Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 9 (September 2002)

Back to the Present

In years past, the Siggraph convention has been a forum for visionaries to speculate wildly about futuristic technologies and applications. But this year, the futurists were decidedly more interested in the present. Nowhere was this more evident than at a panel discussion titled “The Future of Computer Graphics,” during which the speakers focused on innovative ways current graphics technologies could be applied here and now to serve our interests.

Windows on the world:
Many of us live and work in buildings that don't have as many windows or the kind of views that we'd like. To compensate, developers could install high-resolution displays in our walls and connect them to servers posting live images from rainforests, mountain ranges, coral reefs, satellites, telescopes, spacecraft, and the like. That way, we could look out on virtually any scene we choose.

Where's Waldo? Suppose you're in a crowded place or at a concert or event, and you want to locate family members or friends. Special glasses could be developed with displays that are tuned to sensors that track the wearers' locations and highlight them in your field of view.

You go there: Some of us have used interactive, "you-are-here" maps in large buildings or institutions that highlight the route we would take to get from one place to another. But once we walk away, we still have to remember where we're supposed to go. The displays in our special glasses could be connected to maze-solving systems that would find the best route and show us each step of the way in augmented reality. With GPS technology added in, the glasses could also help us find our way if we got lost on the road or in the wild.

London calling: Many of us have telephone caller ID devices, but we can't always tell from the number or text on the display who's on the line. Imagine that the phone can send images of the caller to the display in your glasses. If the phone rings and you see a picture of your doctor calling with a lab result, an image of your pet ready to come home from the vet, or another friendly face, you may be more likely to answer than if you see an image of someone you'd rather avoid.

So good; so good for you: Imagine we're in the grocery store and we want to find which snack foods are better for us without reading all the labels and calculating the relative nutritional values. If our glasses were tied to an image recognition system and a database with nutrition information, we could scan the brands and the display would highlight the best and worst options.

Window shopping: If large-screen, interactive displays could be deployed in shop windows, they could respond to you as you walk by. If you saw some clothing that you liked, you could ask the system to scan your dimensions and automatically show you how you would look in the clothes without your having to try them on.

Some of these examples may be far out and even frivolous. But they illustrate that we are not limited so much by technology as by our imaginations. Indeed, the challenge is not to invent more futuristic and arcane technologies, but to build more creative and useful applications that are possible, at least theoretically, with today's technologies. Of course, as that astute observer Yogi Berra points out, "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is."