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Gary Chapman, Computer Pioneer, Dies at 58

Gary Chapman, Senior Lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, Associate Director of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin and internationally recognized expert on Internet policy, telecommunications and technology policy, died of an apparent heart attack Tuesday, December 14, in Guatemala, according to his family. "The LBJ School has lost a beloved colleague, inspirational teacher, and wonderful friend. Gary was a man of shining integrity, whose memory and example we will carry with us," said Dean Robert Hutchings. "Our deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends along with our heart-felt gratitude for a life of such profound contribution. We will miss him dearly."

From 1984 to 1991, Chapman was executive director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility [CPSR], the only national public interest group of computer scientists. The organization investigated international security, arms control, the role of computers in the arms race, and computers and privacy.

CPSR was in the vanguard of the Star Wars debate, devoting much effort during its first few years to describing the intractability of the computational problem posed by the initial Star Wars system, and the basic problem of trusting the lives of the nation and the world to software that could not be realistically tested. In December 1985, following CPSR's lead, Scientific American published a detailed report by Herbert Lin on the unfeasibility of relying on software at that scale. Dr. David Parnas made headlines by resigning from the SDI Advisory Panel on Computing because he realized that the complexity of the computer software alone would make the system too untrustworthy to render nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete."

Because Parnas resigned at considerable hazard to his career and published an open letter explaining why, CPSR awarded him the first Norbert Wiener award in 1987 for his courageous efforts.

Chapman, who joined the LBJ School in 1994, served as the most recent graduate advisor for the Master of Public Affairs degree program and as the School’s Director of the 21st Century Project, which explores ways for citizens to be involved in policymaking involving technology, particularly in the areas of telecommunications, the Internet and digital media. He was the author of numerous articles on technology and society for a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, The New Republic, The Washington Post, Technology Review, Communications of the ACM and many others.

From 1995 to 2001, he was an internationally syndicated columnist on technology for The Los Angeles Times, and his column, called "Digital Nation," was carried in over 200 newspapers and websites. Chapman was also a technology columnist for Texas Monthly magazine and a general editorial columnist for The Austin American-Statesman. He has taught and lectured all over the world, most recently as a guest faculty member at the University of Porto in Porto, Portugal.

In early 2000, Chapman was named one of the "25 Most Powerful Texans in High Tech" by Texas Monthly. In 1999, The Austin American-Statesman named him one of its "Ten to Watch." Chapman has also served as chairman of the selection committee for the Turing Award, the world's highest award in computer science. In 1991, Chapman co-founded the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference, which is still held annually.

Chapman earned his B.A. from Occidental College and attended Stanford University's Political Science Ph.D. program. Chapman was also a former member of the United States Army Special Forces, or "Green Berets."

To post personal remembrances, please visit:

Read "Star Wars, Down But Not Out"
CPSR Newsletter, Volume 14, Number 4: Fall 1996

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