Consider the advances of the past century. The way science has improved our daily lives. The possibilities unleashed by technology. The things we can do today that earlier generations could not even imagine.
Yes, this is about better information, tools, algorithms—but that’s not all. It’s about the deeply human quest to make the world more livable, safer, more efficient, more sustainable.
Over the past century, the women and men of IBM have played a part in this unfolding story of progress. Today, we feel more confident than ever in people’s capacity to see the world with greater clarity… to map what we see… to understand its dynamics. All of which builds shared belief… in a better future, and in the way each of us can act to make it so.
On this, our 100th anniversary, we wanted to share some lessons we’ve learned. The THINK exhibit is an exploration into how the world works and how to make it work better.
A unique interactive experience
Located on Jaffe Drive at Lincoln Center in New York, the THINK exhibit combined three unique experiences to engage visitors in a conversation about how we can improve the way we live and work.
Visitors approaching the exhibit were drawn in by striking patterns displayed on a 123-foot digital wall. The wall visualizes, in real time, the live data streaming from the systems surrounding the exhibit, from traffic on Broadway, to solar energy, to air quality. Visitors discovered how we can now see change, waste and opportunities in the world’s systems.
Inside the exhibit space, visitors stepped into a media field composed of 40 seven-foot screens. As the screens came to life, visitors discovered a 12-minute immersive film. A kaleidoscope of images and sound surrounded them. They were enveloped in a rich narrative about the pattern of progress, told through awe-inspiring stories of the past and present. They were inspired to think about humankind's quest for progress, and about making our world work better, today.
At the conclusion of the film, the 40 media panels became interactive touchscreens, transforming the space into a forest of discovery. Visitors could explore our quest to see more—from clocks and scales to microscopes and telescopes, RFID chips and biomedical sensors. They learned how maps have been used to track data, from early geographical maps to the most recent databases and data visualization platforms. They interacted with the models used to understand the complex behaviors of our world—from weather prediction algorithms to virus spread simulations. They heard from leaders of world-changing initiatives about how they built belief. And they read about some of the most inspiring examples of systemic progress around the world. Each touchscreen also gave visitors the opportunity to provide their point of view and learn what others were thinking.
An approach to making the world work better
While each leap of progress requires its own intelligence, work, and courage, many of them are the result of a distinct, repeatable pattern. The THINK exhibit explores how progress is shaped through a common and systematic approach.
For much of human history, we had just five senses to measure the world around us. As our curiosity grew, we built measurement tools, from clocks and scales to microscopes and telescopes. Now, billions of technological sensors and sophisticated imaging devices are capturing massive amounts of data about every imaginable phenomenon. For the first time ever, we can see in great detail into the natural and manmade systems that make up our world.
All the information we’re collecting becomes much more effective when it’s organized. We’ve used maps to organize data for millennia. Throughout history, maps have revealed patterns in what appeared to be chaos, inspired explorers, and guided development and innovation. Now, our maps are more powerful and insightful than ever. They’re dynamic, multi-dimensional, and collaborative. Today’s mapping platforms give us the ability to organize and express information about any facet from every perspective—in real time.
To improve the world’s systems, we must first understand why they behave the way they do. That means untangling the actions of thousands of component parts. It’s not possible to do this on brainpower alone. Which is why we always built models—from physical prototypes to mathematical calculations. Now we have new tools to see into the future in a less risky manner. Supercomputers, analytics software, and networking technologies allow us to simulate the behavior and interactions of vast systems. We can now virtually explore ideas and hypotheses that were too dangerous or even impossible to test until now.
Change is easy. It happens by itself. Progress, on the other hand, is deliberate. It won’t take root until someone believes it’s possible and convinces others that action will be worth the effort. This takes perseverance and the ability to convince skeptics to overcome the status quo. Conviction and willpower are necessary to foster belief. But technology has a role as well. Reliable data, timely maps and effective simulations can all help reveal the path to progress.
No single individual can cure cancer. No one person will ever solve traffic congestion or mitigate water pollution or build a more efficient supply chain. Sustainable progress requires massive coordination, cooperation, perpetual monitoring and automation. It takes teamwork and technology to manage complexity. Acting is never over, because our systems are alive. But when we wrangle one, we learn about the others. Making progress is extraordinarily difficult, but the more we do it, the more we learn, and the easier it becomes.