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Jay Wright Forrester

Jay Forrester
Born 14 July1918(1918-07-14) (age 89)
Climax, NebraskaNotable awards IEEE Medal of Honor

Jay Wright Forrester (born 14 July 1918, Climax, Nebraska) is a pioneer American computer engineer, systems scientist and was professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Forrester is known as the founder of System Dynamics, which deals with the simulation of interactions between objects in dynamic systems.



Forrester was born in 1918 on a cattle ranch near Anselmo, Nebraska, in the middle of the United States. His early interest in electricity was spurred, perhaps, by the fact that the ranch had none. While in high school, he built a wind-driven, 12-volt electrical system using old car parts -- it gave the ranch its first electric power.[1] After finishing high school, he had received a scholarship to go to the Agricultural College. Three weeks before enrolling, he realized a future of herding cattle in Nebraska winter blizzards had never appealed to him. So instead in 1936 he enrolled in the Engineering College at the University of Nebraska to study Electrical engineering. As it turns out this study was about the only academic field with a solid, central core of theoretical dynamics.[2].

After finishing the University in 1939 he came to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to become a research assistant and eventually spent his entire career. In his first year at MIT he was commandeered by Gordon S. Brown who was the pioneer in "feedback control systems" at MIT. During World War II his work with Gordon Brown was in developing servomechanisms for the control of radar antennas and gun mounts. This work was research toward an extremely practical end that ran from mathematical theory to the operating field. Experimental units were installed on the USS Lexington, and, when they stopped working, he volunteered to go to Pearl Harbor in 1942. He fixed the problem when the ship sailed off-shore during the invasion of Tarawa.[2]

At the end of the war at MIT Forrester in 1944 started a project building of an aircraft flight simulator. The aircraft simulator was planned as an analog computer, but became the Whirlwind digital computer for experimental development of military combat information systems. This eventually became the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) air defense system for North America.[2] Around 1949, the Navy was losing interest in Whirlwind and considered scrapping it. But that August, the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. Relations between the U.S. and its former ally had so deteriorated that this event inspired worry and alarm throughout the government. People in the military realized that computers would be essential in the defense of the country now that the USSR had the capacity to attack from afar. Whirlwind, as the Navy's most advanced computer, suddenly looked good again.[1] Forrester continued his research in electrical and computer engineering until 1956. By then he felt the pioneering days in digital computers were over and he left engineering to go into management.

In 1956, Forrester moved to the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he is currently Germeshausen Professor Emeritus and Senior Lecturer. But applying his engineering view of electrical systems to the field of human systems would break new ground. Forrester focused on concrete experimental studies of organizational policy. He used computer simulations to analyze social systems and predict the implications of different models. This method came to be called "system dynamics," and Forrester came to be recognized as its creator.[1]

In 1982, he received the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award.[3] In 1989, he received the National Medal of Technology[4]. In 2006, he was inducted into the Operational Research Hall of Fame.


Forrester is the founder of System Dynamics, which deals with the simulation of interactions between objects in dynamic systems. He has made numerous contributions to the further development and application of System Dynamics, and has promoted System Dynamics in education down to the present day.

The Whirlwind project

Main article: Whirlwind (computer)

The Whirlwind computer was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is the first computer that operated in real time, used video displays for output, and the first that was not simply an electronic replacement of older mechanical systems. Its development led directly to the United States Air Force's Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, and indirectly to almost all business computers and minicomputers in the 1960s.

During the 1940s and early 1950s, Forrester did research in electrical and computer engineering, heading the Whirlwind project and developing the "Multi-coordinate digitally information storage device" (coincident-current system), the forerunner of today's RAM. He is believed to have created the first animation in the history of computer graphics, a "jumping ball" on an oscilloscope.

Industrial dynamics

Industrial dynamics nowadays is the study of: innovation, as an economic phenomenon that transforms industries in an endogenous manner. It is at the core of industrial dynamics approaches and at the same time is one of the key challenges for a growing part of the scientific community.

