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Exploring the Future of Construction Through Science-Fiction Stories

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Image Courtest Intel Corp.
Intel's 'Tomorrow Project,' which anthologizes its discussions about the future, inspired ENR to use science fiction to imagine the future of construction.
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The idea for our theme issue, "Imagining Construction's Future," was born in July 2012 when Intel futurist Brian David Johnson gave a keynote at ENR FutureTech. Working to help Intel's engineers design cutting-edge processors by predicting the consumer needs of the future, Johnson calls what he does "future-casting." To envision the computers and chips that humans will need, he employs ethnography, trends, technology research and even science fiction. Indeed, "science-fiction prototyping" helps him to imagine the future using science fiction based on scientific fact.

Intel calls its website on the subject "The Tomorrow Project: Conversations About the Future." Among other questions, it asks participants what kind of future they would want to live in or avoid.

Tom Sawyer, ENR's technology editor, and I immediately had an "aha" moment: We could use this protoyping technique to explore the future of the construction industry. We launched the competition this past May and gave writers three months to submit. We decided to add a little dazzle by offering cash prizes to the first-, second- and third-prize winners.

The panel of five judges selected 10 stories for this print edition, with five called out for special recognition. Another 29 stories appear in our online collection. On the judging panel, I was joined by Luke Abaffy, one of ENR's millennial editors; Paul Levinson, a professor of new media at Fordham University and author of science-fiction novels; Liza Groen Trombi, editor-in-chief of Locus science-fiction magazine; and John Hillman, a structural engineer, an ENR Award of Excellence winner for inventing the hybrid composite beam and founder of the HC Bridge Co. In addition, from submissions that were essays rather than stories, Richard Korman, managing senior editor, has selected one for the Viewpoint column.

I have been a science-fiction fan since I was 10 years old and read Eleanor Cameron's "The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet," so I couldn't resist trying my hand at writing a story myself. To see what I think my job might be like 50 years from now, please read "Meeting of the Minds." Like all the stories, it was submitted anonymously to the judges, and, be assured, I recused myself from judging my own story!


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