It is with great sadness that the System Dynamics Society announces that Jay W. Forrester, Professor of Management Emeritus at MIT, has died at the age of 98 on November 16, 2016.
Jay founded what became the field of System Dynamics in 1956 and has had a profound and lasting influence on it throughout its 60-year history. A lifelong innovator, Jay was a pioneer in digital computing and helped create the computer age in which we all live today. Trained in electrical engineering, Jay came to MIT in 1939, where he worked on feedback control servomechanisms during World War II. After the war, Jay directed the MIT Digital Computer Laboratory, where he led the design and construction of Whirlwind I, one of the world’s first high-speed digital computers. He invented and holds the patent for magnetic core memory, the dominant form of random access memory (RAM) for decades (even travelling to the moon with the Apollo astronauts), until it was eventually replaced by semiconductors. Whirlwind became the basis for many innovations, from numerically controlled machine tools to SAGE, the first integrated continental air defense system.
Invited to join the faculty of the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1956, Jay created the field of System Dynamics to apply engineering concepts of feedback systems and digital simulation to understand what he famously called “the counterintuitive behavior of social systems.” His groundbreaking 1961 book, Industrial Dynamics, remains a clear and relevant statement of philosophy and methodology in the field. His later books and his numerous articles broke new ground in our understanding of complex human systems and policy problems. Jay officially retired in 1989, but continued his work unabated, focusing on promoting the use of System Dynamics in K-12 education.
John Morecroft (London Business School) wrote “My life was changed by Jay Forrester. His influence came in two distinct ways, from personal encounters and from the research environment he created as founder and leader of the System Dynamics Group at MIT-Sloan. I spent a decade at MIT, first as a doctoral student and later as a member of faculty at Sloan. So there is much to remember.”
George Richardson, Professor Emeritus at the University at Albany, said “Jay opened a path that gave many of us voices we did not know we had. What a life of towering achievements, to have been crucial to the development of computing in its infancy, and then to show us how to use its power to help us make progress together on seemingly impossible problems. I am profoundly grateful for his presence and influence in my life. ”
Professor John Sterman, the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at MIT and Director of the MIT System Dynamics Group said “Like so many others, I was fortunate to be able to work with and learn from Jay. He constantly challenged us to think deeply, speak plainly, and work on issues that matter, not only to build understanding, but to act. And he always led by example.”
Roberta Spencer, Executive Director of the System Dynamics Society, remembers, “During a conversation Jay said to me ‘figure out a way to have courage.’ Jay said this to everyone—I took it to heart and it changed my life.”
Jay was married for sixty-four years to Susan (Swett) Forrester, who died in 2010. Survivors include one daughter, Judith Forrester of Concord, Massachusetts; two sons, Nathan B. Forrester of Boca Grande, Florida, and Ned C. Forrester of Falmouth, Massachusetts; four grandchildren, Matthew S. Forrester of Arcadia, CA, Julia D. Forrester of Bois, ID, Neil T. Forrester of Torrance, CA, and Katherine J. Forrester of Chicago, IL as well as two great grandchildren Everett Chen Forrester and Faraday Chen Forrester, both of Arcadia, CA.