Science Fiction…Is it really fiction?

I will be moderating a panel with this provocative title at DesignCon on Tuesday February 2nd at 3:45 pm in Ballroom H of the Santa Clara Convention Center. The panelists will discuss the most likely outcomes from some of the technologies that will change our lives in the non distant future.

Science fiction authors, unencumbered by the financial restraints of developing and marketing new products and technologies, have had the freedom to create new societal behaviors, new products, and new methods by projecting humanity's social and technological desires and tendencies into a future reality. The projections, it turns out, have been so realistic to transform many science fiction authors from writers to futurists.

Western culture technological supremacy and financial methods are being seriously challenged by nations that until a few years ago were considered third world. Developing countries are growing in importance while developed countries are stagnating, held in the grips of ideas and values that are fast becoming obsolete. In our electronics industry, what was leading edge four years ago is now the realm of late adopters, and yet, even those capabilities are immensely greater than what was available ten years earlier.

A return to the "good old days" is not only unrealistic, it would be suicidal for any Western nation. Values are changing rapidly in a manner engineers can readily understand. The change is based on realistic evaluation of present day conditions, not on dogmas or conventions created to keep a population that had no easy access to information in check, whether for political or religious purposes.

A just released study by Fast Future, commissioned by the British government, looks at the type of jobs elementary school children should be prepared to hold in 2030. It may not surprise you that none of the glamour jobs available today made the list. First on the list are builders of human limb replacements, a topic the panel will discuss. Another job on the list is creators of avatars, used to substitute teachers and lawyers (among other professions). This is another topic the panelists will address. Finally what would it be like if you could have one or more coprocessors networked to your brain? Let's discuss it during the panel. These are just some of the topic, you are free, in fact ,encouraged, to bring more. The session is scheduled to run until 5:00 PM but the panelists have stated they will be happy to stay longer and continue the discussion if the audience is interested.

The Panelists

Eric Bogatin, Gentry Lee, and Charles Pfeil are the panelists, while I will moderate and contribute my views as a serious amateur futurist.

Eric is currently a Signal Integrity Evangelist with Bogatin Enterprises, a world leader in signal integrity training. He received his BS in physics from MIT and MS and PhD in physics from the University of Arizona in Tucson.

He has held senior engineering and management positions at Bell Labs, Raychem, Sun Microsystems, Ansoft, and Interconnect Devices. Eric has written 6 books on signal integrity and interconnect design and over 300 papers and has taught over 5,000 engineers in the last 20 years.

In addition, his first science fiction novel, Shadow Engineer, was published in 2009 and is available on Many of his papers and columns are posted on the web site.

Gentry is Chief Engineer for the Solar System Exploration Directorate at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. In that position Mr. Lee is responsible for the engineering integrity of all the robotic planetary missions managed by JPL. Previously, Mr. Lee provided oversight for all engineering aspects of the twin rover missions to Mars that landed in January 2004, as well as NASA’s successful Deep Impact and Stardust missions.

An active novelist, television producer, computer game designer, media columnist, and lecturer Mr. Lee co-authored four novels, CRADLE, RAMA II, THE GARDEN OF RAMA, and RAMA REVEALED, with science fiction grandmaster Arthur C. Clarke. Dr. Lee has written three successful solo novels, BRIGHT MESSENGERS, DOUBLE FULL MOON NIGHT, and THE TRANQUILITY WARS.

In addition, Gentry was the late Carl Sagan’s partner in the creation, design, development, and implementation of COSMOS, a science documentary series for television that won several Emmys and the prestigious Peabody Award.

Mr. Lee received the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1976 and the Distinguished Service Medal (NASA’s highest award) in 2005. In October 2006 he received the prestigious Harold Masursky Award from the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences for his career contributions to planetary exploration.

Gentry Lee received a B. A., Summa Cum Laude, from the University of Texas at Austin in 1963 and an M. S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964. He then attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland on a Marshall Fellowship for one year.

Charles is an engineering director at Mentor Graphics, System Design Division and was the original product architect for the Expedition PCB software and one of the inventors of XtremePCB and XtremeAR software tools.

Charles has worked in the PCB industry for over 40 years as a designer, owner of a service bureau, and has worked in marketing and/or engineering management with prominent leaders in the EDA companies. In addition, Charles is a consistent contributing author to industry publications discussing trends and technologies in PCB design as well as a regular participant in industry workshops and seminars.