David J. C. MacKay

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Sir David MacKay
David MacKay (photo by David Stern)
Born David John Cameron MacKay
(1967-04-22) 22 April 1967 (age 48)[1]
Fields Machine learning
Information theory
Sustainable energy
Institutions University of Cambridge
California Institute of Technology
Department of Energy and Climate Change
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
California Institute of Technology[2]
Thesis Bayesian methods for adaptive models (1992)
Doctoral advisor John Hopfield[3]
Doctoral students Ryan Adams[4]
Hanna Wallach[3]
David Stern[4]
Oliver Stegle[4]
Philipp Hennig[4]
Known for Sustainable Energy – without the hot air[5]
Low-density parity-check code[6]
Notable awards Fellow of the Royal Society (2009)
Fulbright scholar
Knight Bachelor
Spouse Ramesh Ghiassi[8]

Sir David John Cameron MacKay, FRS, FInstP, FICE (born 22 April 1967)[2] is the Regius Professor of Engineering in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge[9] and from 2009 to 2014 was Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).[10] Before being appointed to the DECC, MacKay was most well known as author of the book Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air.[5][11][12]

MacKay has been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, for which he is currently undergoing palliative chemotherapy, a process he is documenting in detail on his public personal blog.[13] He expects to die of the cancer in 2016 or early 2017.[14]

Life and career[edit]

MacKay was born the fifth child of Donald MacCrimmon MacKay and Valerie MacKay. His elder brother Robert S. MacKay FRS (born in 1956) is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick. David was educated at Newcastle High School (later Newcastle-under-Lyme School) and represented Britain in the International Physics Olympiad in Yugoslavia in 1985, receiving the first prize for experimental work. He went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, and received a Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences (Experimental and theoretical physics) in 1988. He went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as a Fulbright Scholar. His supervisor in the graduate programme in Computation and Neural Systems was John Hopfield.[3] He was awarded a PhD in 1992.[15][16]

In January 1992 MacKay was made the Royal Society Smithson Research Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge, continuing his cross-disciplinary research in the Cavendish Laboratory, the Department of Physics of the University of Cambridge. In 1995 he was made a University Lecturer in the Cavendish Laboratory. He was promoted in 1999 to a Readership, in 2003 to a Professorship in Natural Philosophy and in 2013 to the post of Regius Professorship of Engineering.[17] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in May 2009.[18]

MacKay is a vegetarian.[19]

Engineering contributions[edit]

MacKay's contributions[20][21][22][23] in machine learning and information theory include the development of Bayesian methods[24] for neural networks,[25] the rediscovery (with Radford M. Neal) of low-density parity-check codes,[6] and the invention of Dasher,[7] a software application for communication especially popular with those who cannot use a traditional keyboard.[26] He cofounded the knowledge management company Transversal.[27] In 2003, his book Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms[28] was published.

Science outreach and service[edit]

His interests beyond research include the development of effective teaching methods and African development; he taught regularly at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town from its foundation in 2003 to 2006. In 2008 he completed a book on energy consumption and energy production without fossil fuels called Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. MacKay used £10,000 of his own money to publish the book, and the initial print run of 5,000 sold within days.[29] The book received praise from The Economist,[30] The Guardian,[29] and Bill Gates, who called it "one of the best books on energy that has been written."[31][32] Like his textbook on Information theory, MacKay makes the book available for free online. In March 2012 he gave a TED talk on renewable energy.[33]


David MacKay was appointed to be Chief Scientific Advisor of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom, in September 2009.[10] In October 2014, at the end of his five-year term, he was replaced as Chief Scientific Advisor by John Loughhead.[34]


MacKay was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009. His nomination reads:

MacKay was knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to scientific advice in government and to science outreach.[36][37]


