In healthcare, it’s an average of 17 years between scientists feeling confident that a treatment will work and when it’s actually available for use. What if we could radically expedite the pace of the discovery of solutions to science’s toughest problems—not just for disease, but for climate change, poverty, hunger, new materials, innovative products, supply chains, and more? Not merely double or triple the pace of innovation, but increase it by a factor of 10. What if we could cut the cost of discovery, not just by a quarter or by half, but by 90 percent?
That’s the ambition of IBM Research: thousands of engineers, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and researchers across the globe, all able to leverage IBM’s massive investments and deep expertise in breakthrough computing innovations to revolutionize the process of scientific discovery.
IBM Research needed to convey the promise and potential of what it dubbed “Accelerated Discovery,” and encourage other organizations to join in and help tackle the biggest and most intractable problems facing the world today. A team led by IBM Research VP of Design Susana Rodriguez de Tembleque asked Godfrey Dadich Partners to craft an editorial strategy and work with them on creating a human-centered documentary film that captures the promise of Accelerated Discovery.
The challenge that IBM Research invited us to tackle would require explaining some very complex technological breakthroughs in clear and simple terms that could help C-suite decision makers grasp its possibilities, while making it accessible to a broad audience. But how do you tell a compelling story about the confluence of cloud, AI, and quantum computing put in service of the scientific method? We drew upon our deep grasp of AI, and we worked with the creative team at IBM Research on a narrative approach through deep research, wide-ranging interviews, and our rigorous editorial charter process.
GDP quickly realized that the brilliant IBM researchers were the ideal ambassadors for Accelerated Discovery. They were credible, compelling champions of science and its possibilities because they themselves are trying to realize its promise every day. They would be the centerpiece of our documentary, which we would soon title The Fastest Path to Progress.
The film would be directed by GDP founder and CEO Scott Dadich. He had previously created, executive-produced, and directed the Emmy-nominated Netflix docu-series Abstract: The Art of Design, as well as directed film projects for The New Yorker, Nike, and Palo Alto Networks. He tapped his friend and esteemed cinematographer Adam Stone (Midnight Special, Loving), with whom he had worked on Abstract, to serve as the director of photography.
The rich history of IBM’s commitment to research is represented through the carefully curated use of archival footage.
The documentary establishes the stakes by letting key IBM Research team members tell their own compelling stories. They spoke about their work in a direct and accessible way, but they also talked about what led them to it, from parents who encouraged a precocious daughter’s inquisitiveness to a youth spent in the developing world, witnessing firsthand the effects of climate change.
The shooting style mixed slow- and fast-paced moments, and juxtaposed close-ups with wider cinematic compositions. We shot the IBM Research leaders in their offices and labs, as well as in locations around the world, from IBM Research’s iconic home in Yorktown Heights, New York to Johannesburg, South Africa to Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic. But to reflect how quantum computing is based on the complex way that particles behave in the natural world rather than the simple binaries of classical computing, we also photographed the researchers outdoors, literally engaging with nature.
Striking data visualizations and motion graphics played a vital role in the film. Dario Gil, IBM senior vice president and director of research, summarizes the central elements of Accelerated Discovery as bits plus neurons plus qubits. The challenge for our designers and motion graphics teams was to visualize these three elements in a way that brought out the beauty and elegance and simplicity. They employed simple black-and-white lines and shapes, and used them to illustrate not just the three building blocks of accelerated discovery but complex concepts like molecular structures and sifting documents using cloud search and training AI on scientific datasets. All of the imagery was carefully crafted to harmonize with IBM Research’s robust system of brand guidelines.
The musical theme gives a unique chord to each of the three key technologies
harnessed by IBM Research.
GDP brought in the composing team BANG (Timo Elliston and Brian Jones), our longtime collaborators, to craft the score. It’s based on a three-note musical theme that mirrors the “discovery triad” of AI, cloud, and quantum computing. The relationship between these three notes develops and builds over the course of the film to reflect the important connections between these disciplines. While they seem distinct from one another, when used together they form a deeper, more fully realized body of work.
The resulting 16-minute film, The Fastest Path to Progress, was first screened at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June 2022 to an audience of C-suite leaders and festival attendees. The screening was followed by an onstage panel discussion and Q&A session featuring Dadich and two IBM executives who “starred” in the film, Gil and the technical lead at IBM Quantum, Dr. Zaira Nazario. The film was well received; it’s a warm and optimistic presentation of the way forward, and one that celebrates the fusion of humanity, ingenuity, and technology. It served as a defining document—not just to tell the researchers’ story to the world but to crystallize it for themselves.
Dadich, formerly the editor in chief at wired, says that the scope and ambition of this project felt similar to working on a blockbuster cover story for the magazine. “Collaborating with IBM Research was like working with peers; they treated us like the tech journalists that we are,” he says. “We’re explaining the mission the researchers had set for themselves and the impact of their work at the vanguard of science and computing, and showing what compelling characters they all are. Making this film was as hard as any challenge we’ve faced at GDP, but we’re very proud of the result.”