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Design The Endless Frontier

Johan Jessen
August 1st, 2020 · 2 min read

The Endless Frontier

2020 is one for the history books. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Unprecedented” will be the word of the year. In these turbulent times it’s hard to keep your thinking clear and your outlook optimistic. To sharpen my own mind and offer perspectives on our collective future, I’m starting a series of essays and a podcast. I’ll be exploring the role of design in advanced technology. I will try to answer the impossible question of “How do we design the future?” My aim is to challenge the status quo, inspire creation and invention, and hopefully promote clearer thinking.

I’m calling this project “Design The Endless Frontier.” It’s an ode to the report Science – The Endless Frontier written by Vannevar Bush to President Rosevelt in 1945. Bush argued that the US needed a government-sponsored science and engineering center to accelerate the US in the post-WW2 era. The report made ripples far and wide. It helped establish the National Science Foundation in 1950. It increased the government research and development funding by 10x between the 1940s and the 1960s. It even ushered in the golden era of science fiction and a new hope for the future. But most of all it rallied people around a common goal and a shared belief in the importance of science and engineering for the future.

Today, “design” is as important as science and engineering have always been. But something important is missing. Our popular understanding of design is too narrow. We lack a strong understanding of how design and technology shape our lives. Our cities, transportation systems, communication platforms, healthcare, governments, even our biology are all designed. We shape our tools, and our tools shape us. Simply put, design is so deeply ingrained into every corner of every thing that most of us are blind to it.

“We are as gods and have to get good at it.”

Steward Brand famously said, ”We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” He’s right. We’re designing everything around us and might as well get good at it. To guide these essays, I’ll be reflecting on my nearly 10 years in Silicon Valley as a designer working on frontier technologies in robotics, computational biology, AI, aerospace, cyber security, online credibility, and autonomous vehicles. I’ll interview pioneers in design, research, and technology on the podcast. My goal is to expand our understanding and hopefully inspire us all to create our best future.

This is an experiment. I hope it goes well. But like all inventions there will be mistakes. Reach out if you have comments or ideas. Thinking clearly is one of the hardest things we can do.

SpaceX rocket launch
SpaceX rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. Title image by Nicolagypsicola.

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