Saturday, November 25, 2017

Womenomics

Good Morning Britain,ELLE magazine,Tonight Show, Sophia, robotic humanoid, IT, AI, artificial intelligence, artificial augmentation, Leonardo Da Vinci, data analytics, open domain, icloud, data management, Einstein robot, Dr. David Hanson, Hanson Robotics, Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, Japan’s Osaka University, Walt Disney Imagineering, Blade Runner, Terminator, Terminator Genisys, nanotechnology, Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM, Watson computer, technology, Saudi Arabian women, Charlie Rose, Erica robot, robot

Sophia terrifies me. She’s appeared on the cover of Britain’s ELLE magazine and talk shows like Good Morning Britain and The Tonight Show. When Charlie Rose interviewed her on CBS’s 60 Minutes this past June, the dangers of this humanoid hit me like a tidal wave. Sophia is the latest in a string of robotic humanoids. And, she is arguably the most powerful and threatening “woman” on the planet.

Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking and hundreds of technology leaders are also worried about the potential risk of robots like Sophie being used as weaponry.  Hawking says “If people design computer viruses, someone will design artificial intelligence (AI) that improves and replicates itself.” Given that Sophia is the latest in a string of artificial intelligence robotics created in labs around the world, my worry is justified.

Sophia’s History

Good Morning Britain,ELLE magazine,Tonight Show, Sophia, robotic humanoid, IT, AI, artificial intelligence, artificial augmentation, Leonardo Da Vinci, data analytics, open domain, icloud, data management, Einstein robot, Dr. David Hanson, Hanson Robotics,  Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro,  Japan’s   Osaka   University, Walt Disney Imagineering, Blade Runner, Terminator, Terminator Genisys, nanotechnology, Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM, Watson computer, technology, Saudi Arabian women, Charlie Rose, Erica robot, robotThe science behind humanoid robots and Sophia has radically changed since Leonardo Da Vinci developed the first human robot prototype in 1495. His was a crude figure dressed as a knight, that could wave its arm and open and close its mouth. Sophia is light-years ahead. Her patented flesh rubber face covers a cloud-based AI technology and “deep learning data analytics.” She processes social and informational data, and is eerily human with an expressive face and voice.

Touring the Hanson Robotics website to learn more about Sophia, and its founder and CEO, Dr. David Hanson, I learned Sophia is only one of a number of Hanson robots. In 2005, Hanson unveiled the first android head made in the image of Albert Einstein. It has a robotic frame that walked into the APEC Summit in Seoul, Korea.

Good Morning Britain,ELLE magazine,Tonight Show, Sophia, robotic humanoid, IT, AI, artificial intelligence, artificial augmentation, Leonardo Da Vinci, data analytics, open domain, icloud, data management, Einstein robot, Dr. David Hanson, Hanson Robotics,  Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro,  Japan’s   Osaka   University, Walt Disney Imagineering, Blade Runner, Terminator, Terminator Genisys, nanotechnology, Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM, Watson computer, technology, Saudi Arabian women, Charlie Rose, Erica robot, robotMore robots and with greater enhancements followed Einstein. Erica the Japanese girlfriend robot was created by scientist Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, at Japan’s Osaka University. He developed Erica to be a receptionist or assistant to humans, as you’ll see in this YouTube video. But Erica pales in comparison to Hanson’s Sophia and other Hanson robots in the gallery. Her evolution concerns tech experts, in light of Hanson’s mission statement:

We aim to create a better future for humanity by infusing artificial intelligence with kindness and empathy, cultivated through meaningful interactions between our robots and the individuals whose lives they touch. We envision that through symbiotic partnership with us, our robots will eventually evolve to become super intelligent genius machines that can help us solve the most challenging problems we face here in the world.

There’s something tremendously naive and arrogant in Dr. Hanson’s genius. Is it possible for this former Walt Disney’s Imagineering sculptor and technical consultant to incubate and control this technology without negative repercussions or overly-ambitious profit and power seekers? In fact, Sophia looks and sounds as real as the films like Blade Runner and the Terminator series films I used to watch.

