I am deeply honoured and humbled to receive this award. I do not want to take up too much of your time but I have been asked to make some brief remarks.
I guess some may think of an award of this type as an “arrival”. However, to me, life is a journey not an arrival. So, in that vein, I would like to tell you a little about my journey.
My journey began in Broken Hill, a small mining town in the Australian desert.
As a young man I had two ambitions
- Go to a place that had sealed roads, and
- Live by the ocean where the summer temperatures were less than 120oF
I managed to realize both these life goals in 1962 when I went to Sydney to study engineering at the University of New South Wales.
Actually a third fantastic thing happened to me in Sydney. On July 7, 1962 I went to the Jazz Club in the city of Sydney. There I met this beautiful young girl who has been by my side ever since. My dear wife Rosslyn is my guide and my strength. Actually, I owe everything to her including two wonderful children and three fabulous grandchildren.
Continuing the journey, (now with Rosslyn), we packed a small box in 1970 and headed off to London. It seemed like a big risk for a boy from the desert. However, my advice to young people is to take risks in life. It is only by taking risks that big opportunities are realized.
In London, I had the opportunity to interact with some truly fabulous people including John Westcott, Roger Sargent, Karl Aström, Martin Clark, Mark Davis and Richard Vinter. Their work continues to inspire me to this very day!
Then there was, of course, David Mayne. We became firm friends and have continued to work together for the past 35 years. He has been a constant source of scholarly advice and inspiration. David is too modest to sing his own praise, so let me do it for him. A truly fabulous person!
Let me return to the idea of taking risks. David Mayne and I actually rode motorbikes back to my old home in Broken Hill. 4,000 kms of risk and fun! They say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Well, clearly the motorbikes didn’t kill David or myself so I guess I can claim credit for making David stronger.
In 1974, I decided to leave London to return to Australia. Here I realized some further life goals. Firstly I was able to live by the ocean away from summer heat. However, more importantly, I was able to join the vibrant new group being established by Brian Anderson at the University of Newcastle.
Brian was the youngest professor ever appointed in Australia. He was hard working, enthusiastic, inspiring and, above all supremely organized. If Brian says that a meeting is scheduled from 9 to 10 am, then you can be certain the meeting will not be running at 10:05. I guess that is another lesson for young people. If something cannot be said succinctly, then it probably shouldn’t be said.
We were actually a very small group in Newcastle and this provided the opportunity to work on a broad spectrum of topics ranging from industrial electronics to radar, telecommunication, signal processing and even a little control theory. We also had a wonderful corporate spirit. Each supported others. I fondly remember working with John Moore, Tony Cantoni, Rob Evans and many others on a diverse range of topics.
Indeed, I believe that one of the great things about our field is that it intersects deep theory with a broad range of real world applications. Personally I find nothing more exciting than seeing some idea that I have worked on used in the real world. Many colleagues in industry helped me realize this goal. I particular want to single out John Edwards of Hatch-IAS who inspired me for over 30 years with rolling mill automation challenges.
This leads me to make another suggestion to young people; always think broadly and avoid becoming delta function researchers.
During the early years in Newcastle, I took the opportunity of a study leave at Harvard University. There I worked with Peter Ramadge and Peter Caines on Adaptive Control. To be honest we were all very new to this field and had little idea what we should do. Indeed, we almost gave up hundreds of times. However, with persistence, brilliant ideas from the two Peter’s and amazing insights gained through reading recent results by Vic Solo, we finally saw light at the end of the tunnel.
Many of the world experts on Adaptive Control at that time were working at Yale, so we jumped on a train to proudly show them our results. This led to an amazing exchange with Steve Morse. He simply said “I do no believe it, you must be wrong!” Can I quickly add that Steve did this in an incredibly scholarly fashion. Indeed, once convinced, Steve became our greatest advocate and continues to be so.
So my advice to young people is to always welcome criticism. It can be the most positive influence you will ever have!
Returning to Newcastle. I worked with wonderful colleagues and students. It is a great joy to me to see that they have all excelled in different fields. There are too many to mention here but a short list includes Juan Carlos Agüero, Thomas Brinsmead, Milan Derpich, Jose de Doná, Christian Lovaas, Brett Ninness, Daniel Quevedo, Osvaldo Rojas, Mario Salgado, María Seron, Edwardo Silva, Steve Weller, James Welsh, Juan Yuz and many others. It is actually their combined work that this award is built upon.
I even managed to write several books with my former students. I always underestimated the effort involved (perhaps that was simply a trick to encourage my joint authors not to give up). I remember saying to Mario Salgado, it will just take 300 hours. He often reminds me that it was more like 10,000 hours! The truly amazing fact about all my joint book authors is that we remain friends after all the anguish of book writing.
Maybe the kind of work we all do in our field is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I thus also want to mention the incredibly hard work that my colleagues have put into our research centre in Newcastle over the past decade or so. I especially want to mention my colleagues Reza Mohemani, Minyue Fu and Gregory Adams who made many personal sacrifices to support our joint research work.
I want to conclude by singling out several other people who had a major influence on me.
Firstly, there are Dianne Piefke and Jayne Disney who have managed the financial and administrative side of our research for many years. Their friendly approach and remarkable efficiency has been a key element in our success and is very well known to a large team of academic visitors who have come to Newcastle.
Secondly, there was Stefan Graebe. He is a wonderful systems researcher but also possesses fabulous people skills. Every Friday night he would come to my office with two packets of chile crisps and two cans of cola to discuss the discoveries of the week. Stefan had this incredible ability to focus on what is important. He would say, “you have 3 minutes to explain X.” This was yet another version of the edict that “if it cannot be said succinctly then don’t say it”. Although Stefan had no formal training in finance, he rose to the position of Chief Financial Officer in a major company. So another message for young people is to take on hard jobs, the systems approach and clarity of thinking will see you through.
I also want to mention Rick Middleton. We first met about 25 years ago and have been friends and colleagues ever since. He taught me all about delta operators and how to support and respect others. I know of no nicer person. You are fortunate indeed that he will be the next President of the Control Systems Society.
Next, I want to mention Arie Feuer. He has visited me every year in Newcastle for 20 years. Arie is a firm believer in the value of multidisciplinary research. He has spent 20 years convincing me that Control has much to offer Signal Processing and vice versa. I am a slow learner but I am gradually getting there. By the way, I also made Arie stronger since he also braved a motorbike trip to Broken Hill and survived.
I want to conclude by mentioning others who have been part of my journey, including Lennart Ljung, Torsten Soderström, Michel Gevers, Bill Levine and Julio Braslavsky. All taught me deep secrets of systems science but, perhaps more importantly, the value of friendship.
Well, I guess if I keep naming people who have inspired me, I will end up naming the whole Control Systems Society. So I think I must stop here.
Again, this is a truly great honour. I look forward to continuing this incredible journey with you all.