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Brian David Johnson  

Futurist & Director of Future Casting, Intel Corporation

The future is Brian David Johnson’s business. As chief futurist at Intel Corporation, his charter is to develop an actionable vision for computing in 2020. His work is called “future casting”—using ethnographic field studies, technology research, trend data, and even science fiction to provide Intel with a pragmatic vision of consumers and computing. Along with reinventing TV, Johnson has been pioneering development in artificial intelligence, robotics, and using science fiction as a design tool. He speaks and writes extensively about future technologies in articles and scientific papers as well as science fiction short stories and novels (Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction, Screen Future: The Future of Entertainment Computing and the Devices we Love, Fake Plastic Love, and Nebulous Mechanisms: The Dr. Simon Egerton Stories). He has directed two feature films and is an illustrator and commissioned painter.

Speech Topics

Vintage Tomorrows

Can you imagine what today's technology would have looked like in the Victorian Era? That's the world Steampunk envisions: a mad-inventor collection of 21st Century-inspired contraptions powered by stream and driven by gears. It's more than just a whimsical idea. In the past few years, the Steampunk genre has captivated makers, hackers, artists, designers, writers, and others throughout the world.

In this fascinating speech, futurist Brian David Johnson offers insights into what Steampunk's alternative history says about our own world and its technological future. Interviews with experts such as William Gibson, Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, James Gleick, and Margaret Atwood explore how this vision of stylish craftsmen making fantastic and beautiful hand-tooled gadgets has become a cultural movement-and perhaps an important countercultural moment.

Steampunk is everywhere-as gadget prototypes at Maker Faire, novels and comic books, paintings and photography, sculptures, fashion design, and music. Discover how this elaborate view of a future that never existed can help us look forward.

Screen Future

Screen Future is about the people, technology, and economics that are shaping the evolution of entertainment. Blending social and computer sciences, media history, and engaging conversations with industry experts, Johnson provides an informed and illuminating vision for what happens when TV and entertainment are transformed by the power and intelligence of computers. With a relaxed and approachable style, Johnson takes us inside the technology and explores how our TVs, phones, cars, computers, and all the devices we love are being connected and reshaped into personalized entertainment platforms. Screen Future explores the hard questions behind today's headlines and buzz: Is this the end of broadcast TV? Are the days of cable and satellite providers numbered? What role will government need to play? How do we pay for it all? And most importantly, what do consumers really want? Screen Future is both a comprehensive analysis and an entertaining tour of the technical, economic, and cultural implications of a future that's coming faster than you might think.

Science Fiction Prototyping

A science fiction author, Johnson uses his work in his futurecasting process. Science fiction is the playground of the imagination. If you are interested in science or fascinated with the future then science fiction is where you explore new ideas and let your dreams and nightmares duke it out on the safety of the page or screen. But what if we could use science fiction to do more than that? What if we could use science fiction based on science fact to not only imagine our future but develop new technologies and products? What if we could use stories, movies and comics as a kind of tool to explore the real world implications and uses of future technologies today?

Johnson teaches his audience how to use fiction as a way to imagine our future in a whole new way. If we write science fiction based on science fact, it allows us to explore the human, cultural and ethical implications of technology. It enables us to 'prototype' our ideas. Even the futures that we don't want are good fodder for this. Think about the combination of authoritarianism through constant surveillance, linguistics, changing history books - all of those awful things can be encapsulated by 'Big Brother.' George Orwell's 1984 gave us a symbol of a future we didn't want to see, and it's part of the culture now.

A talk filled with history, real world examples and conversations with experts, Science Fiction Prototyping will give you the tools you need to begin designing the future with science fiction.

The Future of Fear

"Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself"

All fear is, in essence, fear of the future. We are afraid of the things that have not yet happened. 50 percent of the questions Johnson is asked about the future have to do with fear: something that someone is worried about. Yet, very few innovations have come out of being fearful. The problem with fear is that fear sells and it even has policy implications. But when talking about fear it is not usually a technology question; it's a cultural conversation where Johnson has to analyze a human experience. Johnson is working to determine what people are afraid of and attack it.

We know that security is important, and it's only going to get more important. So as we look 10 to 15 years out, what Johnson wants to do is to think: What do we really need to be afraid of? When we talk about what it means to live in a safe and secure world, there's a lot of misinformation and a lack of information out there. Because of that, people are creating bogeymen. We're creating these irrational things, and that's very dangerous-especially when we're making decisions, whether it's hardware design or something else. We need to take a fact-based approach to what we should be afraid of and what shouldn't we be afraid of. And the stuff that we shouldn't be afraid of, we need to push that aside. The stuff we should be afraid of, we really need to dig into.

We need to change how we think about technology in the future. We need to give people different stories that aren't so negative. So that people can ask themselves how do they really want to use technology? We need different visions for the future, new stories. All of these computers and technology are things that we create as humans and as it gets smarter and as it gets faster than we need to be very clear about what we want that device to do. We shouldn't be afraid to have it address the really hard problems. We shouldn't be afraid to challenge ourselves, to go at things like preparing for the future. We can go at things like education and shift around any fear and actually do something with it.

How Our Decisions Determine The Future

Let's get one thing straight: the future is not set. The future is not some fixed point just over the horizon that we are all helplessly hurtling towards. No. We are not powerless. The future is not written. The future is made every day by the actions of people. Because of this Johnson has always believed that everyone should be an active participant in the future. If we are all making it and we are all going to live in it then why not do something about it individually.

The way you change the future is to change people's narrative. Change the story people have imagined the future will be. Change that and you change the future. Everything else is far too complicated and out of a single person's control - but just change the story we tell ourselves about the future and you change the future itself.

Johnson discusses the importance of everyone being an active participant in the future and how the future is created every day by the actions of people.

The Tomorrow Project

"Conversation is when people simply talk; not take a test on the air with Q and A. It's when something said spontaneously prompts a thought and a reply in someone else. When several people's talk moves around a subject, changes directions and produces spontaneous and entertaining comments and unexpected insights, and takes surprising turns." (Times Books, 2010)

The Tomorrow Project is how Johnson takes his research out into the world and gets people talking about the future. Johnson focuses on engaging in conversations with scientists, the public and even entertainers. He's spoken with synthetic biologists, security experts, and even They're long conversations, which he shares to hopefully spark a broader conversation about the future we all want to live in.

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Developing a Vision of the Future

What do you take into account when planning the future?

The answer is both intriguing and demonstrates a really iterative process. Johnson tells of the start of his research in the social sciences, working with cultural anthropologists, ethnographers, social scientists to understand the current state of the culture and try to figure out where it's going. Next Johnson looks at the hardware and works with computer scientists. The tech data is meshed with the social sciences data to answer a simple question: how can we apply this technology to capture people's imaginations and make their lives better? Johnson then looks at general social trends to develop a "vision of the future" that his team can work to build.

Johnson also spends time out on the road talking to people in various professional industries and tries to focus not only on customers, but also a broader collection of companies and businesses. They talk about more than just the future of computers, they talk about the future of computation and where they see the world going.

Johnson asks: What do we need to do today? In 2015? In 2020? And let it evolve our thinking, which actually makes a vision for 2020 much more realistic

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