Updated: Dec 7, 2021
What does it take to turn an idea into a big idea that captures people’s imagination and then changes global behaviour?
How did Airbnb and Uber become iconic global businesses compared with MySpace and Couchsurfing? How did Watson, Crick and Franklin solve the chemical structure of DNA through the design of the double helix compared to hundreds of scientists before them?
A spectacular example of how to engage people in a BIG Idea is the recent UK exhibit at the Dubai World Expo. The big idea was to create an exhibit to showcase UK innovation highlighting artificial intelligence and the space sector. Es Devlin is the artist and designer who created the UK exhibit called the PoemPavilion that coalesces AI technology, architecture, engineering, neuroscience, music, and poetry into an immersive exhibit that engages senses and embeds a collective sense that humanity will create a better world.
Every visitor to the Pavilion donates a word that is fed into an AI-generated collective poetry algorithm. The word is written into couplets by an algorithm trained on 15,000 poems from more than 100 British poets. The genius lies in how it is possible to design a building that interacts with its visitors. Upon entering the exhibit, the donated words appear on lit-up tiles that are part of the building, and the words are part of a collective AI-generated poem. People can sit and become engaged immediately in the display, eagerly searching for their donated word. The shared humanity is palpable as hundreds of people sit together engaged in both the building and the collective AI-generated poem.
After leaving the exhibit, the donated word appears on the front of the building. It becomes part of a poetic ‘Collective Message’ projected onto the front of the Pavilion’s cone-shaped structure. You may not be able to attend the Dubai world expo, but you can be part of a poetic collective message by experimenting at the boundaries of AI and human collaboration at https://artsexperiments.withgoogle.com/poemportraits designed by Es Devlin in collaboration with Google Arts and Culture and creative technologist Ross Goodwin. It originated from a conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine Gallery, London, in 2017.
The big idea behind the Poem Pavilion is a human ‘Collective Message’, inspired by Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Message, which asks: “If we discover other civilisations out there, what message could we send that represents humanity and planet Earth?” My word was neuroscience, and my AI-generated contribution to the poetic collective message became, “your neuroscience have been delicate and lovely, the commons of the soul are still”. The big idea is distilled into a simple message.
What word would you donate?