  • The economic analysis capture and measure regularities of the complex processes of industry evolution.
  • The modelling of industrial dynamics, supported by empirical evidence, allows for the existence of heterogeneity in the characteristics of firms within an industry in terms of size, entry/exit, performance, innovation strategies, etc.
  • The industrial dynamics approaches are uncovering new evidence about how firms compete and how competition should operate. That is in sharp contrast with the results of more basic industrial organization studies.[5]

Originally, industrial dynamics encompassed the study of the different variables characterizing industries (such as entry/exit, penetration-rate, innovation rate, R&D expenses, number of patents), and their comparison from one period to another. Though these initial developments included important elements related to the quantitative functioning of industries, it is nowadays largely accepted that the early contributions often neglected the genuine determinants of the evolution of innovative industries.[5]

Industrial Dynamics (1961) was the first book Forrester wrote using System Dynamics to analyze industrial business cycles.

Urban dynamics

Several years later, interactions with former Boston Mayor John F. Collins led Forrester to write Urban Dynamics (1969), which sparked an ongoing debate on the feasibility of modeling broader social problems.

System dynamics

Main article: System dynamics

System dynamics combines the theory, methods, and philosophy needed to analyze the behavior of systems in not only management, but also in environmental change, politics, economic behavior, medicine, engineering, and other fields. System dynamics provides a common foundation that can be applied wherever we want to understand and influence how things change through time. [6] The system dynamics process starts from a problem to be solved: a situation that needs to be better understood, or an undesirable behavior that is to be corrected or avoided. It uses concepts drawn from the field of feedback control to organize available information into computer simulation models. A digital computer as a simulator, acting out the roles of the operating people in the real system, reveals the behavioral implications of the system that has been described in the model. The first articles based on this work appeared in the Harvard Business Review (Forrester, 1958).

World dynamics

The urban dynamics model attracted the attention of urban planners around the world, eventually leading Forrester to meet a founder of the Club of Rome. He later met with the Club of Rome to discuss issues surrounding global sustainability; the book World Dynamics followed. World Dynamics took on modeling the complex interactions of the world economy, population and ecology, which understandably met with much misunderstanding (see also Donella Meadows and Limits to Growth).


Forrester has written several books, articles and papers. Books, a selection:

  • 1961. Industrial dynamics. Waltham, MA: Pegasus Communications.
  • 1968. Principles of Systems, 2nd ed. Pegasus Communications.
  • 1969. Urban Dynamics. Pegasus Communications.
  • 1973. World Dynamics. Pegasus Communications.
  • 1975. Collected Papers of Jay W. Forrester. Pegasus Communications.

Articles and papers, a selection:


  1. ^ a b c Biography Jay Forrester. 2005,
  2. ^ a b c J.W. Forrester, The Beginning of System Dynamics: paper for the Banquet Talk at the international meeting of the System Dynamics Society, Stuttgart, Germany, July 13, l989.
  3. ^ Computer Pioneer Award. Retrieved on 2006-05-03.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Jackie Krafft, Introduction: What do we know about Industrial Dynamics?, in: OFCE, June 2006, pp.15-19.
  6. ^ 1989, J.W Forrester, System Dynamics and the Lessons of 35 Years.
  7. ^ This article is from Industrial Management Review, Vol. IX, No. 2, Winter 1968. This classic system dynamics paper discusses why having enough capacity to meet demand is so important for a new company.
  8. ^ HTML version.
  9. ^ This provides a personal point of view about the development of system dynamics.
  10. ^ This paper presents views on how system dynamics may improve classroom learning.
  11. ^ This paper explains the advantages of a system dynamics education for the future.
  12. ^ Writing on using system dynamics in kindergarten through twelfth grade education.
  13. ^ English version of the paper Prof. Jay Forrester presented at the University of Seville on December 15th, 1998. This paper talks about how Dr. Forrester believes system dynamics will help in understanding the many complex systems in our society.
  14. ^ In this paper Forrester explains his view that without including system dynamics concepts and principles, systems thinking runs the risk of being superficial and prone to assuming counterproductive conclusions.

