IBM celebrates centennial with focus on progress

IBM is seeking to create awareness about some of the world's biggest problems (energy, food, pollution, traffic, water) with an exhibition at New York's Lincoln Center.

IBM has teamed up with CUNY to place censors on rooftops in a 12 block radius around Lincoln Center to determine how much solar energy potential is being left unused.

If IBM’s 100 years of business proves anything, it’s that nothing is as constant as change. Big Blue morphed from producing time clocks and automated meat slicers to pioneering data processing and big iron.

Now, the company is using its computing prowess to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. Today’s IBM views issues such as air pollution, credit fraud, energy, food, traffic, and water as strategic business opportunities.

It’s showcasing progress that’s being made in tackling those challenges at an exhibition called “Think” on the grounds of New York’s Lincoln Center that opens today. I live in the neighborhood, and was drawn in by the exhibit’s huge 123x72 LED wall.

The wall is very conspicuous to any pedestrian: It digitally "floods" to depict the deluge of water that is being lost from the Big Apple’s aqueducts every few minutes (20,000 gallons), visualizes local air pollution, how much rooftop solar potential is left untapped in the neighborhood (16,512 kW by yesterday evening), and gives a real-time analysis of the traffic that’s passing by on Broadway.

New York City's aging water infrastructure leaks out 20,000 gallons of water every two minutes.

It was built along a driveway that ramps below ground in front of Lincoln Center; the subterranean area below the ramp is cordoned off to house the main exhibit. IBM has set up 40 interactive touchscreen panels that focus on projects happening in space exploration, GM crops, traffic management, and personalized medicine.

Of course, these are also topics that we cover on SmartPlanet, and IBM is the lead sponsor of this Web site. I had no foreknowledge that the giant LED wall that I pass on the way home from the gym was an IBM venture until I contacted Lincoln Center’s press team.

Admission to Think is free to the public, and the exhibit begins with a very optimistic short film that tells visitors progress can be made through seeing, mapping, understanding, believing, and acting. “We’re creating awareness,” said Lee Green, vice president of strategic design at IBM. “The world’s problems are not hopeless.”

An array of interactive displays is intended to create aware, understanding, and motivate action on the problems of the 21st century.

For example, “seeing” recapped the origin of the seismograph in China, and “acting” explained how analytics software is being used to deploy police officers where and when crime is likely to occur. Partners including City University of New York contributed to the displays.

It would have been even more impressive if IBM had powered the exhibition with renewable energy, but that would probably have been too costly and a logistics nightmare. Power is provided by Lincoln Center.

The last time that IBM hosted a public exhibition was when it built a monolithic 54,038 square foot pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair. IBM’s pavilion was the inspiration behind the Think exhibition, Lee noted. The Think exhibition runs through October 23rd.

IBM Research developed a system to gauge harmful particles that are in the air. It is no coincidence that it is also monitoring traffic in the area - Lee noted that analytics software helps determine cause and effect by using multiple data sources.

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