Meet Neil Oxted

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MEET NEIL OXTED


Neil Angus Oxted was born on the 15th June 1955 in Edinburgh of middle-class parents. He grew up in the age where big mainframe computers were making way for the microcomputer and learned to program using FORTRAN on a minicomputer belonging to Edinburgh Hospital, where his mother worked. He studied physics at Oxford from 1973 to 1976, then moved to Cambridge where he joined the Computing Department, gaining his doctorate there under Maurice Wilkes. In 1980 he accepted a position with the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), which he quit ten years later when funding was lost. He founded Oxted Automata Limited in 1991, based in a dilapidated industrial estate on the outskirts of Banbury.

At a time when the rest of the world watched the West Coast for innovation, his first landmark patent on the use of magnetic spin-torque cells as analogue computing elements was quietly granted in 1995. Further patents followed, and Oxted Automata collaborated with the MoD on a number of research projects up to 2010.

“I’m afraid I played a double game with the MoD,” he admitted, in a rare interview given in 2023, “Those projects got me the funding I badly needed. The MoD got their toys—some beautiful battlefield automation—but they were always a little too unpredictable for them to put into production. What I got was the time and money to develop the neurotronic technology, and the AI programming that went with it. I was busy modelling the human psyche, from infant to young adult, and using much the same programming for the MoD. Sometimes it was hard to keep a straight face when, for example, a 55-ton tank suddenly threw a tantrum in the middle of a battlefield, ejecting all its ammunition into a ravine. And I shall never forget the day a squad of four mine-clearance automata showed up late, having painted each other in shades of pink and green, and demanded that the review panel mark their make-up out of 10. We lost the contract, but it was a landmark day anyway.”

During those years, Oxted built up a team of complementary specialists to develop the technologies that would enable him to build human-like bodies to inhabit the same ecology as humans. “You can’t be plugging your child into the wall every night—the Teknoid illusion is too fragile for that kind of weird stuff.” Oxted could be a hard taskmaster, but he preferred to build his team from people who shared both his dream and his standards.

What Oxted did best was to design and improve the neurotronic nexus, based on the ideas and principles of those first patents. The first domestics rolled off the production line in 2012, and were based on the N1 neurotronic nexus. The N2 was a refinement of the original design, with substantially better miniaturisation and connectivity, and was incorporated into domestics and industrials from 2016, and also into the first Teknoids in 2017. The N3 followed in 2035, its design started by Oxted and completed by Dr. Cora Evans after his death, offering improved long-term stability and slightly improved capacity. The N4, introduced in 2037, incorporated reprogrammable sensory preceptor regions, designed by Dr. Mike Greene, Oxted’s protégé.

Of his personal life, Oxted declared “I never had time for a proper relationship—it takes far too much time if you want to do it properly. Children? I have thousands of children. That’s enough, isn’t it?”

Neil Angus Oxted died on the 24th September, 2034, of complications arising from a stroke. He is survived by the corporation he created and thousands of “children.” It is indeed enough.

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