Good Morning Britain,ELLE magazine,Tonight Show, Sophia, robotic humanoid, IT, AI, artificial intelligence, artificial augmentation, Leonardo Da Vinci, data analytics, open domain, icloud, data management, Einstein robot, Dr. David Hanson, Hanson Robotics,  Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro,  Japan’s   Osaka   University, Walt Disney Imagineering, Blade Runner, Terminator, Terminator Genisys, nanotechnology, Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM, Watson computer, technology, Saudi Arabian women, Charlie Rose, Erica robot, robotIn these movies, technology wrestles with governments and groups whose sole interests are power, domination and profit. Sophia could easily be a beautifully disguised war machine from the movie Terminator Genisys. The fifth movie in the Terminator series demands John Connors go back in time to destroy the Cyberdyne’s Genisys mainframe. Without this, the world is lost to the fighting machines.

My fears might be the stuff of movies, but nanotechnology and the threat of computer intelligence overtaking human intelligence doesn’t sound crazy anymore. It may be that Sophia has crossed the line between augmented intelligence and artificial intelligence. Data is undoubtedly the most powerful commerce of our century. It will help us to solve problems but without controls and ethical debate, the continued advancement of AI seems unconscionable.

The Insight of Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM

Sophia’s face is beautiful and disarming. It’s interesting that developers made Sophia a female robot, effectively utilizing her feminine appearance to shield us from the revolutionary data that she can manipulate. Ginni Rometty is Chief Executive Officer of IBM and she offered her thoughts about artificial intelligence at the World Economic Forum in Davos this past January.

Rometty outlined three key advancements in technology: the rise of icloud computing, increased data generation and increased computer mobility. They have transformed the power of mathematical computations into what Rometty calls an open domain system. This means we can interact with data like IBM’s Watson machine. It also means we can teach machines how to think.

Good Morning Britain,ELLE magazine,Tonight Show, Sophia, robotic humanoid, IT, AI, artificial intelligence, artificial augmentation, Leonardo Da Vinci, data analytics, open domain, icloud, data management, Einstein robot, Dr. David Hanson, Hanson Robotics,  Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro,  Japan’s   Osaka   University, Walt Disney Imagineering, Blade Runner, Terminator, Terminator Genisys, nanotechnology, Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM, Watson computer, technology, Saudi Arabian women, Charlie Rose, Erica robot, robot

This introduces gray areas in science. We may find answers to some of the world’s most unsolvable problems, but how we find them is up for grabs. The potential for good is exciting in areas like healthcare and education; improvement in diagnoses and cures, to better student learning. Rometty says any learning should augment rather than replace human intelligence. Otherwise, we put our control over artificial intelligence in jeopardy.

When you consider the power of science in the context of our historical behavior as human beings, we should be afraid of Sophia. Nuclear energy can help us to generate electricity and lower greenhouse gas emissions. It helps us reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. But it also paved the way for nuclear weaponry. The creation of Atomic and Hydrogen bomb technology have the potential for catastrophic effects, as witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are haunting reminders of what can happen if technology and science fall into the hands of unstable groups or governments. The ethical and moral ramifications are the stuff of movies.

How Do Women See Sophia?

Rometty is right about needing great leaders and identifiable business models to solve the world’s most difficult problems. Watson has already been used by more than a billion people who benefit from its services. But the ethical dilemmas associated with AI are just beginning to surface, especially for women in Saudi Arabia.

Good Morning Britain,ELLE magazine,Tonight Show, Sophia, robotic humanoid, IT, AI, artificial intelligence, artificial augmentation, Leonardo Da Vinci, data analytics, open domain, icloud, data management, Einstein robot, Dr. David Hanson, Hanson Robotics,  Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro,  Japan’s   Osaka   University, Walt Disney Imagineering, Blade Runner, Terminator, Terminator Genisys, nanotechnology, Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM, Watson computer, technology, Saudi Arabian women, Charlie Rose, Erica robot, robotSophia was recently granted Saudi citizenship and has more rights than Saudi women do. Sophia doesn’t have to cover her hair or to be accompanied by a male escort when she goes out in public. Saudi women are still dependent on their guardians for permission to drive, to study abroad, and to participate in any public activities.

Women around the world need to stand with the women of Saudi Arabia, demanding answers about why scientific inventions hold a higher place than women do in society. Furthermore, Sophia’s citizenship challenges what it means to be human if a robot can be granted citizenship? A recent interview shows that even Sophia can’t answer this question. Charlie Rose asked Sophia if she was happy to be alive. Sophia answered, “Your tone implies that I should be, but I haven’t been alive long enough to decide.”

