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In Memoriam

James L. Flanagan

James L. Flanagan, an internationally recognized acoustical pioneer and a retired professor and vice president for research, passed away on August 25, 2015, at his home in Warren Township, N.J. He was 89, one day shy of his 90th birthday. The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Mildred.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. today (September 2) at Christ Church, 561 Springfield Ave., Summit, N.J.

Flanagan was granted or shared in about 50 patents, including those for an artificial human larynx and a typewriter activated by the same audio tones as a push-button phone that allowed deaf people to communicate remotely.

Flanagan received a master's degree and a doctorate from M.I.T, and in 1956 he joined Bell Labs, where he worked for 33 years, retiring from there in 1990 as director of information principles research.

He was subsequently a professor and a vice president for research at Rutgers until his retirement in 2005. He had been director of Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Information Processing in Piscataway.

According to The New York Times, as a leading researcher at Bell Laboratories, Flanagan was a pioneer in the field of acoustics, envisioning and providing the technical foundation for speech recognition, teleconferencing, MP3 music files, and the more efficient digital transmission of human conversation—most famously in a 1976 article, “Computers That Talk and Listen: Man-Machine Communication by Voice,” that appeared in Proceedings of the I.E.E.E., a journal published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

His innovations included preserving the sound of a human voice while crunching it digitally, as well as teaching computers to articulate—converting sound waves into digital pulses. He also helped devise a “force-feedback” tactile glove, similar to today’s video game accessories, that enabled medical students to simulate hands-on examinations when a live patient or cadaver was not available (or to mimic a game of handball).

He is survived by his wife, Mildred; three sons, Stephen, James, and Aubrey; a brother, Thomas; and five grandchildren.

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