One of the papers at the SIGGRAPH conference showed how you can replace the fancy expensive compound lens in a digital camera with a really cheap lens. Of course when you do this you get all sorts of optical aberrations — chromatic aberration, spherical aberration, field curvature, and so on.

But if you have a powerful enough computer, and you know exactly what sorts of errors your cheap lens is introducing into the image, then you can post-process the captured image to get an impressively good result.

I thought this paper was a great example of the progressive virtualization of our physical environment. More and more of the things we think of as being part of the physically built world around us are being augmented — and in some cases replaced — by virtual components.

From the ringing of your phone, (simulating the sound of a long-gone technology) to the electric motor that drives your steering wheel (haptically simulating the direct mechanical linkage of an earlier error), to similar innovations too numerous to mention, every year we make our physical environment just a little bit more virtual.


Oddly enough, the very moment I finished writing the above, an old friend came over to say hello. He has a company called PaintScaping. They specialize in projecting digital make-believe content onto real world walls and other surfaces, matching the lighting, shadows, and 3D relief so perfectly that the resulting images seem like they are part of the physical world itself.

Maybe it’s a sign.

3 thoughts on “Virtualization”

  1. Hmm, I wonder whether there will come a time when all cars are electric, and they will still make that sound. Except nobody will know why.

  2. There’s a beautiful word for this: skeuomorph. It means ‘design element that once served a purpose or was an artifact of the manufacturing method but now is simply decoration.’ Like fake wood siding.

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