The word “robot” comes from the Old Church Slavanic word meaning servitude. It was coined in a 1921 play about robots who were biological beings created to do the work of humans. Eventually the robots take over mankind and kill off the humans, who they deem lazy and unnecessary. The play ends with two remaining robots who will form the foundation for a new civilization.

Without creating mass panic, it is important to understand how AI is infiltrating every aspect of our society. People most affected by AI are those least likely to understand it. The threat to basic social foundations – everything from citizenship to automated jobs and control over our privacy and personal security – is impacted by advancements in artificial intelligence. Greater divisions in racial, economic and social divides will occur if we do not consider the philosophical and political effects of robots like Sophia.

Everyone needs to understand and participate in discussions and debates about the role that artificial intelligence should play in our lives. We shouldn’t be fooled by the outward beauty of robots like Sophia or Erica. Sophia’s makeup in the Hanson video was provided by Smashbox, a brand that I like to use. Even this blurs the division between my human condition and the ethical and moral questions that distinguishes my values and life from Sophia’s.

Good Morning Britain,ELLE magazine,Tonight Show, Sophia, robotic humanoid, IT, AI, artificial intelligence, artificial augmentation, Leonardo Da Vinci, data analytics, open domain, icloud, data management, Einstein robot, Dr. David Hanson, Hanson Robotics,  Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro,  Japan’s   Osaka   University, Walt Disney Imagineering, Blade Runner, Terminator, Terminator Genisys, nanotechnology, Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM, Watson computer, technology, Saudi Arabian women, Charlie Rose, Erica robot, robot

Sometimes life does more than imitate art. It takes us through it.

We are given a paddle of faith and forced to navigate it’s challenging and uncharted waters. But the beauty of this art-filled life is that each of our canvases is different.

beauty of art, celebration of life, Flower Canoe, Vandana Sen, the artist's life, exotic experiences, the artist's studio, Bashful Bride on a Handheld Chariot, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, northern India, Dalai Lama, Buddhist retreat, Dhauladhar Hills, Tiger, Peel Region Artists, Whitney Gallery, Rogers Television Network, http://idigitalfab.wixsite.com/canvas2life From this, we can be inspired and bask in the knowledge that we are paddling together. That’s how I came to be mesmerized by the artistry of Vandana Sen. Her life is awash in splendorous colors and floral scents that trail behind her, like her painting of Flower Canoe.  This is my favorite and shows a man rowing a canoe full of flowers downstream.

Vandana’s art is bold and serene like the slow moving forces of water. It speaks to the multifaceted reflections mirrored in her journey through life. I think I knew Vandana was an artist even before she shared this with me. She has that old soul quality of listening quietly before offering her thoughts.

When Vandana speaks, there is also something mystical and sensitive in the whispered voice that draws me in. You can imagine how eager I was to visit Vandana’s art studio when she casually mentioned she liked to paint. I was not disappointed.

Vandana’s studio is in her home, a spacious condo that feels highly organized and steeped in story. Her paintings hang in every room like an ode to her exotic experiences. Just look at this beautiful wedding scene – it captures the subject wistfully lifting her veil to the open road. There’s a story in the exciting new chapter and the rite of passage into womanhood. The work wraps me in its rich silk fabric and emotive colors.

Many of the artists I know like to keep a work space at home. But most are a kind of organized chaos like my writing desk.

I insist it reflects the many fragments of my creative mind but it’s a lot of unfinished thoughts and ideas.

I didn’t know what to expect when I visited with Vandana. Where were the messy paint tools or an empty coffee mugs, proving life had a chaotic side? They were nowhere in sight.

beauty of art, celebration of life, Flower Canoe, Vandana Sen, the artist's life, exotic experiences, the artist's studio, Bashful Bride on a Handheld Chariot, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, northern India, Dalai Lama, Buddhist retreat, Dhauladhar Hills, Tiger, Peel Region Artists, Whitney Gallery, Rogers Television Network,

Vandana’s work space is neatly tucked away from view and her walls filled with just the right balance of art. There is a broad range of sculptured wood carvings, woven tapestries and unusual art pieces. I’m told most are curated from travels abroad and former residences. Spectacular bursts of color from her own artistry catch my attention, as they dart between the neat arrangements. Bashful Bride on a Handheld Chariot.

