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See the Future, Build the Future
By: Denise Lineberry

Last week, roughly 300 students relocated from many different regions of the US to Hampton Roads, where they began a summer internship at NASA's Langley Research Center.

More than half of those students were accepted into the Langley Aerospace Summer Scholar’s (LARSS) program. Others joined ACCESS (Achieving Competency in Careers in Engineering and Space Science), MUST (Motivating Undergraduate Students in Science and Technology), ARMD (Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate) and became NASA Space Technology Research Program Fellows (NSTRPF). Some students were sponsored by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSCG).

Brian Johnson, Intel.

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Brian Johnson, Intel futurist, urged NASA Langley summer students to build a better future. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Brian Johnson, Intel.

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Brian Johnson, Intel futurist, discussed his career path, starting with his first job out of college as a "zombie hunter." The "zombies" were computer systems that he had to power down. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

As the students settled in, they became familiar with what the next 10 weeks would have in store for them as they work alongside engineers, scientists and every NASA occupation in between.

This week, Intel futurist, Brian Johnson, urged the students to look well beyond those 10 weeks.

"Being at NASA, you can literally build the future," Johnson said. "Own that. Ask yourself what kind of future you want to live in."

Johnson explained that his position as a futurist at Intel requires him to design models for the next decade. As a "part-engineer, part-designer," he pragmatically determines a better future.

According to Johnson, it’s not predicting -- it’s "futurecasting," or developing an actionable vision for the future we can build. It's a people-based process in which you understand what people want to do, and then, figure out how to make it happen.

Johnson spoke of a future, as near as 2020, where computing could move to zero, meaning essentially anything can become a computer when a chip is placed in it. As he explained, Intel designs chips that are in majority of the world's computers. He feels a great responsibility knowing the possible impact that Intel can have on the future of the world.

For one year, he traveled to various places to learn more about the most important part of the equation -- people. "Data by itself is meaningless," Johnson said. "It only means something when it comes to people."

He learned about others visions, fears and hopes. And he often asked them: "How do you change the future?"

He arrived at an answer that he considers both simple and complicated: "You change the story that people tell themselves about the future they will live in."

Science Fiction writing that is driven by Science Fact plays a major role, according to Johnson. It lays a logical groundwork for better technology and opens up new doors for discussion.

"Science Fiction gives us a language that allows us to have a conversation about the future," Johnson said.

Because Johnson and Intel want that conversation to continue, they launched The Tomorrow Project, in which superstars, science fiction authors and scientists discuss their visions for the world that's coming and the world they'd like to build. Anyone can join the conversation, and according to Johnson, everyone should.

"The future is built everyday by the actions of people," Johnson said. "It's up to all of us to be active participants in the future. Don't just sit back and let the future happen to you."


The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman