Either Intel is utterly insane, or utterly brilliant in hiring on the imaginative minds of science-fiction writers to push technology into a new era.
To be honest, the fact that Intel is hiring science-fiction writers to help shape its future technologies makes sense. Why? Because ultimately Intel is about making money, and to do that it must sell technologies to demanding consumers. Demanding people. So while it's meeting the physical needs of today, it also needs guidance for the demands of tomorrow. This is where science-fiction writers come in.
Look at it this way: authors create stories about people. George Lucas' Star Wars wasn't about speeding across the desert in a landspeeder or speeding down a Death Star trench in an X-Wing fighter, it was a about a boy who yearned to be like his father, who saved a girl and gathered enough guts to take on a regime that thrived on killing millions of innocent people. Science-fiction writers create their protagonists, their antagonists and the situation surrounding the two. They write about people and the secondary technology required to accomplish their journey.
So in essence, Intel is signing on science-fiction writers so that they can conjure up characters existing five, ten years down the road and using the Intel-designed tools that they will need to get things done. To get the creative juices going, Intel created "The Tomorrow Project" which shows "the important effects that contemporary research will have on our future and the relevance that this research has for each of us." So far Intel has released four stories which can be read individually here or together as a complete ebook here in PDF format.
"All four stories in this collection are based on technologies Intel is currently developing in our labs," the company states. "What is striking about them is that even though they are all science fiction stories they are all first and foremost, stories about people. Each story is unique in its own vision and portrayal of life in the future, but each of them is extraordinarily good at capturing the human drama of the future. These stories are not about technology, they are about the complex and fascinating lives of their characters. Technology is simply a part of the drama."
Spearheading Intel's campaign to see into the future is resident futurist (and "future caster") Brian David Johnson. According to Intel, his mission is to develop an actionable vision for computing in 2020. To accomplish this, he's using ethnographic field studies, technology research, trend data, and even science fiction to provide Intel with a pragmatic vision of consumers and computing.
"Along with reinventing TV, Johnson has been pioneering development in artificial intelligence, robotics, and using science fiction as a design tool," Intel says. "He speaks and writes extensively about future technologies in articles and scientific papers as well as science fiction short stories and novels."
"What science-fiction does is gives us a way to think about the future," he explains in the video seen below. "It gives us a way to think about the implications of the technologies that we're building on the people who are actually using them."
So what's in store for us in the next five to ten years? Servant robots that will massage our tired feet after a long day of typing? Laser-based swords that will accidentally lop off a few fingers when trimming the hedges? No. Sensors. Lots of them. Hardware-based and even software-based that will learn what you like, what you don't like, and will give you recommendations. So much for hopes of a replicator. Guess that will stay within the Star Trek universe for another few decades or more? Probably.