Futurist Brian David Johnson leaves Intel, joins ASU

January 4, 2016

Renowned futurist, technologist and author Brian David Johnson, who left his position at the Intel Corporation in January, will be joining Arizona State University as Futurist in Residence for spring 2016 at the Center for Science and the Imagination (CSI) and as a Professor of Practice in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Johnson has worked at Intel and collaborated with a variety of private-sector partners since 2002, and was named the corporation’s first futurist in 2009.

“I’m so excited about the future and what we’ll be able to accomplish,” Johnson said. “ASU is one of the world’s most innovative and forward-looking institutions. It’s the perfect place to collaborate with a broad, diverse set of people and to explore the future in exciting, intellectually rigorous and surprising ways.” Brian David Johnson talking with students about futurism and robotics at Mater Christi School in Burlington, Vermont. Brian David Johnson talks with students about futurism and robotics at Mater Christi School in Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Sarah Lavoie/Courtesy of Mater Christi School. Download Full Image

Johnson will use his appointment at ASU to lead two exciting projects of great public interest designed to ignite new conversations about the future we’re building together:

The Future of the American Dream Project takes the methods and perspectives Johnson has honed as a technological futurist and applies them to an issue that everyone has a strong opinion about. He asks: What’s the future of the American Dream? How are our definitions of the American Dream changing? How do diverse groups of people imagine the American Dream, and how can we reimagine it as a more inclusive concept? How will changes in economics, education and technology lead to new American Dreams? Johnson will tap into ASU’s expansive global network, deep community connections, talented student population and interdisciplinary research enterprise to explore these and other questions through interviews, field trips, town halls, videos, podcasts and more.

21st Century Robot aspires to get a programmable, humanoid, 3-D-printed, custom-built robot into the hands of every kid. Based on Johnson’s 2014 book "21st Century Robot," the project is built on open-source hardware and software and features an easy-to-use app system, so kids and less experienced users can create robots who sing, tell jokes and run away from loud noises — in short, robots with personalities, and robots who reflect the personalities of their creators.

“We’re tremendously excited to have Brian in residence at CSI this spring. In joining our community, he will help create meaningful connections with collaborators across the technology sector and add new dimensions to the center’s mission of creating ambitious, compelling visions of the future,” said Ed Finn, director of CSI. “We are also thrilled to provide a platform for Brian to take his work as a futurist in new directions: exploring the possibilities of crowdsourced technological and artistic imagination with the 21st Century Robot Project, and delving into economic, political and cultural futures with The Future of the American Dream.”

Johnson will design and lead a graduate studio course for the School for the Future of Innovation in Society on the Future of the American Dream, together with Michael Bennett, an associate research professor at the school and CSI, and Lauren Withycombe Keeler, a postdoctoral scholar at ASU’s Center for Nanotechnology and Society. He will also participate in a variety of ASU research initiatives, public events and workshops, and help develop actionable visions for the future of the school, CSI and other innovative ASU programs.

“Brian’s presence on campus, and particularly his role in delivering a practice-oriented graduate course, will be a great opportunity for students to both learn various techniques used in the private sector to grapple with futurecasting and to hone their skills on real-world problems. Having been a pupil of Brian’s in his workshop on science fiction prototyping at the first Emerge event in 2012, I can’t imagine a more gifted leader for the students in this class,” said Dave Guston, founding director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

Johnson has been an active supporter of ASU’s science and society endeavors since 2012, where he was one of the featured speakers at the launch of the Center for Science and the Imagination. He is the leader of The Tomorrow Project, which has collaborated with the center and the Society for Science and the Public to publish five books of science fiction stories, essays, interviews and artwork with contributions from K-12 and college students worldwide along with top authors, scientists, technologists and journalists. He was also a contributor to the center’s Sprint Beyond the Book project, a series of experiments in rapid digital publishing that unfolded at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Stanford University and ASU in 2013 and 2014. In 2012, Johnson led a workshop at ASU’s Emerge festival on prototyping the future with science fiction, and presented an exhibit of design fiction costumes, sets and story fragments exploring a range of possible futures, titled “Powered by Fiction: Artists, Makers, Tinkerers, and the Backstories That Inspire Them to Create.” Last fall, he gave a public lecture at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society on robotics, emotion, and relationships between humans and technology.

Johnson is a Futurist and Fellow at Frost and Sullivan, a visionary innovation company that’s focused on growth. He also works with governments, militaries, trade organizations and start-ups to help them envision their future. He has more than 30 patents and is the author of a number of books of fiction and nonfiction, including "Science Fiction Prototyping"; "Screen Future: The Future of Entertainment, Computing and the Devices We Love"; "Humanity and the Machine: What Comes After Greed?"; and "Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into the Future of Technology." His writing has appeared in publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal and Slate to IEEE Computer and Successful Farming, and he appears regularly on Bloomberg TV, PBS, Fox News and the Discovery Channel. He has directed two feature films and is an illustrator and commissioned painter.

Joey Eschrich

program manager, Center for Science and the Imagination


ASU strengthens STEM education 'ecosystem' through museum initiatives

January 4, 2016

For many museums, their popularity and reputation ride on how many Renoirs or one-of-a-kind relics they have in their collections. Not so with science museums.

