I recently found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed. You know those times where you go against the advice of Journey? You stop believin’ and you don’t hold on to the feelin’. But then this small town girl remembered a day where anything seemed possible, and she held on.
Here’s my story, with the Journey theme remaining strong (sorry).
‘Street lights, people’
Let me set the scene. It was two years ago and I was lucky enough to be smack in the middle of a conference by a multi-billion dollar corporation (IBM), showcasing technology set to change the world as we know it – artificial intelligence (AI). I was in Las Vegas at World of Watson, along with 17,000 people.
I was face to face with a future where our problems in climate, health, poverty and almost any other area of humanity you can think of were being solved by AI.
One project which stood out was a case in Japan where IBM’s Watson diagnosed a rare form of leukaemia in minutes. It saved a woman’s life whose condition had been baffling doctors for months.
Watson’s ability to absorb large amounts of information in minutes, compared to the months or even years it could take us, means that the patterns in information can be spotted immediately. If you team this with the big data we have available now you can start to see the huge potential that this technology has.
AI is already saving lives. And we did that.
I know there’s strong opinions out there about whether AI is a good or a bad thing. But it’s always going to be people who make it what it is, and I think people are incredible (you see – I’m starting to believe again).
‘Living just to find emotion’
On that same day I went to an art exhibition titled ‘Town and Country: From Degas to Picasso’ at The Belaggio (with the famous dancing fountains).
I welcomed the exhibition with open arms because this was my comfort zone – art. Up until this point there was a clear distinction in my head between technology and art. Robots and people – right? But the conference blurred these lines and I was getting confused. Maybe there isn’t a line any more? If AI creates a piece of music, is it still art?
I think that needs to be a different blog post. I’ll get back to the point…
The exhibition was about the industrial revolution and urbanization, with works from Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and more.
I walked around the paintings marvelling at how artists captured this turning point in time 200 years ago. Transport, travel, mass production. The world changed then just as dramatically as it’s changing now.
I can’t sit here and say that everything that came out of the industrial revolution was a good thing – when I know that this was the turning point for our climate. But back then we didn’t know what we know now, we were just changing the world for what we thought was the better.
And we did change the world.
I was walking through the paintings and it was the brush strokes of a bridge in a Monet that flipped a switch. I’d seen prints of Monet before but here I was, staring at the individual brush strokes.
The colour, thickness of paint and position of each stroke carefully thought out time after time to create this bigger picture of a moment captured that I was now staring at. A time capsule.
Before Facebook feeds, Instagram pics and even Polaroids, there were people recording time by re-creating it themselves. We have thousands of years of recorded history through stories people have told with words, art and music.
And we did that.
As we left tears had welled up and all I could say was ‘thank you’ to the friend who took me, trying to hide the tears because she also happened to be my boss at the time (here I am – finding emotion).
‘She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere’
A lot has happened in my life since then but that global thinking sparked in 2016 stayed with me. My mission now? – promote a life where we’re all living with nature, not fighting against it.
Today I spend my days flicking through news, social posts, reports and statistics getting swallowed up in the sense of urgency that is climate change.
The problem is that amidst all the pressure and worry to act now I lost sight of the beauty I’m fighting for. Worse – I stopped believing I could make a difference. I hit a wall, and normally when I hit a wall I turn to the arts (film, music, galleries). I take a train to anywhere.
But surely we don’t have time to take a minute and appreciate ‘frivolities’ like art and creativity when there’s the important business to attend to of SAVING THE WORLD!?
Yes we do. And we must.
In the book ‘How to change the world’ (a brilliant read) John-Paul Flintoff says something that I needed to hear. He gave me permission to play:
“A good world is not a world where everybody fixates on global problems according to some externally imposed framework of ‘importance’. A good world is one in which people find meaning in the particular things they do – and that means a world that has a place for beauty, creativity and play.”
So for anyone out there taking on something huge and maybe feeling overwhelmed by it, take a look at what we’re capable of if we have a go. Look at the innovation in technology, industry and art that we’ve achieved as a human race – simply because we believed we could.
Take your code, your words, your paint, your pen, or your 1980s keyboard, and keep playing.
And for anyone who got lost on the song references throughout this post – hit play and prepare to get out your air guitar.