A Bridge Too Far?

IDF Fall 2008 - Intel opens IDF by explaining how it intends to make the digital world as real as the real world.

According to Held though, in order to bridge the gap between the real and digital worlds, we would have to enter an era of connected visual computing. Of course visual computing is a term that’s been thrown around for some time now, and not just by Intel. The idea of creating a truly believable virtual environment is a compelling one, and one that many will see as the Holy Grail when it comes to gaming. But Intel isn’t just talking about lifelike or “photorealistic” graphics here – after all, sight is just one of our senses, and our brain needs more than a pretty image to believe that a virtual world is real.

Obviously enhanced physics engines are an important factor when it comes to creating believable digital worlds, but Held was keen to point out that Intel’s vision goes way beyond that. Real world data visualisation is the key to immersion in the digital world. That real world data could be anything from exact environment rendering based on satellite data to dynamic weather conditions that match your current location, a location that can be accurate to a few metres thanks to GPS data.

The problem with integrating all this real world data into the digital world, is that it requires a great deal of processing power at the server and client ends, not to mention the network bandwidth issues that go hand in hand with that kind of data crunching. So, before connected visual computing can become part of our everyday lives, we need technology that can process all the data and spit out that believable digital environment. Interestingly, Held put forward distributed computing as a potential answer to this problem.

A distributed computing model allows thousands, if not millions of compute devices to work in unison to perform a common task. The first distributed computing project that really captured the public eye was SETI@home, which used the distributed muscle of computers around the globe to help confirm the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. More recently we’ve seen folding@home, which uses the distributed power of computers and even PlayStation 3s for the study of protein folding. Distributed computing makes good use of clock cycles that would otherwise go to waste, and with the ever increasing rollout of broadband across the world, the future for distributed computing looks rosy.

But can the traditional distributed computing models really help create the connected visual computing environment that Intel is alluding to? Not really – the game needs to move on a step or two first. You see Intel isn’t just talking about implementing real world environmental data into a digital world, it also wants to carry real world sensory data over; data that will be as individual as the person experiencing it. Ultimately, our perception of the real world is created by our brains analysing the data that our five senses feed it, and until a computer can analyse real world sensory data in a similar way, a digital world will never be truly believable.

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