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How Justin Rattner built Intel's secret weapon

Rob Enderle | July 15, 2013
Intel CTO Justin Rattner, who recently announced his departure, leaves behind a legacy of putting people back in technology development. He helped put Intel chips in more products, but he also encouraged innovation that improves everyday life. Because of Rattner, today's college students want to be tomorrow's engineers.

In a recent surprise message, Justin Rattner stepped down as Intel CTO. It's not because Rattner did his job poorly-on the contrary, he was one of the leading visionaries in the technology market-or due to infirmity-he has more energy than most half his age-but because he turned 65.

That's a sad and unfortunate reason to cause one of the most strategic minds in the industry to step down, so I want to use this week's column to point out some of the visionary things that happened during Rattner's term.

Putting Intel Chips to Good Use
Most of the amazing labs that were around when I was growing up are now gone. This is largely because they often created amazing things that never made it to market; either the scientists making the discoveries couldn't market them to the business groups or the discovery itself was just something the company couldn't sell.

Xerox PARC, for instance, developed both the graphical user interface and the mouse. These made Apple and Microsoft the powers they became, but Xerox never benefited from either. Hewlett-Packard was first with ebooks and smartwatches but it never sold either, while Kodak was first with digital pictures but likewise didn't capitalize on the technology. All this tech just got stuck in the labs.

Rattner pioneered open source development, which ensures that certain inventions actually make it into the world. While Intel generally doesn't build these technologies, they use Intel processors. This helps the company overcome periods when technology markets would otherwise stall and better assures sustainable long-term growth.

Intel's current efforts in self-driving cars, broadcast power and headlights that can magically drill through rain and snow are improving our world and finding new places where processors can be sold, thus expanding Intel's market opportunities.

How Intel Puts People Back In Development
Over the objections of some of Intel's own fellows, Rattner also drove through efforts to create labs examining how people interact with technology. I've often referred to this as Intel's Secret Weapon. Genevieve Bell, one of the most influential women in technology, runs this important function-and she's an anthropologist and ethnographer, not an engineer.

By focusing on how people interact with technology, Intel can better anticipate how to successfully drive new technologies into the market and create more effective interfaces that improve lives rather than just complicate them.

Intel's lead futurist, Brian David Johnson is also working to assure Intel's future and our own. Among his projects, Johnson is helping children design the world they will live in as adults. Another project uses 3D printers to create robots that kids can build, customize and play with; Johnson plans to invade Burning Man with the result.

 

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