Maybe he was the only true futurist-humanist

Maybe he was the only true futurist-humanist

A Conversation with
Jordan Mejias [6.18.14]

Maybe he was the only true futurist-humanist

Literary agent John Brockman, Internet pioneer Jaron Lanier, science and technology historian George Dyson and computer scientist and artist David Gelernter remember Frank Schirrmacher. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. (June 13, 2014)


A visionary thinker

Schirrmacher's death is a loss that will be felt not just in Germany but throughout the world. He is irreplaceable. It's fair to say that he has no equivalent here in the United States. He was a beacon of light, a visionary thinker who initiated international conversations on the emerging questions that mattered, including the human genome, the third culture, the role of technology in a society. He will be greatly missed.

John Brockman is a literary agent. [link: faz]


Essential voice

The sudden loss of Frank Schirmacher is not only shocking, not only devastatingly sad, but also a tremendous challenge to all of us. The whole contemporary world is now missing one of its essential voices. We are challenged to find some way to continue without an irreplaceable companion.

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, artist and entrepreneur. [link: faz]

A class unto itself 

"Isn't the financial crisis the first event where the machines have taken over?" Frank Schirrmacher wrote to me, in response to an essay co-published by FAZ and Edge in 2009. "Today I had lunch with the German secretary of Treasury to find out how far the computers and the quants were responsible for the crisis," he continued. "What he said was, that there were 5 days when nobody could explain what was happening and what would happen. At this very moment everything was dependent from the computers. "

Frank Schirrmacher's combination of convictions, intellect, and connections was in a class unto itself. Whenever he asked me to write something, I could be sure that his response (often within minutes) would be as interesting as what I had labored over for days to send to him.

Isn't it possible to conceive that before the machines become intelligent," he wrote in response to another essay, "the human being, by taking over the signals, instructions, and distraction of the computers and the web becomes not only less intelligent, but starts to communicate with his inner self in the same way the computer communicates with him? In a deep sense thinking is degenerating in a totally new way, which even makes it questionable how to teach and learn. Before the machines take over, man is surrendering.

Not without a fight—and Frank Schirrmacher was leading it.

George Dyson is a historian of science and technology. [link: faz]

A fighter for Europe

I have never known a man to fill a room with energy and optimism and pure life and sheer unreasonable happiness the way Frank Schirrmacher did. No man I've ever known combined such optimistic openness to everything good about the future with such humane kindness; with such care and attention and thought for the human beings around him. He was one of the only true humanist-futurists I've ever known. Perhaps he was the only one.

For Americans saddened by Europe's wasting, bitter cynicism, its seeming lack of confidence in its own past and future, Frank made us remember that Europe created modern culture, and therefore world culture (created science and antisepsis, surgery and abstract algebra and Degas and Matisse and the Missa Solemnis); he made us remember above all that Europe would take her place again, one day, at the head of the parade. The world needs Europe badly, now more than ever; needs Europe to inspire and to lead—and that's why the world needed Frank Schirrmacher so badly, and why this is such a sad and serious night for everyone, everywhere, who knew him. You could not help admiring him—that is true for many men; but you could not help loving him, either. And I could never help smiling when he entered the room. What is more rare and valuable than the gift of making people think of the future, think of the past, and be happy? He will be remembered for as long as Europe and European journalism stand at the center of the world of art and ideas — God willing, forever.

David Gelernter is a computer scientist and artist. [link: faz]