Intel Looking to Design the Future

Brian David Johnson of Intel was the next speaker (Intel is a Diamond Sponsor for the Fujitsu Forum event). Johnson is a futurist and principal engineer and his topic is “How to design the future”. His job is to look 10 to 15 years ahead and imagine how people will interact with IT. It’s important, because it takes Intel five to ten years to develop a new platform and product line. Johnson effectively designs a specification for the future and he tries to set the steps needed to get there.

Johnson admitted that he is a geek and a nerd – he loves technology.

To build a future, you have to start with a vision and imagination. Most pictures of the future show rooms that are very modern and clean and tidy – “Where are the baby toys, the pictures and the “stuff” that makes us comfortable?”, Johnson asked. The reality is that we humans are complex and messy. At worst, such visions of the future are intellectually dishonest. His preferred picture of the future shows something that looks very much like today. The phone, the picture frame, and the TV are connected, but the world is full of “stuff”.

Futurecasting is not about prediction and “being right”, it’s about designing things that fit into the future lives of 346. Johnson looks at social sciences and economics as well as technical trends and spends a lot of time on the road talking to people.

Johnson showed a graphic of how the space taken up by computers has changed over the years, with markers every ten years or so. “Compute moves to zero” at 2020 because the size of computational power begins to approach nothing. At 2020, Intel’s roadmap is for 5nm features in semiconductors and at that size, features are only 12 atoms across. At that size, “anything can become a computer”. The first question was “Can we develop small enough computers?”, but now anything can be a computer, so the question is what should be made into a computer and why?

“So what does 2024 look like?”, he asked. Today, we’re surrounded by devices. However, as the device size gets to zero, the devices disappear. It’s about Moore’s Law, but we get to a point where there is more computing in the IoT than in the devices. It doesn’t mean the devices become less important – they become more important, because you need a “window on the computing world”.

When the car and the city is full of computing, you are, effectively, living inside a computer, so there can be lots of optimisation. You can optimise the environment for safety (or for laughter), so the question is “how do we use the technology?”. If it is only used to “sell stuff”, then that is a shame, in his view.

“What will it be like to live in a world of big data?”, Johnson asked. The data means nothing until it comes back to touch people. People talk about the cloud, but its not nebulous, its servers have a clear physical presence. However, the data about us almost becomes a “second self”. The next question is how are we using the big data to improve the lives of individuals? That should be the goal, in his view.

To us the data to make things better, you have to deal with fear. Fear is an important factor in human thinking and it turns out that, if you scan it, a brain that is frightened looks different. In a time of fear, there are only three reactions – fight, flight or freeze. In the words of a researcher that Johnson spoke to “fear makes you stupid”.

Unfortunately, according to some research, what people are frightened of has little to do with reality. Apparently among the top fears of people are sharks and airline travel, but they are not real risks. On the other hand they don’t fear heart disease, but it kills many of us.

Science and technology have progressed so that the limits to development are not science and technology, but our imaginations, Johnson believes. It’s our inability to imagine that limits us, he summarised.

Johnson has been running “The tomorrow project” which you can find at

The project started in Germany, but has spread to other countries. “What future do you want?” is the question that is asked and the project asks “what do you want to avoid?”. The idea uses science fiction stories as stories are a powerful influencer of human behaviour.

“How do we change the future?”. Johnson said that you can change the future because you can influence almost everybody’s lives in the future by getting them to change the story that they tell themselves about the future. Changes in their stories about the future change 346’s behaviour.

Johnson said that delegates should have an opinion about the future, should express the opinions and should then discuss their ideas with others – especially if they disagree. That creates a new story.

Display Daily Comments

This was a very good talk and I found resonance with a number of my favourite topics. Johnson said that he does a lot of talks and it showed in his relaxed and polished performance. In the end, though, he talked a lot about how to define and change the future without giving away very much about how Intel sees the future!

I liked the idea of computation moving to zero and seeing the client devices as windows onto the cloud. At that time, as I have been saying for years “the display is the computer”. (BR)