How will we work in 2025?

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How will we work in 2025?

By Tom Soderstrom, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

As IT professionals, we are used to rapid changes. But compared to what’s coming, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Of course, no one actually knows the future, but by predicting it, we can make better decisions today that will help us become more effective tomorrow. The purpose of this article is to start a discussion so we can innovate together to help NASA IT lead the way and prepare for how NASA employees will work effectively in 2025.

It has been said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. While we may not be able to create the IT future by ourselves, we can certainly influence it. A good way to accomplish this is to

  1. collaboratively predict the future;
  2. test it together now with leading industry innovators by creating meaningful and evocative prototypes that provide high value for our constituents in the NASA environment;
  3. measure the results; and
  4. communicate the results as visibly and loudly as we can.

So, what will the technology environment look like in 2025, you ask? OK, here’s a prediction at a subset of the new normal in 2025: 3D printing / scanning / faxing is mainstream. Consumer robotics is everywhere and really cheap. All data is accessible, searchable and usable from any device. We can use unlimited computing and storage through cloud computing. Computing is wearable with any data accessible at any time. Reality is augmented via modeling by default through our mobile apps and wearable computing. Space is partly commercialized and NASA routinely partners with commercial and non-traditional entities. Over 10% of cars are self-driving. More than 50% of employees are Millennials. NASA looks and feels much more like a startup than we did in 2014 and we use crowd sourcing routinely. Projects are accomplished in months, not years.

How will we work? We will routinely use effective, rapid prototyping with faster, lighter, cheaper, and more effective infusion of the latest technologies into the NASA missions. Agile development will seem cumbersome in comparison. We will evaluate and use the most effective emerging tools as part of our normal work. Visual programming and modeling will be expected and NASA will show visible leadership to industry.

Where will we work? Simply put, NASA will be the workplace of choice. We will have a balanced, “startup-like” environment with mobile, reconfigurable, fit-to-purpose workspace that enhances personal productivity and job satisfaction. Working from anywhere with any data and any device will be the new normal.

Who will perform the work? NASA will be the employer of choice and the partner of choice for the next generation of startups, industry, partners, and competitors. What about “the crowd” you say? Bring it on! Crowd ideation / development / funding will be commonplace and highly effective.

What will we work on? We will be equally adept at small and large missions, for both wild and feasible ideas. We will use industry for transportation. We will be on our way to 3D printing on Mars in preparation for sending humans to Mars. Asteroids will be within our grasp (literally). Submarining under the ice of Europa will be imminent. We will monitor and protect our planet with millions of sensors composed of official NASA instruments and crowd-sourced wearable computing and nanosats. And that’s just a start.

You want some specifics? OK. Here is a sampling of predicted changes and prime candidates for prototyping that will show us the way to taste test this future now across NASA Centers and with leading industry innovators:

  • By taking advantage of Big Data and Analytics, we can easily find, store, share, and update all relevant information when we need it. We will provide self-service analytics to all who need it, so our decisions are based on data, not anecdotes. Robotic devices and scripts will collect valuable data for us 24 hours per day, every day. Every NASA Center should have at least one Data Scientist. More specifically, an engaged and excited individual that is ready and willing to try new innovations and literally press any button at any time.
  • The Internet of Things and Wearable Computing will help us to have instant access to all this information at our fingertips, on our wrists, in our glasses, via hand gestures, and by simply speaking the questions. This becomes invaluable in a hands-free environment, such as in a clean room or inside space-constrained structures, such as the DSN antennas.
  • We will use just-in-time training through videos created by current NASA specialists, and through specialized Massive Open Online Courses, all available from anywhere and any device via on-demand video snippets delivered directly to our favorite devices, such as smart glasses.
  • 3D Printing/Scanning/Copying/Faxing will be mainstream and will allow us to hold effective brainstorming sessions where we mix virtual and physical models regardless of where we are located.

Is this too Pollyanna’ish for you? Too conservative? Either way, please participate in the conversation and help us steer this train in the right direction, because it is already moving and speeding up, with or without us. Our destination is exciting indeed. And it’s all enabled by IT.

Page Last Updated: June 27th, 2014
Page Editor: Michael Porterfield