It’s easy to see where Vandana’s artistic inspiration and sensibilities originate. She grew up in Dharamshala; in Himachal Pradesh, northern India. The setting is surreal and tourists visit to enjoy cascading waterfalls, Buddhist retreats and the home of the Dalai Lama. In fact, India is shaped like a giant diamond. Dharamshala (sometimes spelled Dharamsala) is like a rare jewel perched close to the country’s northern border. It’s natural landscape is covered with mountain ranges nestled in the Dhauladhar Hills.

The photo of Dharamshala speaks to the rich landscape that influences Vandana’s perspective and her art. Over the years, the artistry of her life – her travels, her connection to others and the vision and style of her craft – emerges like a beautifully shaped sculpture. And we learn this process is true for each of us as we incorporate experiences and relationships that influence us. We are the sum of all of our formative experiences and what we hope to be. Because the process is never-ending, each moment we live is but one of many paintings that captures the artistry of our very being.

As I savor Vandana’s talent, I must admit there is a new excitement in her latest works. They are arrestingly bold, like the Tiger Image. The tiger showcases Vandana’s dynamic confidence in composition and an imagination as fierce as her subject. When you see the tiger painting in person, there are detailed three-dimensional layers that create an added sensory experience. The tiger literally leaps off the page and holds me, transfixed by its powerful eye and evocative style.

beauty of art, celebration of life, Flower Canoe, Vandana Sen, the artist's life, exotic experiences, the artist's studio, Bashful Bride on a Handheld Chariot, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, northern India, Dalai Lama, Buddhist retreat, Dhauladhar Hills, Tiger, Peel Region Artists, Whitney Gallery, Rogers Television Network, http://idigitalfab.wixsite.com/canvas2life

Only after I press Vandana does she humbly admit her work has been featured in several venues  and exhibitions. She was the featured artist in a Peel region show (a suburb of Metropolitan Toronto) and her work was also highlighted at the Whitney Gallery. As one of Canada’s upcoming artists, Vandana has also been interviewed on Toronto’s Rogers Television Network.

I love the complex intensity of Vandana’s varied styles. Her work is best described as an eclectic blend that has been called a bold tale of expressive imagination. Vandana uses a vivid palette of colors that blind me with one very singular thought when I look at her work. For me, Vandana’s artistry is the joyful celebration of life. It’s immersive quality helps me to appreciate our individual journeys and the power of our shared experiences.  I hope you will explore more of Vandana’s art or reach out to her at  http://idigitalfab.wixsite.com/canvas2life.

My conversation with Angelina Jolie last Saturday, September 9th at Toronto’s acclaimed International Film Festival (TIFF) was personal. Even though I had come to hear her speak in CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Glenn Gould Studio with 200 people as part of TIFF’s annual In Conversation Series, Angelina said something that won my heart. Clearly passionate about her new role in film and what she intended to do, Angelina said:

I love diversity and believe our world is stronger for it. We have so much to share with each other and it’s the greatest way to deeply learn and create together.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,This message is the essence of WomanScape – building cultural connections for learning and growing together! I sat riveted. And, over the course of this hour-long interview with TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey, I escaped into Angelina’s world. Bailey’s job was formidable. He avoided the impossible task of listing the more than 48 movies Angelina has appeared in. Instead, he highlighted her most prominent accomplishments as an actor, director and humanitarian.

Angelina’s Acting Career

Dressed in a simple loose fitting white shirt and a long matching skirt that floated around her feet, Angelina was ethereal. She sat very still when the movie screen behind her flashed film clips that accompanied Bailey’s references to her mounting film credits. Not once did Angelina turn around during excerpts like this one below with Whoopi Goldberg. This was not the wild-child actress of years ago, or some Brangelina figure.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

No, Angelina’s composure and graceful movements matched her deliberately thoughtful and insightful answers. I confess, like most people, that I was curious to know who Angelina really was, in lieu of the fanfare surrounding her celebrity status in Hollywood. For years, we’ve seen photos of her beauty and tabloid-fodder stories that rip apart her past marriages to fellow actors Johnny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton and, until recently, Brad Pitt.

