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The Death of Imagination

By Shlomo Maital

   Tuesday’s New York Times has an article, “How to make a movie out of anything”, by Alex French. In it he describes how Hollywood producers are desperately searching for IP, slang for intellectual property, as the basis for movie scripts. Translation: Find something people recognize easily, and build a plot around it.

   Examples: the Lego movie; the recent Emoji movie; the Angry Birds movie; and soon, yes, the Fruit Ninja movie.

     So what’s wrong with that?

     I grew up in the 40s and 50s, in the era of radio. I listened to Boston Blackie and the Cisco Kid. I heard horses hooves, a pistol firing…and I had to imagine the horse, the revolver… everything.

       Today? In the era of TV, MTV and virtual reality and smartphones – all the images are there, given to us…no need to imagine. A Lego movie? Lego is building blocks. How can you make a blockbuster Lego movie? Turns out that you can – if you start with something people are familiar with, they do not need to use their imaginations.   But if you start with a conventional movie plot, a story, however strong, people need to imagine – and it looks like our young people no longer can. We need to have the images stored in our brains already, because…we’ve lost the ability to create them ourselves.  

   This sounds like a cranky old curmudgeon yearning for the good old days. Perhaps.   But if this new Hollywood trend portends the death of imagination – then we’re in real trouble. Worse yet, nobody seems to care much.

How “Angry Birds” Can Help Cure Cancer

By Shlomo  Maital

        Genes in Space

  The BBC World Service program Health Watch recounts this morning how British cancer researchers, with a burst of creativity, have enlisted cell phone games to help them cure cancer.

   Here is the story.

   An intensive British study of the genetic foundations of breast cancer has revealed a number of genes related to the illness.  It is complicated by the fact that breast cancer is not just one illness, but perhaps 10 different ones.  This study involves study of massive amounts of data, much harder than finding a needle in a haystack.  It requires identifying “peaks and troughs” in data, to find places where gene defects are linked to breast cancer.

    Someone had the brilliant idea, that the human eye is terrific at pattern recognition, better than perhaps software.  So why not create a game, Genes in Space, in which people with idle time, who play games on their cell phones, could view gene data, in the form of ‘peaks and troughs’, and play a game in which you get points for finding those peaks and troughs.  It’s a real gripping cell phone game, perhaps not quite Angry Birds, but close, involving destroying threatening asteroids, etc. 

      One ‘formula’ for creativity is X+Y.  Find an X (search for genes related to breast cancer),  and a Y  (cell phone games), and find a creative novel useful way to link them, in a way that has not been done before.  The British researchers have done that.  They use the idle time of people to do something useful. 

      Great idea, team.  Are there other ways that we can use Angry Birds technology, to do good for humanity, instead of just burn time? 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital