Intel futurist Brian David Johnson focuses on humanity

Brian David Johnson
Brian David Johnson talked about optimizing for concepts other than profits in his Dean’s Distinguished Lecture.

Brian David Johnson is one of the deepest and most complex thinkers in his field, not to mention the owner of one of the coolest job titles ever, but the core of the Intel futurist’s philosophy is breathtakingly simple.

“The future is built every day by the actions of people,” said Johnson, who delivered the Oregon State University College of Business Dean’s Distinguished Lecture on Oct. 28. “It’s not an accident. So why don’t we go out and build an awesome future?”

Johnson, 42, who spoke to a near full house in the 1,200-seat Austin Auditorium at the LaSells Stewart Center, has been in his role with the Santa Clara, Calif.-based semiconductor chip giant since 2009. He explained how his role isn’t fortune telling or predicting the future, but rather something he refers to as “futurecasting,” which he defines as:

■ Developing an actionable future that can be built;

■ Understanding what people want to do;

■ Using the process to figure out how to get there.

“I deliver a spec – these are the capabilities of the platform – and then ask, ‘What do we need to do to get to that future?” he said.

And for Johnson, the key element of the future is the human beings who’ll be living in it, rather than the gadgetry, especially with the size of chips approaching zero.

“It’s always about people,” said Johnson, to whom the future usually means 10 to 15 years down the road, given the five- to 10-year cycle for designing, developing and deploying a chip. “It’s about people connecting with other people. All technology is a story. People love stories. Our brains are hardwired for stories. We can change the story people tell themselves about the future.”

During his roughly 60-minute presentation, Johnson used his 2013 book “Humanity in the Machine – What Comes after Greed?” as a pathway to two of his favorite topics: algorithms and what they, and by extension the people who commission and design them, are optimizing for.

The book is based in part on the May 2010 stock market crash triggered by high-frequency trading, and in it he explores and

Professor Barden moderates a Q&A after Johnson's lecture.
Professor Barden moderates a Q&A after Johnson’s lecture.

advocates for optimizing for goals intrinsically, and even financially, more valuable than the raw pursuit of dollars.

“You can make more money by making people happy and fostering creativity,” Johnson said. “The thing that holds us back is a lack of imagination, a lack of diversity. The future involves everybody.

“The nature of evil is thoughtlessness,” he said. “You imbue your work with humanity. You can’t turn away from that. If you do, you literally begin to create works of evil. Always try to make the world better. If you hold yourself to that higher bar, you will actually change the world.”

You can listen to the entire lecture here. For more on Brian David Johnson, follow him on Twitter, @IntelFuturist, or visit 

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