Watch World Building: Making the Future Real

Written by: The Exchange

Movies and television shows often transport us to new and surprising landscapes that exist within a carefully constructed framework of rules that ensure that things make sense and hang together. The creative process of world building is informed by what is, while being inspired by what can be. This same set of techniques can be applied in reverse to prototype an aspirational, achievable vision for our own future. Join us for this singular conversation about the critical value of the creative skill transfer that can allow us to shape our world into the one we genuinely want rather than the one that may simply be inevitable in the face of a myriad of challenges.


Alan Gershenfeld is Co-Founder/President of E-Line Media, a developer of commercial social impact video games. E-Line titles include the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Peabody award winning Never Alone, Beyond Blue, Gamestar Mechanic, and MinecraftEdu. Alan has worked on impact game projects with the Gates Foundation, National Science Foundation, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Google, and others. Prior to E-Line, Alan was Chairman of Games for Change, Senior Vice President at Activision Studios and Board Member for FilmAid International and Impact Guild.

Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld is professor and associate dean for academics at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, where he leads research on agile institutions and teaches classes on strategy and operations in the Social Impact MBA. Joel is an award-winning author who has written on topics such as high performance work systems, transformation in labor-management relations, negotiations and conflict resolution, economic development, and engineering systems. Joel’s current research is centered on stakeholder alignment in complex systems – a foundation for institutions in the 21st Century.

Neil Gershenfeld is the Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms, where his unique laboratory is breaking down boundaries between the digital and physical worlds, from pioneering quantum computing to digital fabrication to the Internet of Things. He’s the founder of a global network of over two thousand fab labs in 125 countries, chairs the Fab Foundation, and leads the Fab Academy. He has been named one of Scientific American’s 50 leaders in science and technology and one of Popular Mechanic’s 25 Makers. Neil Gershenfeld, Alan Gershenfeld, and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld are co-authors of Designing Reality, in which they envision a future radically transformed by digital fabrication.

Alex McDowell is an award-winning designer and storyteller working at the intersection of emergent technologies and experiential media. He is a production designer with 30 years experience in feature films, and his work includes Man of Steel, The Watchmen, and Fight Club. His production design work on Minority Report is considered seminal both for its vision of near future technology and its integration with people’s behavior, and is believed to have resulted in nearly 100 patents for new technologies. Alex is co-founder and creative director at Experimental Design, and a professor of practice at USC School of Cinematic Arts where he teaches world building to a wide array of students, and directs the World Building Media Lab.


Blair Evans is Founder and Director of Incite Focus, a production and training lab focused on relationships between digital fabrication, permaculture, experiential learning, and appropriate technology. Blair is committed to engaging people in understanding their own ability to live a well-lived life. Issues of self-determination, self-sufficiency, and self-sustainability reflect in his work at Incite Focus. He serves as a board member of the Fab Foundation.

Kimberlyn Leary is a Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Domestic Policy Council, on an Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement from the Urban Institute, where she is a senior vice present. She is also an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Kimberlyn joins this event in her personal capacity.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.