External links

v • d • eSubfields of and scientists involved in cyberneticsSubfields Polycontexturality · Second-order cybernetics · Catastrophe theory · Connectionism · Control theory · Decision theory · Information theory · Semiotics · Synergetics · Biological cybernetics · Biosemiotics · Biomedical cybernetics · Biorobotics · Computational neuroscience · Homeostasis · Management cybernetics · Medical cybernetics · New Cybernetics · Neuro cybernetics · Sociocybernetics · Emergence · Artificial intelligenceCyberneticistsIgor Aleksander · William Ross Ashby · Anthony Stafford Beer · Claude Bernard · Ludwig von Bertalanffy · Valentin Braitenberg · Gordon S. Brown · Walter Bradford Cannon · Heinz von Foerster · Charles François · Jay Wright Forrester · Buckminster Fuller · Ernst von Glasersfeld · Francis Heylighen · Erich von Holst · Stuart Kauffman · Sergei P. Kurdyumov · Niklas Luhmann · Warren McCulloch · Humberto Maturana · Talcott Parsons · Gordon Pask · Walter Pitts · Alfred Radcliffe-Brown · Robert Trappl · Valentin Turchin · Jakob von Uexküll · Francisco Varela · Frederic Vester · Charles Geoffrey Vickers · Stuart Umpleby · John N. Warfield · Kevin Warwick · Norbert Wiener v • d • eSystemsand systems scienceSystems categoriesConceptual systems · Physical systems · Social systems · Systems theory · Systems science · Systems scientistsSystemsBiological system · Complex system · Complex adaptive system · Conceptual system · Cultural system · Dynamical system · Economic system · Ecosystem · Formal system · Global Positioning System · Human anatomy · Information systems · Legal systems of the world · Living systems · Systems of measurement · Metric system · Multi-agent system · Nervous system · Nonlinearity · Operating system · Physical system · Political system · Sensory system · Social structure · Solar System · Systems artTheoretical fields Chaos theory · Complex systems · Control theory · Cybernetics · Scientific holism · Sociotechnical systems theory · Systems biology · System dynamics · Systems ecology · Systems engineering · Systems psychology · Systems science · Systems theorySystems scientists Russell L. Ackoff · William Ross Ashby · Gregory Bateson · Stafford Beer · Ludwig von Bertalanffy · Kenneth E. Boulding · Peter Checkland · C. West Churchman · Heinz von Foerster · Charles François · Jay Wright Forrester · Ralph W. Gerard · Debora Hammond · George Klir · Niklas Luhmann · Humberto Maturana · Donella Meadows · Mihajlo D. Mesarovic · Howard T. Odum · Talcott Parsons · Ilya Prigogine · Anatol Rapoport · Francisco Varela · John N. Warfield · Norbert Wiener v • d • eIEEE Medal of Honor1951–1975

Vladimir Zworykin (1951) · William R. G. Baker (1952) · John M. Miller (1953) · William L. Everitt (1954) · Harald T. Friis (1955) · John V. L. Hogan (1956) · Julius Adams Stratton (1957) · Albert Hull (1958) · Emory Leon Chaffee (1959) · Harry Nyquist (1960) · Ernst A. Guillemin (1961) · Edward Victor Appleton (1962) · George C. Southworth (1963) · Harold A. Wheeler (1964) · Claude Elwood Shannon (1966) · Charles H. Townes (1967) · Gordon K. Teal (1968) · Edward Ginzton (1969) · Dennis Gabor (1970) · John Bardeen (1971) · Jay W. Forester (1972) · Rudolf Kompfner (1973) · Rudolf Kalman (1974) · John Robinson Pierce (1975)

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