As computing chips become ubiquitous and smaller, imagination may be the only limiting factor in how they can be used, says Brian David Johnson, Intel's futurist, and that could have significant implications for the future of construction. Johnson talked about the future of work to more than 300 construction professionals attending ENR's FutureTech conference in San Francisco on July 10.
Intel is a manufacturing company that makes "stuff … in fact, billions of things," says Johnson. The construction industry, too, builds things. "You build big things, [and] you can't sit back and let the future happen to you. The future is made every day by the actions of people. Very specifically, the future of the construction industry will be made by the actions of the people in this room."
Johnson quoted Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, who says, "Science and technology have progressed to the point where what we do is only constrained by the limits of our imagination." The idea, Johnson says, is "incredibly empowering. … If we can imagine it, we can build it." Going further, he asks, "What is your vision? Where do you want your company to go? Where do you want the construction industry to go?"
Johnson observes that computers keep shrinking. "The silicon engineers I'm working with are having conversations that, by the time we get to 2020, the size of meaningful computational intelligence will approach zero," he says. At that point, anything could incorporate a computer, and we'll be living in "computationally rich" environments. That's the vision to keep in mind when thinking of what and how you are going to build, he adds.
Many people fear the expansion of computing, Johnson says, and fear usually evokes an unconstructive, fight-or-flight response. A better approach is to think about what people do better than computers, such as interpret data and plan for the future, he suggests. Using computers can free people to do that.
Johnson studies the future by traveling the world to hear other people's ideas. These ideas help him define the specs for the chips of the future. He calls himself "a huge geek" who loves science and science fiction. In fact, he uses science fiction—stories based on scientific fact—as a development tool to delve into the human implications of what we may build. The work, exploring our possible futures, is presented as "The Tomorrow Project," an online conversation of science fiction at www.tomorrow-projects.com. Its purpose, as Johnson describes it, is to "give people a way to talk about the future" through storytelling.
Editor's note: The editors of ENR in collaboration with Intel's Tomorrow Project are calling for your stories and visions for the future of construction. Watch for details at ENR.com about how to join the conversation.