Celebrated journalist, IBM leader to headline Feigenbaum Forum

Publication Date

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman and John E. Kelly III ’76, who oversees IBM’s research labs and parts of the Watson business, will headline the third annual Feigenbaum Forum on Innovation and Creativity.

They will discuss the impact of technological acceleration on innovation and creativity, and the important role of the liberal arts. The forum is Friday, Oct. 27, at 5 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. It is free and open to the public.

Winner of three Pulitzers, Friedman has covered stories from around the globe for the Times since 1981.

Thomas Friedman and John E. Kelly III ’76

Thomas Friedman (left); John E. Kelly III ’76

Vanity Fair called him “the country’s best newspaper columnist,” while Foreign Policy magazine stated “Friedman doesn't just report on events; he helps shape them.”

Friedman is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “The World is Flat,” which sold more than four million copies. His most recent book is 2016’s “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.”

Kelly has held many management and technical positions since joining IBM in 1980. Currently senior vice president, Cognitive Solutions and Research, he is focused on the company’s investments in several of the fastest-growing and most strategic parts of the information technology market.

This includes IBM Analytics, IBM Security and IBM Watson, as well as IBM Research and the company’s Intellectual Property team. He also oversees the specialization of IBM Watson into various industries and domains including IBM Watson Health, IBM Watson Internet of Things, IBM Watson Education, IBM Watson Financial Services and IBM Watson Customer Engagement.

Kelly and his team were responsible for advancing the science of cognitive computing through his support for Watson, the groundbreaking cloud-based artificial intelligence system that defeated two standing Jeopardy world champions in 2011.

Kelly’s bachelor’s degree from Union is in physics. He holds a master’s degree in physics and a doctorate in materials engineering, both from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

A Union trustee since 2003, he is currently chair of the board. He also serves on the board of trustees at RPI.

“We are honored to have two distinguished leaders join us this year for the Feigenbaum Forum,” said President Stephen C. Ainlay. “John Kelly and Thomas Friedman each embody the very qualities of creativity and innovation that the Feigenbaum Forum seeks to explore. We look forward to hearing them reflect on the way in which humans will need to adapt if they are to thrive in the rapidly changing world today.”

The forum is supported by the Feigenbaum Foundation, created by brothers Armand V. Feigenbaum ’42 and Donald S. Feigenbaum ‘46, longtime benefactors to Union.

Acknowledged world leaders in systems engineering and total quality control, the brothers founded General Systems Co., a Pittsfield, Mass.-based international systems engineering firm that designs and helps implement operational systems for corporations and governments worldwide. Armand died November 2014; Donald, March 2013.

For more than a dozen years, the brothers hosted the Feigenbaum Forum, a gathering on campus at which academicians discussed characteristics of a new generation of leaders and how better to integrate liberal arts and other studies. The current series builds on this event by bringing in prominent speakers who have revolutionized their fields of endeavor through contributions deemed innovative and creative.

Howard Gardner, an internationally-renowned psychologist who developed the theory of multiple intelligences that revolutionized how educators teach their students, was the forum’s inaugural speaker in 2015.

Last fall, distinguished artist and designer Maya Lin, whose work includes the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Civil Rights Memorial, spoke. Lin is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.