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Future-Casting in Government: Developing a Vision

Intel futurist says power of cloud, computer intelligence will benefit government services in ways not yet imagined.

Nearly half of the adults in America carry a pocket-sized computer, also known as a smart phone, with apps that do everything from locating the closest Thai restaurant to overlaying 3D maps to see the view from a street corner as it appeared many years ago. The “app economy” has created a startup movement in San Francisco where the mayor has stood with developers announcing they are setting government data free for the betterment of society. One of Hollywood’s most popular stars will soon play the role of tech icon Steve Jobs, the late inventor of the iPhone produced by Apple, the world’s most valuable company. Twenty years ago all of this may have sounded like science fiction, but if you ask Intel futurist Brian David Johnson, planning a future based on new technologies requires a rich imagination.

Next week Johnson will give the keynote address at a government forum on cloud computing in Sacramento, where he will talk about his work, called future-casting, that includes a combination of science fiction, social science and engineering. He is an engineer, calls himself a pragmatist and says he does not predict the future. Future-casting is a process for developing a vision for the future considering research, global trends and what people expect to do with technology in ten or twenty years.

Intel designs computer chips years in advance of when they actually reach the marketplace. In a phone interview, Johnson said that within the next 10 years, the size of chips will be so small they will be able to be installed almost anywhere, in clothes, on a coffee cup or on a person.

“To think the size of computational intelligence approaches zero… when you get computing power that small it means that we can turn anything into a computer and we have to ask ourselves what we want to do. What is the effect we want all of this computational power to have on the lives of people,” said Johnson.

One of Intel’s aspirations is to touch every human on the planet and improve life in some way, he said.

In 2010, Intel sponsored the Tomorrow Project, a series of conversations about the future that include scientists, science fiction writers, celebrities and anyone interested in participating. The first project was launched in Germany, followed by projects in Seattle, the United Kingdom and Brazil. Johnson says conversations about the future have taken on their own life with Tomorrow Projects spontaneously starting in high schools, junior high schools and even elementary schools.

“One of the things we learned is when you start talking to people about science fiction based on scientific fact as a way to prototype and think about the future, people get very excited,” he said. “There are kids getting excited about science and excited about the future through the Tomorrow Project, actually writing stories about the types of futures they would like to live.”

What will cloud computing in government look like in the future? Johnson says that as we become more surrounded by data-driven intelligence about our lives, perhaps gathered by our devices, cars or even clothing, the power of aggregating information to the cloud has the potential to result in benefits and government services we have not yet imagined.

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