I spent an interesting day in Oxford this week visiting the James Martin 21st Century School as I set out on the job of researching and writing a biography of James Martin, a man who became the biggest ever single donor to Oxford University a few years ago when he pledged $100m of his own money for the founding of the School. What an incredible achievement the place is.
Born into a poor family in Ashby-de-la-Zouche, James rose to prominence with his writings and teachings about technology and the future of the planet. By founding such a distinguished school he has put his money where his mouth is and is actually doing something about the many problems that face us and the planet we inhabit.
He is basically investing in ideas, something which he has been immensely successful at for many years. The School’s fifteen interdisciplinary institutes and more than a hundred fellows across the collegiate university are studying potential global catastrophes like climate change, bio-engineering, pandemics, mass migration and the possibility of human extinction before the end of the 21st Century. At the same time they are trying to harvest the incredible opportunities arising from new technologies and innovations, as well as social change and improvements in understanding how to deal with systemic risk.
We expend so much of our academic energy studying what has gone before, it is cheering to see such a concerted and intelligent effort being made to understand the future so that we can prepare for it better.
James Martin must be one of the most interesting men currently at work on our planet and this School may well provide some of the answers that will save us from destroying ourselves and maybe even help move us closer to creating a real Utopia.