Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
November 14th, 2006

Sometimes it is Easy to See the Future – 3

In both the first and second posts with this title I stated that while in many areas it might be difficult to see into the future, in the area of technology the future can be readily seen.  The speed of technological invention and innovation moves so quickly that we have barely assimilated a recent breakthrough when another shows up to knock us back on our heels again.  While these innovations do provide a glimpse of our future, they can be disorienting in that they show us that the Present that we are struggling to accept and assimilate will soon be outdated.

Last week the Nvidia Corporation made a major product announcement that has profound implications in the area of supercomputing, gaming and virtual reality.  Nvidia introduced its next generation processor that has a capability of three trillion mathematical operations per second. To put that in some historical perspective, the first mainframe computer, the ENIAC, built in 1946 performed 50,000 calculations per second.  Ten years later the IBM 704 mainframe performed at 400,000 per second. By 1982 the number has grown to 100 million for the most powerful mainframe computers in the world.  So this new processor just by itself, is 30,000 times faster that the most powerful mainframe of 25 years ago.  In addition this new processor will have 681 million transistors, more than twice as many the current fast processors on the market. I am not sure of my numbers here, but that probably means that each processor has more transistors that all the transistor radios produced worldwide in the 1950s.

This new processor is called the GeForce 8800 and is a G.P.U., or graphical processing unit, and will be priced at $599.  The development of this and prior G.P.Us was to primarily serve the video gaming industry.  There has been much talk of late in entertainment and media circles that the gaming industry is increasingly providing models for these industries. Now, with this announcement it is becoming clear that gaming computer developments are starting to impact the general world of computing, which in recent years was beginning to think that Moore’s law might be coming to an end.  Now, this coming convergence of graphics processors and conventional microprocessors looks to once again accelerate processing speeds in computers for years to come.  In fact, this new development points to smaller computers having the computing speed of the ‘supercomputers’ of the past decade.  These have been the super fast computers that have been used for mega scale simulations and projections.  At a store near you in just a few years.

The other key breakthrough coming, thanks to the GeForce 8800 processor, is that finally, computer generated imaging will approach photographic realism.  The potential this will unleash is almost beyond comprehension.  I remember a conversation I had several years ago with the most brilliant CGI artist I know.  At the time he was creating and rendering photo realistic images of food products for major corporations.  He told me that he could create a photo realistic image of almost anything via his CGI work, with one big exception, a human face.  He said that someday technology would solve that problem and that when it did, who would need models, or actors?

That day is soon to be here.  In fact, to highlight this very point, the Nvidia corporation, at its unveiling of this new processor showed virtual reality simulation of an actress that evidently was unnervingly real.  Just think what the implications are for the entertainment, fashion and media companies around the world.  We can now move from the world of CGI newsrooms to CGI anchors and reporters.  Stars could license full motion replicas of themselves for any number of commercial and entertainment uses. The impact on such areas as pornography and sports simulation will be transformative.

Within the next decade, we will all be able to replicate ourselves into life like avatars for any broadband enterprise we might be engaged in.  Of course the immediate beneficiary of this breakthrough will be the gaming industry where speed and realism will soon take a giant leap ahead.  High end video games have come close to replicating know actors and realistic characters already.  Soon, there will be games that will seem as real as the movies they mimic. In the not too distant future, we will be able to insert life like images of ourselves into the video games we play.

To paraphrase the famous Memorex ad:  “Is it real or is it real?”  So, in just a few years, when someone tells you to come back to reality, a valid response might be:  “Which one?”

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In times of global uncertainty and disruption it takes a futurist to provide context and understanding.

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