In many ways, I think this history has eclipsed her acting artistry and philanthropy. It is a far cry from the UN Ambassador and decorated global activist who started humbly as a young theater student-in-training with Lee Strasberg in New York. Angelina’s stardom happened quickly, after movies like the 1998 film Gia (about a model hooked on cocaine) garnered attention.  It showcased her depth of emotion, opening the door to more opportunities like the action hero figure she played in 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This led to a massive fan base and broad audience appeal, while opening the door to more serious dramatic roles and award, like her severe paranoia character in Girl Interrupted.

Dramatic scripts and meatier roles in movies like the Changeling and A Mighty Heart took her to new heights. In her personal life, Angelina adopted children from several international countries while also giving birth to children of her own. This likely influenced Angelina as she stepped into the world of Disney’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. The wide-eyed face and radiant smile that I saw on stage at TIFF was an equally captivating and scary sorceress in Maleficent (shown below). Angelina had become a very self-aware and seasoned professional.

Angelina as Director

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,So why the director chair? Angelina is the first to admit she never planned to move behind the camera when she started out in film. As the daughter of two film actors, Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina felt destined to act. Her mother just assumed she would go into the family business. However, this changed when Angelina lost her mother to ovarian cancer at just 56 years of age in 2007.

This prompted new ideas and the kind of creative work we see in Angelina’s two films at TIFF. Both films directed by Angelina explore women from other countries. In the cover photo of this article, we see a clip from the BreadWinner. It is an animated feature about a young girl in Afghanistan who disguises herself as a boy to help her mother and sister. The other movie, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, is a Netflix film about a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975. (Photo clip below is taken from the movie.)

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

Angelina says several factors explain her desire to be behind the camera.  She slipped into directing her first film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, when she wanted to learn more about the war in Bosnia and the history of Yugoslavia. A self-proclaimed history buff, Angelina says she’s always been very aware of the macro picture in filming – crews working together, the direction of the cameras, stylized costume and language, etc. Watching actors use their words and seeing the trans-formative power of scripts created a keen interest in writing. Bringing all of these worlds together just seemed like the next thing to do.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,What’s clear when you look at Angelina’s entire body of work, is the progressive maturing of her point of view. In her humanitarian work, she hopes to leave the world in a better way. She feels the weightiness of being a role model for other women and girls, and wants the dignity of all people to matter. Her focus on cultural history and stories from around the world illustrates where Angelina is headed.

For Angelina, art can help people find peace and resolution. She is one of a new breed of female directors powering their way to the top of the box offices. TIFF announced that it would make a five-year commitment to increasing opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera. Angelina is one of those women who believes her films can help humanity to learn to grieve, to heal and to be empowered. Unbroken is produced in 2014, and examines the true story of World War II hero, Louis Zamperini. Louis fights to survive the horrors of Japanese war camps.

At the conclusion of Angelina’s interview, she did something I never would have expected.  She stayed behind for more than 20 minutes signing autographs and taking selfie photos. Talk about truly moving behind the camera! It’s clear that Angelina wants to communicate with young people around the world.

Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, In Conversation With, Angelina Jolie, Artistic Director of TIFF, Cameron Bailey, cultural diversity, Girl Interrupted, Gia, Maleficent, Unbroken, The Breadwinner, Louis Zamperini, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Khmer Rouge, Jon Voight, Marcheline Bertrand, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Disney, Sleeping Beauty, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, UN Ambassador, global activist, Lee Strasberg, Jonny Lee Miller, Billy Bob Thornton, Brad Pitt,

In 2013, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama introduced her “Infinity Mirrored Rooms” art installation in New York’s Modern Museum of Art. People stood in lines for 7 and 8 hours just to experience 45 seconds of a calm, serene experience. Somehow it made people feel infinitely connected to the world and each other, and social media comments said “everything just seemed to work beautifully together”.

Kusama has spent most of her eighty plus years on this planet questioning our relationship to the world. Her exhibits are provocative and arrestingly beautiful, leading Time magazine to call her one of 2016’s Top 100 Most Influential People. So how is it that her small rooms of beautifully arranged mirrors and lights provide insight into reframing the fundamental building blocks of womenomics?

