ray extends Moore’s law to describe an exponential growth of technological progress.

He describes this as one of the reasons behind the Law of Accelerating Returns.

Many thanks to Ray Kurzweil and his organisation, Kurzweil Technologies, Inc., for the permission to reproduce these slides under a Creative Commons Attribution 1.0 license.

Understanding and Communicating the ‘Big Picture’

Another point James made was that to have any chance of resolving the mega-problems above it “needs”…”everybody (to) get the big picture”.

Of course “getting the big picture means everyone pulls together !” and that’s the real reason that vision statements and goals really do need to be clear and understandable, so everyone involved understands how their contribution ends up helping to make a difference.

Frankly I find the number of businesses that understand this is phenomenally low. I genuinely think it’s a big reason behind corporate inertia as company employees ‘churn’ around over what the ‘real’ goals of their organisation are.

A major reason that we all need to “get” the “Big Picture” is that our Politicians views reflect those of their voters and constituents, and until resolving these issues becomes important to us, our Politicians won’t really reflect them in their policies.

James Lovelock

James also name checks James Lovelock, another of my heroes and one of my favorite scientists, particularly for his work on Gaia Theory and the related ‘Daisyworld‘ virtual world simulation that suggests bio-diversity is a key component of the mechinism of the eco-system maintaining a habitable environment.

He is probably most well known for his work inventing the electron capture detector (1956) which led to the discovery of the ubiquitous distribution of pesticide residues (initially DDT) and pollutants (Lovelock was the first to detect the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere) in the natural environment and can be said, along with Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring, to have started the environmental movement.

Jeffrey Sachs

Dr. Martin also name checks Jeffrey Sachs, and his book ‘The End of Poverty‘. Despite some negativity to Sachs methods online I still aim to get a copy soon.


Something I hadn’t heard of before, in regards to ‘Failed Nations’ was “Kleptocracy”: where a Government steals from it’s own people, a number of African Governments were given as example.


So I definitely enjoyed the lecture, thought provoking and extremely relevant, and I’m already looking forward to next years event, I wonder who the IET and BCS will get to present for 2009.

Previous IET / BCS Turing Lectures

Here’s links (and synopses) to the last four years Turing Lectures, all of which have been recorded by the IET for your viewing pleasure. Well worth a couple of hours of your time rather than being exposed to the latest ‘Internet Meme’…

2007 with Grady Booch

9th Annual Turing Lecture

Grady Booch, IBM

The Promise The Limits and the Beauty of Software Lecturer: Grady Booch, IBM

2007-01-25 12:00:00.0 IT Channel

>> go to webcast

2006 with Chris Mairs

Lifestyle access for the disabled

Dr. Chris Mairs

The BCS/IEE Turing Lecture 2006 Speaker: Dr Chris Mairs, Data Connection plc

2006-01-26 12:00:00.0 Control & Automation Channel

>> go to webcast

2005 with Fred Brooks

7th Annual Turing Lecture

Professor Frederick P Brooks

Collaboration and Telecollaboration in Design Lecturer: Professor Frederick P Brooks, Jr., FREng, Dist. FBCS

2005-01-20 12:00:00.0 IT Channel

>> go to webcast

2004 with Fred Piper

Cyberworld security – the good, the bad and the ugly (2004 Turing Lecture)

Professor Fred Piper

This lecture looks at some of the technical security mechanisms used for protecting our infrastructure by providing confidentiality for information; entity authentication over distributed computer networks and the detection of alteration to information. It discusses some of the social and political problems that can result from their use and from the fact that the same technology can be used by law enforcers (to catch criminals) and law breakers (to avoid being caught), as well as by businesses (to protect their assets) and by individuals (to protect privacy and preserve confidential data).

2004-01-21 12:00:00.0 Communications Channel

>> go to webcast


  1. If Paul Weller can be called the “Mod father[2], I don’t see why I can’t re-appropriate the term in a computing context.
  2. Actually shouldn’t that be Steve Mariott ? Surely Mr. Weller only qualifies as the Punk Rock / Mod Revival cross-over father ? Or does that not trip as lightly off the tongue…