James Cooke Brown, inventor of the logical language Loglan, the board game Careers, author of the utopian novel The Troika Incident and the new book The Job Market of the Future: Using Computers to Humanize Economies, died on February 13, 2000 in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, where he was traveling with his wife, Evelyn Anderson. He was 78.
Dr. Brown was an inventor, writer, and university professor. In 1954, while working as a research analyst for Knox-Reeves advertising in Minneapolis, Dr. Brown invented and tested a board game, Careers, which was produced by Parker Brothers starting in 1956. "In contrast to the one-dimensional game Monopoly, in Careers players pursue money, fame and happiness," according to his daughter. "In that greed-encouraging 1950's atmosphere, my father wanted to open up to youth the idea that money is not the only dimension to be considered in life." Later Dr. Brown developed a more complex and nuanced version of the game for adults in which enlightenment, virtue and power are also dimensions.
Dr. Brown also wrote science fiction. While living in Mexico City in 1952, he published The Emissary, a novella, in Astounding Science Fiction, and "The Love Machine" in Fantastic Universe. During this time he also wrote the first draft of his futurist novel, The Troika Incident, which was published by Doubleday in 1970.
Later he expanded on the economic system he described in The Troika Incident, which he called the "Job Market." Dr. Brown had recently completed a manuscript, The Job Market of the Future: Using Computers to Humanize Economies (forthcoming from M.E. Sharpe, 2001.) In it he proposes a computer-moderated economic system in which available work is divided among all who seek employment in a society, reducing the work week, eliminating unemployment, and removing the need for economies to grow perpetually, destroying the environment. This idea was first described, but left undesigned, by 19th century utopian novelist Edward Bellamy in his books Looking Backward and Equality.
Dr. Brown taught sociology at the University of Florida from 1955 to 1961, when he received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct the Loglan Project. He first wrote about Loglan in a 1960 article in The Scientific American. "Loglan was created to examine Benjamin Lee Whorf's hypothesis that natural languages, such as English or Chinese, place limits on the human ability to think. My father thought that a completely logical language, not based in any one culture, could break through these barriers and expand our ability to reason and imagine," said his daughter, Jenny Brown.
An institute of Loglanists grew up around the project, and from 1978 to 1982 they wrote the first complete computer grammar for any speakable language. "We were using some of the first personal computers, and a grammar compilation took about 45 minutes," recalled Dr. Robert McIvor, a colleague. "Today, compiling a considerably larger Loglan grammar takes a fraction of a second."
Today, there are more than 10,000 words in Loglan, with procedures for generating new ones. The language borrows from the eight most widely spoken natural languages: English, Chinese, Hindi, Russian, Spanish, French, Japanese and German. Dr. Brown's writings on Loglan include two books, a grammar and a dictionary, published in 1975, and updated in 1989, as well as numerous journal articles, tapes of the spoken language, and teaching materials. Alex Leith, a fellow Loglanist and director of the Loglan Institute, said, "The next generation of computers are likely to use languages like Loglan that will enable computers to act as though they understand what their users are asking or telling them."
Questions raised by Loglan led Dr. Brown to study the evolutionary origins of human language. In 1985, with William Greenhood, he published "Paternity, Jokes and Song: A Possible Evolutionary Scenario for the Origin of Mind and Language." (Journal of Social and Biological Structures, 14(3): 255-309.)
Dr. Brown dedicated his life to increasing human understanding and human happiness through scientific study. He also actively advocated for peace and equality. In 1963 in St. Augustine, Florida, he was arrested and jailed, with several others, "sitting in" to protest a white-only restaurant. Several of the protesters, including Dr. Brown, were jailed under inhuman conditions and their arguments in court toppled the sheriff of the county. He actively opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam and worked to end the threat of nuclear weapons.
At a memorial in March 2000, friends and colleagues from around the world gathered and sent greetings. Former spouse Hazel Morgan wrote from Spain, "Jim Brown was a man of ideas and principles, of huge reserves of love and energy, of invention and investigation, of unusual intelligence and application, all of which qualities he dedicated, wholeheartedly and unselfishly, to the effort of solving the essential problems that influence human lives."
Emerson Mitchell, a colleague and professor of logic, said, "JCB was a genius, the type of person whose original thoughts are invisible beforehand and obvious afterwards."
"He was a utopian in every field that he touched," wrote Slavik Ivanov, a Russian colleague and friend.
Dr. Brown was born July 21, 1921, in Tagbilarin, Bohol, Philippines, to American educator parents. He was a U.S. Army Air Force combat navigator, serving in England 1942-1943. He received a doctorate in sociology, philosophy and mathematical statistics from the University of Minnesota in 1952.
He was a world traveler, sailing his own boat across the Atlantic at age 65, and in the last decade, with Evelyn, he visited China, Russia, Australia, India and the Philippines. He died while traveling, of heart failure, at the southernmost tip of South America, in Ushuaia, Argentina.
Besides his wife, Evelyn Anderson, of San Diego, and daughter Jenny, of Gainesville, Florida, he is survived by his son, Jeff, also of San Diego, and three grandchildren.