Worlds of tomorrow

A 2007 study by Stacey Wood and colleagues at Scripps College showed that people tend to get sunnier and more optimistic in their outlook as they get older (Kisley, M. Wood, S. & Burrows, C. *(2007) Looking at the sunny side of life: The negativity bias is eliminated in older adults. Psychological Science, 18 (9) 838-843).

As I have been wandering around the ACM/SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference here in downtown L.A. this week, I am starting to see a connection. People here range from young researchers in their early twenties, just starting out, to old timers who have been in the field since the 1970s or even longer.

To many young folks it is clear that the future has arrived. We have iPhones, iPads, realtime 3D graphics in home computers, and cutting edge films like Avatar. Much of the graphics technology that was mere fantasy a few decades ago is now widely available at consumer prices. Faced with so much well packaged magic, it might be hard for a young person today, just starting out in the field, to conceive of a future that will make our current level of technology look quaint.

But the old timers have already been there. They’ve seen vast sweeping changes over the several decades of their career. They’ve seen — first hand — an approximately million-fold increase in computer power in the last forty years, and they see no reason why there should not be another million-fold increase in the next forty.

They’ve gone from bulky punched paper tape holding no more than a few kilobytes to 256 gigabyte flash drives you can hold in the palm of your hand. They’ve seen the rise of the internet and the Web. They’ve seen low resolution CRT displays gradually evolve to four megapixel LCD screens. They’ve seen digital projectors and high resolution color printers go from rare treasures to every day consumer items.

The list of wonders goes on. And on.

Anyone who has been in the field of computer graphics for several decades knows that the graphics in Avatar will, in time, come to appear hopelessly primitive, and that the iPhone will all too soon seem as quaint as an old fashioned calculator, a relic of a bygone age.

Experience is a hill that you climb, year by year. The higher you have climbed, the farther you can see into the future, and the easier it becomes to glimpse the far off worlds of tomorrow.

And once you can see those worlds well enough to know they are out there, you can build them.

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