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How Science Fiction Is Driving Innovation at Intel

Brian David Johnson is Intel’s first official futurist, helping the chip maker to imagine tomorrow and then build it. Johnson reads the sci-fi works of Vernor Vinge, Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross.

What’s the Latest Development?

Like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells before him, Brian David Johnson is a futurist. Johnson also enjoys the distinction of being Intel’s professional seer, helping the chip maker to imagine tomorrow, then build it. Among the people who have influenced his vision, Johnson names science fiction authors Vernor Vinge, Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross. Currently, there are three ideas Johnson sees as most essential to technology’s future: “One is called the secret life of data, the second is the ghost of computing and the third is the future of fear.”

What’s the Big Idea?

By the secret life of data, Johnson means a future in which data crunching becomes more essential while simultaneously becoming more hidden. Future societies will be managed by machines talking to machines, he says. Ghost computing describes the future of microprocessors, which have already shrunk to microscopic sizes. So what happens when they disappear completely? Finally, as Johnson looks 10 to 15 years into technology’s future, the biggest obstacle he sees to progress is people’s irrational fears. “The problem with fear is that fear sells,” he says, but “very few innovations have come out of being fearful.”

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