Artificial-intelligence expert and scientist wife die in crash

British artificial-intelligence expert Donald Michie and his ex-wife, leading geneticist Dame Anne McLaren, died in a car crash on July 7, their son said.

Michie (84) and McLaren (80) were killed when their car veered off a highway while they were travelling from Cambridge to the home they shared in London, Jonathan Michie said.

Donald Michie was a pioneering artificial-intelligence researcher who worked as part of the British code-breaking group at Bletchley Park during World War II. He contributed to the effort to solve Tunny, a German teleprinter cipher.

“This is a tragic event especially since Donald was preparing a major lecture to be delivered at the University of Edinburgh on the history of machine intelligence,” Jonathan said.

Donald was appointed director of the University of Edinburgh’s department of machine intelligence and perception when it was established in 1966 and was founder and editor-in-chief of the Machine Intelligence publication series.

In the late 1980s, he was chief scientist at the Turing Institute in Glasgow, Scotland, where he was trying to develop computers that learn from experience—a technology that could result in robots that adjust to changing circumstances and learn from mistakes.

His former wife, McLaren, with whom he remained close friends after their divorce in 1959, was a leading geneticist who became the first female officer of the Royal Society, holding the post of foreign secretary from 1991 to 1996.

McLaren was a member of an independent committee appointed by the government to investigate new reproductive technologies after the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby here in 1978 and make recommendations on the freezing and storage of human embryos and their use in research.

After six years of public debate, the panel’s recommendations formed the basis of the 1990 Act that stated embryos could be only be used for research until 14 days old, the point at which a central nervous system starts to develop.

The legislation allowed scientists to experiment on embryos for insight into five areas only: infertility, recurrent miscarriage, congenital diseases, embryo development and contraception.

“When this idea was first floated, public opinion and parliamentary opinion, was very hostile,” McLaren said in 2001. “But gradually ...
opinion swung in favour of the research.”

Queen Elizabeth II named her a dame commander of the British Empire in 1993 and she was a fellow of King’s College and Christ College at the University of Cambridge.

“The one consolation in the case of Anne is that her 80th birthday this year had been widely celebrated and honoured by both her Cambridge institute and both her Cambridge Colleges,” her son said.

Despite being in their 80s, both remained active, with McLaren travelling the world to speak at major conferences, their son said.

The couple, who worked together at University College London during the 1950s, leave three children. Michie also leaves one son from a previous marriage.—Sapa-AP

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