Apr 25, 2007 (03:04 PM EDT)
IBM, Intel, And Microsoft Tout Technology Future

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A glimpse into the future of computing technology, provided by researchers from IBM, Intel, and Microsoft, reveals photo-realistic virtual words rendered on the fly, desktop file manipulation using hand gestures, and presence information relayed by ubiquitous sensors.

At the Gartner IT/xpo, Jerry Battista, director of technology management for Intel; Eric Horvitz, principal researcher for Microsoft Research; and Paul Bloom, IBM's research executive for communications industries, fielded questions on stage from two Gartner VPs about future technology.

Massively multicore chips from Intel represent a critical component to the future that Battista revealed in a video presentation: real-time, photo-realistic 3-D rendering.

Intel is shipping quad-core chips, Battista said, and silicon with 8, 12, and more cores will arrive soon. Intel has an 80-core, teraflop chip in the lab that consumes a mere 62 watts.

As a sample of what that kind of processing power might be used for, Battista showed a sports highlight generator that can automatically take a two-hour soccer game and condense it into 10 to 15 minutes of highlights. In this kind of application, several dozen processor cores might get divided up to track the players and the ball, to analyze the audio, and to processes the video.

Massively multicore chips also could allow the sort of rendering that takes months to do in animated movies -- ray tracing -- to be done in real-time. As an example of the possibilities, Battista showed Quake 4: Raytraced, a version of the Quake game engine that programmer Daniel Pohl (now an Intel employee) modified to support real-time lighting, bump mapping, specular mapping, soft shadows, moving objects, and other advanced visualization features. The result is an order of magnitude more realistic than the current generation of games. The movement of the characters and their lighting might even rival reality.

Such real-time rendering, said Battista, requires about five quad-core machines running together for a 20 frame-per-second playback rate. Intel's 80-core prototype thus represents more or less the processing threshold to render reality as it happens.

Microsoft's Eric Horvitz predicted "the rise of the intention machine," which describes computers enlisted to predict user intentions and deliver useful information. Think of it as just-in-time manufacturing for your brain. Microsoft, Horvitz said, was spending about 25% of its research budget on artificial intelligence-related projects.

"There will be quite a bit more fluidity and interaction in communicating with computers," Horvitz said. Some of that work is already present in Windows Vista, he said, which tracks application use to cache frequently used programs for faster launch.