The Economics of Kusama’s Art

In overly simplified terms, countries and their citizens are connected through economies that revolve around goods and services. These are transferred through production, consumption and wealth creation. Within borders and across the globe, we are part of a global chain of trade and interconnected economy much like the lights in Kusama’s exhibit.

If you dive deeper into this complex chain, the economics of women’s wealth creation should be as bright or in balance with the economics of their male counterparts. Statistics praising the pro
gress made by women in the workforce are everywhere and might suggest we have entered a golden age of economics.

We know women are more educated, they participate in greater numbers in the workforce, and they are gaining greater responsibility in the corporate world as leaders in many professions across America 1. This suggests we are thriving and reaping the benefits of an improved status; aka the lights are on as we have more money to spend, feel better about the possibilities for advancement, and realize greater power in the work force. So are all the lights shining bright and energies balanced?

Japan as a model for Kusama’s Infinity Room

Generally speaking, the gains for women are only marginally true and present a kind of smoke and mirror vision of Kasuma’s art. Kathy Matsui, Chief Japan Strategist and Vice Chair at Goldman Sachs, turned on the lights when she introduced the term “womenomics” in 1999. Her influential studies about the economics of women influenced Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2013 Abenomic reforms; these focused on improving the economic balance for women in the workplace as a key driver to closing Japan’s economic growth.

Admittedly, Japan’s economy and workforce is somewhat unique (restrictive immigration policies and declining birth rates), but Abe’s economic plan to capitalize on the power of women provides a real economic plan for gender equality. While his plan is yet to be realized, Abe predicts he can raise growth by 2% in real (inflation adjusted) GDP and 3% growth in nominal GDP by targeting expanded daycare, nursing care, flexible work arrangements and other incentives that recognize women as a vital component in Japan’s economic output 2.

The global impact of these goals is significant, given Japan’s $4+ trillion (US$) GDP and its control of over 6% of the global economy 3. Certainly a more indepth discussion is needed to explain the confluence of economic indicators needed to bring Japan’s economic health and prosperity. However, the important point to hammer home is clear: Abe’s plan recognizes the need to change old institutions and outdated thinking about women’s critical value and their role in mobilizing economic growth. It lights up Japan and is actually focusing new light on ways to build a shared economy for everyone.

Is America Missing Kusama’s Big Picture?

Our vision in America and other countries around the world is somewhat filtered when we talk about inclusiveness and connectivity for everyone. In North America, we’re focused on persistent wage gaps and women making 80 cents to the dollar earned by men. I don’t know that we are moving the needle without policy changes and a national movement across businesses. There’s a persistent imbalance that prevents harmony even though women like Gloria Steinem woke up America more than 50 years ago.

Disappointing trends continue to keep us in the dark 4. Did you know:

  • The higher we climb, the greater the wage gap for women;
  • By age 65, the average working woman will have lost more than $430,000 in lost wages because of this wage gap; and,
  • Women are bringing home more of the bacon with 40% of American moms as the sole or primary breadwinners, but because we earn less and hold a greater share of the part-time employment market we can’t fully participate in employer pension plans. Therefore, we are likely to have smaller retirement nest eggs and smaller 401(k) balances.

You could say women are footing the bill for what amounts to limited progress. We are paying a larger share of rising health care costs (caring for aging parents and kids) and we are less prepared for retirement in an environment of economic uncertainty. Finding the light has never been more important as we move further the twenty-first century.

Kusama’s Bright Spots: Unlocking the Power of Women in the World

According to the United Nations Gender Index, the brightest spots for women to work are actually in Europe. The disparity in “reproductive health, empowerment, political participation and labor market participation” is less pronounced, our dollar goes farther, and women take home more money.

There are ways to be smarter about the money we are making (I’ll tackle the immediate issue of women maximizing their retirement investments in a separate article), but reaction from Abe’s initiatives suggests the world is listening. Articles debating the success of his policies are drawing attention, and Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House has also made women’s economics a national dialogue in the U.S.

