Visions of the Future for Computer Graphics and Communication
Talk to NYU Professor Dr. Ken Perlin about the future of computer graphics, more specifically, user interface, interaction and communication, and you come away with the sense that he has mastered the difficult skill of distilling complex scientific reasoning into ideas that are contextually relevant and understandable to a person of average intelligence. Like me. Over the past 30 years, I’ve spent considerable time talking to scores of really smart people and I’ve watched more speakers deliver bad presentations than toothless Yukon gold miners have watched their sluice boxes wash out empty. If the future of mankind hinged on a computer conference speaker's ability to explain how to prepare a box of macaroni and cheese, best dust off that 21-year old bottle of Auchentoshen you keep for special occasions and savor it with haste because we’re all going down in flames, right after Professor Clarity gets to the 7-step process for opening the flavor packet. Complete with flowcharts. With Ken, however, it was different. He explained stuff, I actually understood. No flash cards or lifelines. How refreshing.
In 1997, Ken won an Academy Award for the development of Perlin Noise, a technique used to produce natural appearing textures on computer generated surfaces for motion picture visual effects. In 1997, I built a FoxPro database that crashed my Mac so badly it had to be reformatted. We both studied math in college, but evidence suggests he understood it a bit better than I did.
Ken’s understanding of history, the societal impact of innovation and discovery and how the context of people’s understanding and acceptance of technological change is key in assessing possibilities for the future of computer graphics, is central to how he explains his vision for that future.
I got a chance to spend some time with him this past December at SIGGRAPH Asia in Hong Kong, where he was presenting a talk on the future of computer graphics. I’ve never thought of a piano as a communication technology, because, well, it’s just a piano and there’s no power cord and my wife can’t yell at me through it. But after speaking with Ken, I’ve started looking at everything in my surroundings, including my awesome new potato ricer, in an entirely new light. Considering that no GPUs are involved, nothing communicates happiness better than really fluffy mashed potatoes.
Dan Sarto: What will you be talking about in your presentation this week.
Ken Perlin: Mostly I’ll be talking about my interest in using computer graphics as a means of getting people to communicate directly with each other.
DS: What do you see as some of the future trends in the use of technology and interfaces for human interaction and communication?