Jay Last, who gained fame for co-founding the computer company Silicon Graphics Inc. and later moderated an intellectual property litigation forum to help grow tech companies, died on Saturday at his home in Mountain View, California. He was 92.
“His wit and wisdom lived on and empowered his students, as he would say,” said Myra McNeill, CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, which helped Last in his work. “We were thrilled to be a part of his efforts to help others.”
He was one of the few Silicon Valley pioneers whose own valley he named — and spoke, quite literally, of his vision for building the technology hub of the future from which to create world-changing ideas. In a speech given in 2014, he talked about what Silicon Valley and new technology could do for the world, “a valley of wondrous possibilities.”
“I think that’s where we can make the world a better place,” he said, “by making things easier and making things more efficient.”
While he was often courted by the media, the Wall Street Journal named him one of the most influential people of the 20th century. Another magazine, Inc., called him a “tech visionary.”
Started by Last and his friend Francis Cybulski, SGI helped popularize the low-cost graphics product known as the vector graphics, a hallmark of what he believed would be the key to developing the future of innovation in technology.
The company, which built computer systems for a variety of industries, was acquired by the mainframe manufacturer IBM in 1992.
Despite his success, Last preferred to keep his profile low, at least publicly. In a 2015 interview with the publication Techonomy, he said he preferred to avoid “bombing runs” — that is, marketing pitches. “It’s one thing for a writer to write it in a few pages on a page,” he said, “it’s another thing for some idiot to try to tell it from the table of contents. It’s quite a difficult presentation.”
But he was not averse to taking a few shots at his fellow visionaries, such as the software innovator Ray Kurzweil, who often spoke about the still-unsettled challenge of establishing a singularity, a transformation of the human mind expected to take place in the next 10 years. Last believed such an event would take place around the year 2045, and he put his bet in oil and energy.
Kurzweil eventually responded to Last’s comment in an editorial in Scientific American, writing that he would “pursue and complete the Big Bang with immortality if that’s what technology allows.”