Visions of the Future

The second of three papers written for a computer science class I took recently. You can find the first here. For this second paper, we were directed to project our chosen technology into the future and explain our predictions. I think I was a bit apprehensive with going too far with this, so this is probably a bit tamer than it could be. Over all, though, I think these predictions are at least reasonable and possibly something I may even see within my lifetime.

 

Today’s entertainment shows a marked progression towards more immersion and realism. As the technology used to provide and enhance entertainment evolves, the ability to provide accurate depictions of previously unattainable events becomes possible. In the past, books and movies relied on the observer’s imagination to fill in any gaps in the story. Newer technology allows artists the ability to realistically generate these scenes, more fully depicting their overall artistic vision. There are numerous benefits to these evolving technologies for many different aspects of daily life.

In the 1999 hit movie, The Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, eventually realizes his full potential and gains the ability to perform superhuman feats. All throughout the movie, seemingly impossible feats are performed with almost no perceptible break in reality. Characters jump from building to building, dodge bullets, and fight with strength unheard of in normal humans. New technology provided the tools used to merge human actors with virtual constructs in a realistic manner. New techniques were used to provide unique viewing angles and sequences such as the stop-motion bullet sequence.

The bullet-time technique was subsequently used by CBS television in the 2001 Superbowl XXXV game. CBS worked with Takeo Kanade, a computer vision expert from Carnegie Mellon University, to develop the technology. [1] Using this technology, CBS was able to provide the viewer a unique look at the game as the camera’s vantage point could be moved, on the fly, at any point during the game. In fact, this new technique allowed referees to correctly uphold a replay challenge, identifying whether or not a player fumbled the ball after passing over the touchdown line. [2] Bullet-time provides what may be a key technology in moving towards real-time 3D broadcasting. Previously, meticulous work was required to generate realistic 3D sequences in movies, and doing this on live television was unheard of.

3D and holographic television has long been a lofty dream of technology enthusiasts. Visions range from standard television-sized displays, capable of displaying three-dimensional movies and sports events to massive room-sized units capable of completely immersing a person in a new world. But televisions capable of 3D imagery are only just starting to appear on the market. At the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show, a large number of 3D-capable high-definition televisions were announced. [3] These units require the use of 3D glasses to view the images presented. 3D televisions may well prove to be the next “big thing” for tech-savvy consumers, but there is a distinct lack of 3D content available. Additionally, requiring the user to wear a set of 3D glasses during each viewing is going to wear on the users quickly. Until more immersive and accessible technologies are available, widespread adoption of 3D will likely be slow.

The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment, CAVE, is a tentative step in the general direction of more fully immersive 3D technology. Developed at the University of Illinois, the CAVE is a large cube with several screens surrounding the viewer. The system automatically adjusts the perspective displayed by the screens based on the location of the viewer. [4] Images on each screen are projected in 2D. In order to properly view the 3D imagery, special glasses are required. CAVE systems are still very experimental and are most often used by colleges to help students bring their creations to life. Mainstream CAVE use has been slow, but some industries such as the auto industry use CAVE systems to model new car designs. This technology, while immersive, still suffers from inaccessibility. CAVE systems are large, complex systems designed for very specific tasks.

The true “Holy Grail” of immersive projection technologies is holographic. Holographic projection provides the ability to project and view three-dimensional images in real-time without the need for augmentation devices such as glasses. This dream has been on every nerds wishlist since it was described by authors such as Ray Bradbury. The most common example of a full-sized holographic unit is the Holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The holodeck is a futuristic device capable of creating realistic environments in which a person can interact. It is capable more than mere image projection, however. According to Star Trek lore [5], the holodeck can create holographic matter, taking on the texture and other characteristics of real matter. Users can then interact with this matter as they would a “real” object.

Research into Holodeck-style environments is on-going. A paper from researchers at the University of Colorado details a method for bringing such an environment to life. [6] Instead of using holographic matter, their system uses a deformable environment in which a computer molds the world around in real-time. Still, these systems are big and bulky, not something the average consumer is likely to add to their home entertainment system.

