David Schmittlein

To the members of the MIT Sloan community:

 

At MIT invention and innovation occur at the boundaries of disciplines and they purposefully and rigorously address the world’s greatest challenges and opportunities. There are few better illustrations of this than the work of Professor, Jay Forrester. Jay passed away on Wednesday, November 18, at the age of 98, leaving behind three children, four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. He also leaves decades of unique and distinctive contributions to MIT, to his many students, and to the world.

Trained in electrical engineering, Jay joined the MIT community in 1939 as a member of the School of Engineering, and made important contributions to the war effort through his work on servomechanisms. After the conclusion of WWII, Jay began work that would establish his legacy as a pioneer in digital computing. While directing MIT’s Digital Computer Lab, Jay led the development of Whirlwind I, one of the 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—core memory even flew to the moon on the Apollo missions.

To our School’s incredible fortune, in 1956 Professor Forrester came to MIT Sloan. He wrote of this transition, “People ask why I left engineering to go to management. There were several reasons. By 1956, I felt the pioneering days in digital computing were over. That might seem surprising after the major technical advances of the last 30 years. But I might point out that the multiple by which computers improved in the decade from 1946 to 1956 in speed, reliability, and storage capacity, was greater than in any decade since. Another reason for moving to management was that I was already in management. We had been running a several-billion dollar program [the SAGE national air defense system] in which we had complete control of everything.” Jay brought engineering concepts and principles with him to MIT Sloan, applying feedback systems and digital simulation to gain a better understanding of the counterintuitive behavior of social systems. As the founder of the field now known as System Dynamics, Jay will forever be remembered for creating a new way of understanding complex systems in any domain, and for his many contributions to management education and research.

Jay’s broad and lasting legacy can be seen across MIT Sloan’s faculty, the curriculum that we teach, the work of our alumni, and the traditions of our community, from operations management and the famous “beer game” to models providing deep insight into issues from organizational change to climate change and beyond. Please join me in offering his family our condolences. More details about a community celebration of Professor Jay Forrester will be shared soon.

Sincerely,

David Schmittlein | John C Head III Dean
MIT Sloan School of Management