“Everything we do is about creating meaningful learning experiences for our audiences,” said Rae Ostman, director of special projects with the Science Museum of Minnesota and associate research professor with the Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society (CENTSS), which is an affiliate of Arizona State University’s new School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “Science museums provide a place where people of all backgrounds can explore science at any point in their lives through hands-on, open-ended, social learning experiences.”  Rae Ostman presents to museum educators on public engagement products Rae Ostman presents at a workshop for museum educators on public engagement products. Ostman is director of special projects with the Science Museum of Minnesota and associate research professor with the Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society, which is part of ASU’s new School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Photo courtesy of Gary Hodges/NISE Network Download Full Image

This impact and accessibility can play a critical role in the larger STEM education “ecosystem.”

“The ecosystem analogy emphasizes the work educators do to make connections between science and everyday life and create pathways for learners between cultural organizations and home, work, or school,” said Ostman. “Science museums, for example, can inspire a new interest in science, which can then be explored in more depth in school or at a library.”

This spring CENTSS will be offering a new museum internship for ASU students at the Arizona Science Center, which will allow students to develop a range of education and communication skills by participating in ongoing museum programming and innovative new projects. Interns can work in the science center’s new CREATE maker space or on special science events, such as the Arizona Science & Engineering Fair, the Arizona SciTech Festival, the Sustainability Solutions Festival and spring break camps.

In addition to widely applicable skills, interns will develop specialized knowledge about how to facilitate conversations with museum visitors about the impact of science and technology on their lives, now and in the future.

“The museum educator is no longer just a wizard of information but is also someone who can help visitors talk through what is important to them and grapple with how their values relate to different technological developments,” said Ira Bennett, co-director of CENTSS and associate director of education with the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU.

One of CENTSS’ main goals is to identify best practices to engage broad public audiences in thinking about the social dimensions of science and technology. The center has received funding for a variety of projects that integrate science-in-society perspectives into large-scale public engagement projects. For example, Ostman is co-investigator for the Space and Earth Informal Science Education (SEISE) project, funded by NASA and led by Paul Martin at the Science Museum of Minnesota. In this role, she will oversee the development of the project’s public education efforts, including four hands-on activity toolkits (distributed annually to 250 museums) and a small-footprint exhibition (distributed to 50 museums). SEISE is one of 27 projects funded through a $42 million NASA initiative to improve public scientific literacy and the efficacy of STEM education for learners of all ages.

“With this group of projects, NASA will provide opportunities for authentic STEM engagement that use the Science Mission Directorates’ unique assets, such as real data sets, imagery, and subject matter experts,” said Ostman. “The range of selected projects shows that NASA recognizes the importance of lifelong and informal learning that takes place outside of school and throughout people’s lives.” (Another selected project, the NASA Science Mission Directorate Exploration Connection, is being led by Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.)

To fortify the larger science-learning ecosystem, SEISE will also offer professional development for informal science educators and help museums develop and sustain local partnerships with other educational institutions.

The toolkits and exhibitions are modeled after successful initiatives of the NSF-funded Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net), a national collaboration of researchers and informal science educators that reaches 11 million members of the public each year at more than 350 museums. Network research and evaluation demonstrates that these engagement formats offer an effective, efficient way to integrate science and society ideas into regular museum offerings, thereby reaching sizeable and diverse public audiences.

Visitors manipulate the

Visitors manipulate the "Balance Our Nano Future" exhibit at the Port Discovery museum for children in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo courtesy NISE Network

“They offer accessible demonstrations of phenomena or research that a museum professional can use to grab attention and spark conversations with people walking by,” said Bennett.

In addition to the NISE Net and SEISE projects, CENTSS is collaborating with units across ASU and museums throughout the United States on several other projects:

• As part of a project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and led by Paul Westerhoff, professor in the ASU School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, CENTSS is developing museum programs to spark conversations between scientists and the public about the development, use and disposal of nano-enabled products.

• For the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, led by Patti Reiter, senior sustainability scientist in the ASU Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, CENTSS is collaborating with several science museums to develop hands-on activity kits, which will be distributed to 50 museums in 2015.

• Lee Gutkind, professor in the ASU School for the Future of Innovation in Society, is leading a project to develop creative nonfiction narratives to explore the relationship between science and religion; CENTSS will work with museums in the U.S. and Canada to share the resulting narratives through museum programming.

• Ostman is co-principal investigator for a transmedia museum project, led by Ed Finn, director of the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, which explores science-in-society themes introduced in Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein.” The NSF-funded project is developing an online digital museum, a toolkit of making activities for museums, and an array of activities that can be done online, at home or at other kinds of learning organizations such as libraries.

Ostman explains that these projects offer people the opportunity to develop a scientific worldview that understands science in its social context.

“Science is not an isolated endeavor that exists separately from society and culture,” said Ostman. “Museums can encourage people to explore science, to think about themselves as people who can do science, and to use science to approach problems and issues they care about.”

For more information or to apply to be a museum education intern, contact Jeannie Colton at Jeannie.Colton@asu.edu.

Jennifer Pillen Banks

Communications program coordinator, Center for Nanotechnology in Society