Looking further into the future, it is feasible from current trends that more accessible technologies are on their way. Within ten to twenty years, holographic displays will be commonplace in consumer homes. These displays won’t necessarily be what we expect, either. Based on current technology, it would appear that a holographic display would be a large, walled unit with a myriad of cameras and other gear to project the 3D images. What is more likely, however, is that something as simple as a coffee table will be the surface used to bring 3D to life.

As holography becomes more mainstream, it will begin to pop up in more places. Many sci-fi authors envision holographic advertisements as commonplace in futuristic worlds. Combining holographic projection with other technologies leads to some interesting scenarios.

Using image recognition techniques, computers can identify when a person is looking at a specific location. Using information about the person such as height, weight, relative age, skin color, and more, the computer can compile a user profile, placing them into a category of consumer. Additional information such as facial features and gait detection may lead to positive identification of an individual, helping to tailor the categorization even more. With this information, the computer can then determine what that person will most likely be interested in and identify potential advertisements to transmit to the target. Holographic laser emitters can be used to “beam” an advertisement directly into the viewers eye.

Advertising in this manner can provide the target with a highly personalized advertisement, as well as relative privacy. It also prevents popular thoroughfares from becoming a disorganized mass of disjointed holographic projections. Complete industries will rise up around preventing such advertisements from making it to the target, circumventing those technologies, and so on.

Another use of holographic technology is akin to the personal digital assistant, or PDA. As computers become more powerful, their relative size is diminishing. In the future, a small wearable device will potentially contain the equivalent power of a supercomputer. This power can be used to “augment” reality in various ways. Heads-up displays can be displayed inside of glasses, or even projected directly onto the user’s cornea. Displays can provide navigation information while traveling, both on foot and in a vehicle. Users can interact with real-time data such as stock quotes or news. Movies can be displayed, providing the user their own private movie theatre.

Augmented reality devices can also be used to overlay information on the real world. Future businesses will be able to overlay their real-world stores with dynamic, digital information. Imagine walking up to a store and having digitized versions of famous people personally inviting you in. Perhaps a personal assistant will escort you around, providing reviews, alternatives, and pricing. Walk into a fast-food restaurant and you can access a menu overlay, personally tailored for you. The applications for such technology is almost limitless.

Artists can use these same technologies to provide a unique experience for viewers. Instead of sitting down in a theatre, watching the latest blockbuster movie, artists can bring the movie to the viewer. Holographic overlays can be used outside of theaters, inviting viewers to join in the action. More immersive movies can dynamically change the flow of the movie based on viewer actions. Imagine changing the outcome of a movie, purely based on your personal choices.

The future of entertainment technology is bright and full of potential. Artists will be able to use new and exciting tools to bring their visions to life. Movie viewers will be able to interact with the performance, even changing aspects of the story as they see fit. Using these technologies in the consumer space provides similar enhancements to daily life. Information such as navigation and news can be provided directly to the user. And augmented reality can provide new views of the world. Computers are definitely shaping how we see the future.
References:

[1] (2010, March 20). [Online]. Available: http://www.ri.cmu.edu/events/sb35/tksuperbowl.html
[2] (2010, March 20). [Online]. Available: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/nfl/2001/playoffs/news/2001/01/28/superbowl_tv_ap/
[3] (2010, April 6). [Online]. Available: http://ces.cnet.com/8301-31045_1-10431350-269.html
[4] . Cruz-Neira, D. J. Sandin, T. A. DeFanti, R. V. Kenyon, and J. C. Hart, “The Cave: Audio Visual Experience Automatic Virtual Environment,” Communications of the ACM, 1992.
[5] (2010, April 6). [Online]. Available: http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Holodeck
[6] Krunic, V.; Han, R.; , “Towards Cyber-Physical Holodeck Systems Via Physically Rendered Environments (PRE’s),” Distributed Computing Systems Workshops, 2008. ICDCS ’08. 28th International Conference on , vol., no., pp.507-512, 17-20 June 2008

 

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