Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Building a digital future: we future gaze at WIREDRetail

December 1, 2014

Brian David Johnson has what must be one the world’s coolest jobs – he’s Intel’s futurologist (the company’s very first, in fact). Like Cisco’s team of like-minded futurologists, this means Brian spends his days looking 10 to 15 years into the future and deciding how to design technology to fit that world.

“Let’s design futures that are designed for real people, and the futures of real people” was the call to arms in Johnson’s inspirational keynote at last week’s WIREDRetail event.

As we approach 2020, he explained, the size of the chip will begin to approach zero. Effectively this means that we can turn anything into a computer. Or, as Johnson puts it: “It’s no longer a case of asking ‘can we do something?’ as anything is possible – it’s more a question of asking if we want to do something, and why.”

Whilst we currently live in a world of devices, he explained, as everything becomes a computer this intelligence will move into the world around us. Instead of devices, we’ll see things like smart buildings, cars and even cities.

And this is where Brian’s vision starts to overlap with our own understanding of the Internet of Everything. “The IoT will dominate all of our lives,” he asserted. “This is set to be a huge challenge for us as we’ve always had a screen, so will need to start looking at new interfaces that aren’t a screen.” This will mean that the way we architect the world around us will be completely different.

But there’s still a missing ingredient, Johnson continued – imagination:

“Science and technology have progressed to the point where what we build is only constrained by the limits of our own imaginations” he explained. “What’s holding us back is our inability to imagine an awesome future -it’s the one skill that isn’t developed.”

So how do we go about building this awesome future? “Be an active participant,” Johnson urged, “and change the story people tell themselves about the future they live in. By deciding what we want to achieve from the future and making decisions about the world we want to live in, we can then start to build a world that touches the lives of people.”

Improving the lives of people whilst innovating and getting imaginative? Sounds like my kind of future.

Leave a comment


  1. Unfortunately “what we build is only constrained by the limits of our own imaginations” is strictly not true the major limitation is not our imagination but the money to realise our dreams big science will only progress if people see a financial return on their investment. A simple example is the humble internet this country has one of the worst infrastructure for super fast broadband “outside of London” in the developed world purely money. i envision electronic cars levitating along miles of smooth highways yet we cannot afford to fill in the potholes on our existing over crowded polluted roads. We have the Tec to scan and diagnose illness long before symptoms develop saving thousands of lives yet where are the scanners and facilities. We dream of sending people to Mars yet we can barely afford to supply the international space station.
    Millions are spent on a dream as our societies crumple and decay around us through lack of investment making our dreams more etherial and less achievable. We have the knowledge but ultimately lack the wisdom to direct the now that leads to a future.