Visions of the Future for Computer Graphics and Communication
KP: It’s not as simple as it might first appear. All of these things [practical applications of research] require staging. There are pre-conditions. For example, if someone had said, soon after Dennis Gabor and others had invented the laser back in the late 50s, which was being presented as the death ray of the future, that one day, millions of people will deliberately scar their corneas as a way of seeing better, people would have thought that person was crazy, or maybe on drugs. But now, Lasik surgery is taken for granted. The reason is that things happened in stages. There was something, then there was something else, then something else, and then expectations changed, the technology advanced, the sociology around it changed. I think you find that with lots of technologies.
There was strong belief a little over a century ago that it may not be possible for human beings to go beyond 60 miles an hour and live. It took a number of decades before this idea [traveling faster than 60 miles per hour] became a normal part of existence.
One of the key things to remember about augmented reality technologies is that they’re going to require a series of changes even in display which have to happen in stages, they can’t happen all at once. One thing to keep in mind is that we now think of the iPad and things like the iPad, these tablets, as something very natural in some way. In 1968, Alan Kay came up with this [tablet] form factor. But there was so much that didn’t exist. For one thing, the widely crowd sourced Internet didn’t exist until 25 years after that. From 1968 to 1993, that’s only 18 years ago. And a whole series of evolutionary steps had to happen after that.
So we can talk about possible futures, but we can’t predict them, because there are too many different staged steps that are not just technological but are sociological reactions. Okay, people are ready for Lasik now. People are ready to get behind the wheel of a car. Microsoft did a very noble thing in 2001 by trying to make the tablet PC. But the whole ecosystem wasn’t ready yet. There were fundamental pieces missing from that market play. Apple took a big step back, watched that happen and did a whole series of staged efforts over the course of a number of years. The iPad is part of a whole series of things they did that started much earlier.
DS: What do you see as some of the next stages or phases with regards to the merging of graphics, user interface and technology leading to augmented reality?
KP: One of the important things that I think is only going to be a transitional technology, but a necessary transitional technology, is that sometime in the next 5 years, those glasses that you are wearing will at first, in a very expensive way, and then in a less and less expensive way, be able to be a see-through display. That’s not where things are going to end up. But that will give people this idea of what it is they can have if someone gave them what they wanted. In other words, people have to see it first, and then they start creating all of these uses.
So when Tim Berners-Lee came up with this way of people crowd sourcing internet links, that wasn't yet Mark Zuckerberg finally figuring out a very successful way to do social networking where people before had not done that, that was a pre-condition. So I see the see through, not bulky display as a pre-condition for people saying, “Oh, okay. Now let me think what I want to do with this. How does this change my everyday life?” And the technologies can start getting refined in the same way that people saw the Silicon Graphics [workstation] and it cost fifty thousand dollars. There wasn't a significant market for a fifty thousand dollar box to do 3D graphics, but that just enabled people to start thinking, “What do we want?”