Computer graphics, CG, hasn’t always had 20/20 vision, although it has been inherently capable of it, given its quantized basis in mathematics and physics.
Until just a few years ago, the I/O elements of a CG system were the constraining factors in creating the kind of high-quality graphics and interaction that could make us forget we’re seeing the products of computer processors churning away on algorithms.
Two thousand thirteen brought us breakthroughs in 3D capture and in display systems. 3D capture technology is being realized in consumer devices with improved accuracy, speed, and simultaneous price reduction—a normal, almost expected, effect of economy of scale combined with price elasticity and the resulting Moore’s Law effect. Displays have increased in resolution, color acuity (gamut), response times, brightness, and contrast, while simultaneously becoming thinner, lighter, and less ex-pensive.
Software developments in professional graphics for 3D design, modeling, and rendering have taken gigantic steps. The results can be seen in amazing new building designs, gorgeous automobiles, astounding special effects in the cinema, and unbelievable realism and speed in games.
Adjacent CG activities in virtual reality, augmented reality, and stereoscopic vision are matched with remarkable new sound systems, taking us from 7.1 to 25 channels and beyond. Simultaneously with all of these developments, the unrelenting march of Moore’s Law is driving prices down to consumer levels while providing simulation and visualization systems for the masses.
Our devices will communicate with each other and help us in ways we never dreamed possible. Warn us of approaching hazards, buying opportunities, friends, and foes.
Real-time holograms will amaze and delight us and take air-traffic management to a new level of safety and control. In the home, we’ll have a new form of entertainment, and virtual demonstrations of products will be astounding.
How could it possibly get any better?
Six years from now, in 2020, we will look back at this with astonishment and amusement and ask ourselves how did we ever tolerate such ridiculously crude, unrealistic, slow, and productivity limiting systems?
Our affection and tolerance for physical peripherals will evolve into the same type of disaffection that we would have today for a hand-cranked car starter. We will no longer be limited to flat-panel display systems, manually operated mechanical input systems, or restricted areas for conducting design, development, and entertainment.
Compute devices, projection systems, natural user interfaces, and uncompromisable ownership and security of our work will give us friction-free total access to an enormous amounts of data, worldwide collaboration, and almost instantaneous physical prototypes.
When the computer and its anchor-based peripherals disappear, our productivity, creativity, and freedom of movement will reach levels we never dreamed possible. Big data, today’s challenge and a frightening opportunity for some organizations, will be mastered and manageable by almost everyone, just as the web is today. Diagnostics based on esoteric searches of enormous amounts of data will be accomplished in seconds, giving us never-before-dreamed-of levels of healthcare, product safety, and design scenarios.
But… are we seeing the limits?
Today we are building semiconductors at 20 nanometers; 14-nanometer is being tested, and 8-nanometer is in sight. However, the cost of manufacturing these new nanometer devices is rising exponentially, breaking Moore’s Law economically if not technically. If super-fast, super-small devices slip into the super-expensive category, then only those who must have them will have them. The rest of the users will see improvements in algorithms, power management, and packaging.
Screen resolutions will continue to scale to 8K. Beyond that it the human eye’s resolution becomes challenged. New battery technologies will allow devices to become thinner and lighter. Micro electromechanical systems (MEMS) used in sensors such as accelerometers and gyros will also reach a practical limit, a point of diminishing returns, but sensors in devices will proliferate and measure everything from blood pressure and oxidation to elevation and skin temperature.
Getting to our brave new worlds will not be without bumps, frustrations, and cost. But the technology will lead us, compel us, and eventually reward us.