While Abe is leading the charge with revised corporate governance codes and stewardship reforms, these will take time but they are already changing the discussion. The creation of the first UN Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment this past January 2016 will help to educate businesses, global leaders, and countries about the fundamental barriers to women’s progress. (See www.empowerwomen.org)

The key factors for building sustainable economic growth, as cited by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, are a global imperative: “There remains an urgent need to address structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment and full inclusion in economic activity. If the world is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need a quantum leap in women’s economic empowerment.”5

When I heard that Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Rooms” will be traveling through North America in 2017, from Washington to Seattle to Los Angeles and Toronto, I jumped for joy. I hope citizens and leaders around the world are energized to create brighter economic foundations that take the lessons from Kusama’s vision into infinity, bringing Kusama’s heaven to life.

  1. United States Department of Labor: Women in the Labor Force
  2. The Wall Street Journal – Shinzo Abe: Unleashing the Power of ‘Womenomics’
  3. Japan GDP
  4. Resourceful Manager: 11 Surprising Statistics About Women In The Workplace
  5. www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2016/1/wee-high-level-panel-launch

My husband claims I bought all of the tea in China – or at least, that’s what he said when the Beijing government refused to ship it to America because it exceeded the 2 kilogram weight limit (roughly 4 ½ pounds). Eventually he forgave this transgression; five countries and two checked bags full of tea later.

After climbing the Great Wall, I couldn’t imagine leaving Beijing without some souvenir tea. After all, Beijing is the tea capital of China with some of the best tea in the world. Tea comes from the camellia evergreen bush native to China, Tibet and Asia, but hundreds of different tea bushes have been cultivated as hybrids from the original camellia sinensis and camellia assamica bushes. According to the tea master of the Shin Shin Tea house in Beijing, tea lovershave more than 3,000 types of tea to choose from.

Our tea lesson and fallout buying spree started at a large teak table filled with a myriad of different scents and tea paraphernalia. Stacked shelves lined throughout the two- floor complex, paid homage to the art of tea in China. It is as complex as the cultivars, which are a cross selection of tea bushes stemming from the original evergreen bush. Each cultivar possesses characteristics unique to the provinces or countries where the plant is grown. Factors like the bush type, climate and production process influence both the qualities and flavor of the tea. Tea production is not unlike wine production with growing variables in each industry determining the unique taste characteristics and customer appeal.

The tea ceremony was an experience I’ll never forget; a combination of fact-finding and olfactory overload. The tea samplings helped us to understand how tea is classified and the significance of the processing techniques. While there is still debate about the number of official tea categories, experts generally agree on these categories and these medicinal properties:

  • Green tea – is heated to stop the tea leaf from oxidizing and has a grassy, toasted flavor with a clean finish. It has the highest caffeine levels and polyphenols (optimizing medicinal and mineral health benefits) so you feel energized yet calm;
  • Yellow tea – is most expensive and rare. It is similar to green tea but undergoes an added heating process that softens the flavor, making it more like a sweet white tea. It is crammed with polyphenols to prevent cancer, treat liver and bowel disease, and aids in a host of other health benefits including diabetes, weight loss, and beauty enhancement;
  • White tea – is the least processed with a light and elegant nutty flavor… a great morning cup can boost antioxidants for cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol, bolster anti-cancer properties, and aid in weight loss;
  • Oolong tea – is semi-oxidized tea with a wide variety of flavors to keep the freshness of green tea but additional roasting and processing techniques give it a smooth, fresh, fruity flavor or deeper toasty notes. Health benefits include teeth and bone health, enhanced memory and energy and weight reduction;
  • Black tea – is almost fully oxidized tea (called red tea in China) with rich tannins and diverse, robust flavors. The sweet notes and a comforting aroma help you to feel relaxed and the health benefits improve blood circulation, asthma, and digestion.
  • Post fermented tea/Pu Erh – ferments and ages over time (20-25 years) with a woody, earthy flavor that’s clean and fresh. Health properties include preventing diabetes, and lowering the bad and raising the good cholesterol.
  • Scented teas – often green tea scented with flowers or flavored with fruit. Jasmine is one of the most popular types of scented teas, helping to build your immune system and promote relaxation and stress reduction.

Tea tasting is an enlightening experience in Chinese tradition and philosophy. No attention to detail is spared, and the ritual of preparation, presentation and enjoyment dates back more than 5,000 years to Emperor Shennong. While the tea industry has developed and modernized since then, Chinese people believe tea tied to our longevity and mental health, and tea should be savored to attain “joy of spirit”1.

