Thinking Tech

IBM reinvents utopia for Disney

IBM reinvents utopia for Disney

Posting in Design

The future isn't what it used to be. Dreams of a utopian future have to start somewhere if our kids are to be raised with hope. That is what IBM is doing now at Disney's Epcot Center.

One of the great tragedies of our time has been the replacement of utopia with dystopia.

Discuss even the term utopia, and you're bound to run quickly into its double meaning. It means both the perfect place and what can never be.

Shows like Star Trek, which sold a future of interracial unity, science and adventure,  have been replaced in the popular imagination with dystopian films like 2012, in which the world is destroyed, and The Book of Eli, which takes place after civilization has collapsed.

Even the new Star Trek movie starts with a dystopian vision (spoiler alert), a separate time line without the logical Vulcans. (Close up of image from WDWNewstoday.)

This may seem reasonable, given how the utopian dreams of California, like college education for all, are being dismantled. Or by the dystopian and Inconvenient Truth of climate change.

But some people at IBM have gotten tired of this down show. And I'm all for what they are trying to do. How can you recruit a new generation of engineers dedicated to a SmarterPlanet if everyone believes there is no future in it?

Thus this month's opening of a new IBM exhibit at Disney's Epcot Center, powered by an energy efficient on-site data center.

While previous utopian visions were of a far-off future, however, this one is designed to be down to Earth. It demonstrates current IBM solutions, the data center is a real working unit, highly visible, and excess computing power is being donated.

Disney and IBM have a long-running relationship. But in recent decades even Disney's futurism has been showing its age, evidenced by the Simpsons spoof  Special Edna (Season 14, Episode 7), where people are portrayed as slaves to a defunct airline.

The future isn't what it used to be. It never is. We will not be going back to any monolith near Jupiter this year. Dreams of a utopian, rather than dystopian, future have to start somewhere, however, if our kids are to be raised with hope for their futures.

It can start today. And extend into many, many tomorrows to come. But the journey starts with imagination.

So let me finish with a modest proposal. Sponsor a contest for utopian science fiction. Stories to be graded based on writing, but also on their scientific reasonableness.

Winner gets a trip to Epcot.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure