School founder: ‘This will be an extraordinary century’

05 July 2011

The Trinity term issue of Oxford Today features a cover story by the founder of the Oxford Martin School, Dr James Martin. Dr Martin, who has been renowned for decades for his research into the future, offers a highly detailed account of the 21st century. Humanity will thrive to an unprecedented extent in the coming decades, although we must also take action now to deal with new challenges ahead.

The 21st century will see near-unimaginable technological developments that will bring us increased wealth, health and leisure time, Dr Martin says. Life expectancy will rise past 100, and, with the help of intelligent supercomputers, global education levels will increase while our working hours decrease. However, Dr Martin also warns of a bleak phase while the world adjusts to climate change, a period that might include widespread famines and devastating natural disasters. New technology will offer ‘a rich diversity of solutions to these problems’, but we must harness these technologies now.

While these opinions are Dr Martin’s own, his vision inspired the Oxford Martin School, founded in 2005 with his generous gift of $100 million. The School’s mission is to help identify and address the coming challenges Dr Martin speaks about, and to help realise exciting new opportunities. Humanity will only prosper in the 21st century, Dr Martin stresses, with the help of complex, cutting-edge research that is characteristic of the Oxford Martin School. The School expanded in 2010, as a result of Dr Martin’s $50 million matched funding challenge, and supports research on the frontiers of knowledge in the natural and social sciences. ‘We have reached a time when the understanding of science is vital to our existence,’ Dr Martin says. ‘The world of our grandchildren could be magnificent.’

Also featured in Oxford Today is Gero Miesenböck, Director of the Programme on Mind and Machine. Professor Miesenböck outlines the Programme’s research into understanding electrical brain function and its relation to intelligence. A deeper understanding of how intelligence emerges from the brain could lead to new and better drug therapies.

Oxford Today is distributed to alumni and other members of the Oxford community. It has a global circulation of 176,000, and is available online here.