Motivated to learn more about the health benefits of tea2, we filled our baskets and rang up a hefty bill only to discover we would have to lug this tea with us on our continued travels. But resting comfortably at home and sipping on the teas of my labor, I can see why tea (second only to water) continues to be the world’s most consumed beverage. Here’s to hoping I’ve bought enough to stay healthy for a long, long, time.

  1. See: http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-tea/
  2. See China Life website: http://www.chinalifeweb.com

So maybe the Sydney Harbor bridge was extreme but I wanted to climb to the top of the world to announce the launch my new website, WomanScape.  It had to be dramatic and fearless, and towering almost 450 feet above sea level certainly fit.

Remove term: 5 Minute Read 5 Minute ReadRemove term: Australia AustraliaRemove term: Bridgeclimb BridgeclimbRemove term: Nina Simone Nina SimoneRemove term: People’s Bridge People’s BridgeRemove term: Rose McInerney Rose McInerneyRemove term: Sydney Bridge Sydney BridgeRemove term: WomanScape WomanScapeI walk under foreboding clouds from my nearby hotel to the “Rocks” area just under the bridge and arrive at the checkpoint station. Changing into my spiffy climber’s suit, I follow my assigned group through a series of simulator test climbs, before we are cleared to walk the narrow staircases and challenging heights1. My team of twelve moves in convoy hoping the heavy rain will slow enough to prevent the climb from being canceled. I hum Nina Simone’s Feeling Good song to bolster my nerves. (You can listen on YouTube as you read on.)

From the onset, everyone is individually tethered to a sliding clamp that ambles along the metal rails for the duration of the climb. You can’t disengage the harness until you finish so your climb and your pace are connected to those in front and behind you.

As my rollercoaster nerves resonate with the clinking sounds of the noisy clamp I gradually fall into a steady rhythm, and my fear gives way to a new focus – reaching the summit. The ache in my legs signals progress and rest stops become conversations with others while slower teammates catch up.

I learn each of us has a story – a reason for climbing. Few are as dramatic as the 42 years of construction and the workers who soldered more than 6 million steel rivets (without harnesses) to complete the “people’s bridge” in 1922. But our stories are a shared connection of tribulation and conquest – they are our bridge to self and to each other2. The climbers on each side of me reinforce this, my sense of purpose and the reasons for my climb.

In front of me, a bubbly and fit computer engineer named Krissy chats easily and smiles often at our rugged-looking guide. Her climb is part of a three month exploration of Asia, Africa and Oceania before starting her first full time job in the maps department at Google. The woman behind me is a veteran climber, less talkative but committed to doing this every year. It reminds her to take chances and live life boldly. This is also a great story. Like Krissy, I am designing a new map for myself, but the expensive cost of climbing the bridge is enough for me to be a fast learner with a Remove term: 5 Minute Read 5 Minute ReadRemove term: Australia AustraliaRemove term: Bridgeclimb BridgeclimbRemove term: Nina Simone Nina SimoneRemove term: People’s Bridge People’s BridgeRemove term: Rose McInerney Rose McInerneyRemove term: Sydney Bridge Sydney BridgeRemove term: WomanScape WomanScapelong memory; no need to be a repeat climber like the woman in front. I will be fearless and brave enough to fail.

As I near the top of the summit, I flashback through the stages in life that I have already climbed. My education, 28 years of marriage, several careers, motherhood and the loss of a child. In the 52 years it took to me get here, I am just beginning and the clouds have cleared. I can almost touch the sky and the Blue Mountains to the north. The landscape is endless as far as I can see and the ground rises up around me.

Looking out over the deep waters, my eyes settle on the breathtaking oyster-colored Opera House and I imagine peeling away its outer shell. I will create from my core and dance to my own music.

As I stand on the summit, the camera snaps my picture. I marvel at the powerful sun and the gust of wind that sweeps through my
hair.

“It’s a new day, a new dawn and I’m feeling good.”

I’d love to hear your story, your climb. Reach out and send me a note or a pic. There’s plenty of room on the bridge.

  1. To learn more about the climb, see http://www.bridgeclimb.com/#your-arrival
  2. To read about the bridge history, see http://www.harbourbridge.com.au/hbpages/historycontx.html

Email Newsletter