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Tom Stonier

A man of computers and peace

Geoffrey Goodman

Monday June 28, 1999

Professor Tom Stonier, who has died aged 72, was frequently called the "professor of futurology". For more than four decades he examined the ingredients of technological and scientific change, pointing out how our social, economic and political environment was in the process of transformation. He was a humanist, scientist and poet-philosopher.

It was Stonier who, more than 25 years ago, began a campaign to transform our education system, linking it with the development of computers, which he saw as liberators of human talents. He recognized very early on that a combination of education and computers would unlock the door to the information society, and argued that education had to become the most important investment in the future of all societies.

Stonier was born in Hamburg to a German-Jewish father and a French mother. In 1939, when he was 12, the family fled to New York, where he read biology at Drew University before taking a PhD at Yale in 1955. He began his scientific career as a research associate at Rockefeller University before joining the biology faculty at Manhattan College, New York, in 1962.

His first book, Nuclear Disaster, published in 1964, was based on his 1961 report to the New York Academy of Sciences which dealt with the biological and environmental effects of dropping a 20-megaton bomb on Manhattan. The book won world-wide attention and drew Stonier into the limelight as a pioneer proponent of peace studies. In 1973, he came to Britain and founded the school of peace studies at Bradford University.

In 1975 Stonier was appointed to the foundation chair in science and society at Bradford, where he specialized in the interaction of science, technology and society. His six books and countless monographs included The Wealth Of Information: A Profile Of The Post-Industrial Economy (1983), Information And The Internal Structure Of The Universe (1990), Beyond Information: The Natural History Of Intelligence (1992), and Information And Meaning; An Evolutionary Perspective (1997). His most recent book, No More War: The Hidden Evolution To Peace, will be published next year.

Consulted widely by governments throughout the world, Stonier lectured in Canada, Australia, China and south-east Asia. He was also consultant to some of the largest international companies, a member of the New York Academy of Sciences and a life fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Stonier reached the conclusion that computers were contributing to a biological change in the nature of human beings as well as human relationships: "The increase in computer power has been roughly 10-fold for every six or seven years over the last 30 or more years," he pointed out. "At this rate, early in the next century computer power will be about 1,000 times that of today's machines."

He is survived by his wife Judith, seven children and six grandchildren.

• Tom 'Ted' Stonier, academic, born April 29, 1927; died June 15, 1999

© Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 1999. Reprinted without permission.