  1. ^ David MacKay (7 February 2010). "Biography – David J.C. MacKay". web homepage. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "MacKAY, Prof. David John Cameron". Who's Who 2013, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2013; online edn, Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
  3. ^ a b c David J. C. MacKay at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  4. ^ a b c d MacKay's personal group website in Cambridge, 22 April 2014 
  5. ^ a b Mackay, David (2009). Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air. UIT Cambridge. ISBN 0-9544529-3-3. 
  6. ^ a b MacKay, D. J. C.; Neal, R. M. (1996). "Near Shannon limit performance of low density parity check codes". Electronics Letters 32 (18): 1645. doi:10.1049/el:19961141. 
  7. ^ a b Wills, S. A.; MacKay, D. J. C. (2006). "DASHER—An Efficient Writing System for Brain–Computer Interfaces?". IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering 14 (2): 244–246. doi:10.1109/TNSRE.2006.875573. PMID 16792304. 
  8. ^ "Ramesh and David". Rameshanddavid.blogspot.com. 15 January 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  9. ^ David MacKay (7 July 2012). "David J.C. MacKay FRS". web homepage. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  10. ^ a b DECC confirms MacKay as new low-carbon advisor, BusinessGreen, 3 September 2009, retrieved 29 December 2011 
  11. ^ "Britons of the Year", The Daily Telegraph (London), 29 December 2009, p. 15 
  12. ^ "What Will It Take to Save the Earth?" 26 April 2012 by Joel E. Cohen in The New York Review of Books
  13. ^ Unexpected signs of malignancy, 2015-08-27 
  14. ^ What do you tell the children?, 2015-09-01 
  15. ^ Mackay, David J.C. (1992). Bayesian methods for adaptive models (PhD thesis). California Institute of Technology. 
  16. ^ David MacKay (24 June 2010). "Prof. David J.C. MacKay". web homepage. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  17. ^ "David MacKay appointed Regius Professor of Engineering". University of Cambridge. 28 March 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  18. ^ Certificates of Election and Candidature, Catalogue entry EC/2009/27, Royal Society, 14 May 2009, retrieved 29 December 2011 
  19. ^ David MacKay (7 February 2010). "David MacKay: Some biographical stuff...". web homepage. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 29 March 2010. 
  20. ^ David J. C. MacKay's publications indexed by the DBLP Bibliography Server at the University of Trier
  21. ^ David J. C. MacKay from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Digital Library
  22. ^ David J. C. MacKay's publications indexed by Google Scholar, a service provided by Google
  23. ^ David J. C. MacKay's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier.
  24. ^ MacKay, D. J. C. (1992). "A Practical Bayesian Framework for Backpropagation Networks". Neural Computation 4 (3): 448–472. doi:10.1162/neco.1992.4.3.448. 
  25. ^ MacKay, D. J. C. (1992). "Bayesian Interpolation". Neural Computation 4 (3): 415–447. doi:10.1162/neco.1992.4.3.415. 
  26. ^ Ward, D. J.; MacKay, D. J. C. (2002). "Artificial intelligence: Fast hands-free writing by gaze direction". Nature 418 (6900): 838–838. doi:10.1038/418838a. PMID 12192400. 
  27. ^ "Transversal Team". Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  28. ^ MacKay, David J. C. (September 2003). Information Theory, Inference and Learning Algorithms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521642989. 
  29. ^ a b Leo Hickman (30 April 2009). "Power to the People". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2011. 
  30. ^ "Meltdown". The Economist. 8 April 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2011. 
  31. ^ Bill Gates (15 January 2010). "Clear Thinking on the Topic of Energy". The Gates Notes. Retrieved 14 January 2011. 
  32. ^ "YouTube – How Many Light Bulbs? with David MacKay From Cambridge Ideas". Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  33. ^ David MacKay (March 2012). A reality check on renewables. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  34. ^ DECC appoints new chief scientific advisor
  35. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". London: The Royal Society. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  36. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 61450. p. N2. 30 December 2015.
  37. ^ "New Year’s Honours 2016 list" (pdf). GOV.UK. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 30 December 2015.