Artificial Intelligence expert and mountaineer
Born: 12 July, 1956, in Montana.
Died: 5 June, 2005, on Mount Everest, aged 49.
THE early death of Rob Milne is a major sadness for his many colleagues in the field of advanced technology research in Scotland and for mountaineers the world over. Milne was an integral and fundamental pioneer of intelligence applications: not only in creating specialist companies, but was instrumental in bringing companies to Scotland. Through ScotlandIS - the industrial body that represents IT and software in Scotland - Milne enhanced their position in the national economy.
As a mountaineer he was a born and infectious enthusiast. He bagged Munros with energetic glee and was on the last lap of an audacious challenge - typical of the man - which he had started as a PhD student in Edinburgh, to climb the highest peaks on each continent. From Alaska to Indonesia Milne had ascended the highest peaks and raised funds for Care For the Wild. His ascent of Everest would have completed the project.
Milne was brought up in Colorado and after university in the United States came to do his PhD in artificial intelligence in Edinburgh in 1979. After a short period back in Washington (during which he was chief AI scientist at the Pentagon) he returned to Edinburgh in 1986 and founded Intelligence Applications. The headquarters were in Livingston and the firm rapidly grew through his ability to create successful heavy engineering diagnostic systems.
The firm also expanded into developing intelligent software solutions and was instrumental in developing Tiger, a knowledge-based gas turbine system which was extensively used by the international oil companies. Such was its success that the company was bought by an international competitor in 2000. Milne continued with the new company as a consultant and maintained a close involvement in Sermatech. IA won the Queen's Award for Technology in 1998.
Milne was a major contributor to technological education throughout Scotland: he was, for example, a frequent judge on Young Software (Scotland) Awards and a director of the Scotland Software Federation. He often lectured to IT students and wrote many learned articles on the rapid advance being made in the subject. Most important, Milne visited schools, knowing that the future of such an emerging industry was with the young. Milne was in constant demand to address international seminars on how IT could best be used in commerce and industry.
Milne held several academic posts - notably the professorship in the Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute at Edinburgh University - where his genial good humour and patient kindliness did much to encourage students to pursue careers in IT.
It is said that when Milne came to be interviewed for his PhD at Edinburgh he demonstrated to the supervisor how best a vertical wall can be ascended. The supervisor refrained from the challenge but the incident reflects Milne's passion for climbing. He became a senior and much-respected figure in the Scottish Mountaineering Club and spent most weekends climbing the Scottish peaks. He loved the challenge and remoteness of the Highlands - in all weathers. Milne wrote books on climbing and lectured to many Scottish climbing associations: wryly commenting at one talk recently: "I would guess Everest gets more ascents per year than Ben Aden."
His death on Everest came as a shock as he was in regular cyber communication with friends at Edinburgh University. There had been no hint of any ill health; his last few messages had mostly concerned the unsatisfactory weather conditions. Milne was within 1,200 feet of the summit when the party stopped for a rest. When Milne stood up to continue he collapsed.
This charismatic and courteous man was respected in many parts of Scotland - he was deeply honoured when he was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2003. He championed Scotland's technological profile when he fronted the world AI conference at Edinburgh earlier this year. Nothing typifies his good nature and spirit of adventure more than the final entry in his diary that was sent to his friends at the university. After a rundown of the weather conditions, Milne concluded: "Otherwise in good spirits and health. Back to the book."
Milne is survived by his wife, Valerie, whom he married in 1981, and their son and daughter.