The IBM THINK Exhibit celebrating the company’s centennial, open until October 23 at Lincoln Center, aims to teach visitors “how to make the world better.” The exhibit discusses using technology as solutions to problems such as traffic congestion, air pollution and airport efficiency just to name a few.
Bruno Bagala, an “IBMer” at THINK wearing an “Ask Me” badge around his neck, explained that the exhibit was “not to tout IBM for our centennial, but to talk about technology” and how that technology can solve problems people didn’t recognize as problems or always thought were too expensive to tackle.
THINK is open to the public and inviting due to its prominent position on Broadway between 64th and 65th Street. Visible from the road is the first part of the exhibit, a 123-foot digital data wall that dynamically draws information from New York City and visualizes it in aesthetic patterns and moving infographics. One THINK employee explained how the solar energy visualization worked: there were sensors on the roof of the Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center that calculated how much potential energy could have been generated in the last 24 hours if there were solar panels installed. Opposite the digital wall is a series of panels that explain certain portions of the display in detail and discusses real ways technology has been put to use to improve the world. Bagala explained that there is no mention of IBM on these panels and that some of the technology is from their competitors.
While the outdoors portion is constantly on view, there are also timed sessions that include a ten-minute film and a twenty-five minute interactive session within the space under the Lincoln Center Plaza. The ten-minute film is easily the most attractive and awe-inspiring portion of THINK. Another “IBMer” within the space said she met a visitor who had come from Atlanta to see the exhibit. What really moved her was when a man who works with at-risk kids in the city came and told her the film had given him hope. For ten minutes, surround sound and 40 screens show a film that outlines the history of human innovation and looks at the areas of food, medicine and transportation to discuss current and future technological solutions. With close-up portraits, detailed shots of nature, a sequence on outerspace, and a 360 view of Chicago—this film is a creative, beautiful work of art.
After the film ends, each of the 40 screens turn into interactive touch screens focused on one of the five approaches THINK defines as the pattern of progress: Seeing, Mapping, Understanding, Believing and Acting. Each screen displays the information differently; Seeing is a long illustrated timeline of human inventions and Acting is a movable globe pinpointing ways things are being done “better” around the world. Perhaps the only section with obvious injection of how IBM is a part of this global movement for betterment is in the Believing display, where visitors can choose to hear specific “leaders in world changing initiatives.” The exhibit employee explained that some of the projects are IBM affiliated and at least two of the leaders are “IBMers.”
She, like Bagala, repeatedly said that THINK “downplayed the IBM thing.” The purpose of THINK, according to her, was to “see what people think about technology,” and she pointed out how each interactive screen included a poll visitors could take. The portion of the exhibit that discussed IBM at length, as she promoted it, was the last section, which showed 100 IBM icons in a timeline of how the company has been a part of social and technological change in the last century. Visitors, after exiting the film space, filed past this portion quickly. Key moments in IBM’s history that Bagala mentioned were the company being one of the first to hire women engineers and to have an equal opportunity policy prior to the passage of the Us Civil Rights Act. Bagala, saying again that THINK was “not to tout IBM,” explained the company’s rationale for the exhibit as being a “celebration” and though at times they had strayed, this was a part of their history as “a company about change and breakthrough.”