Confessions of a researchaholic

February 16, 2010

The Rowling criterion

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 3:41 pm

I guess I am not the only one who ever heard people commenting that “computer graphics research is mostly done” or “all the big ideas in graphics have been discovered and the remaining research is mainly about incremental ideas” or something like that.

If you look at history, similar comments have been made about physics in the early twentieth century when people believed that Newtonian physics is near perfection and all the remaining problems are incremental. And then came quantum physics, relativity, and other ground breaking stuff.

I do not think computer graphics is done for a very simple reason. Every year I have been kept seeing interesting/exciting papers coming out of various graphics conferences. So these pessimistic comments may reflect more about the status of people who made them rather than the status of computer graphics research.

And I would not claim graphics is done until people can author images, movies, and animations as easily as writing articles. And these do not even have to be good; not everyone can be Shakespeare, but at least almost everyone (who is literate without severe handicaps like blindness) can easily write an article, a letter, or a diary entry via existing tools, ranging from simple pen and pencil to more advanced text editing software. But how many people today can easily make an image or a movie all alone? It is true that amazing effects have been achieved in many movies, but these almost always involve significant resources, not least a large team of talented professionals. (Take a look of the end credits of the kinds of movies like Harry Potter or Avatar.)

Talking about Harry Potter, this is actually a good example on the difference between authoring textual and non-textual artifacts: for the former, a good writer like J.K. Rowling could single-handedly author an entire book series, but for the latter, a large team of talented staff has to be devoted to realize the books into movies. And this a technology, not talent issue; no existing tools today would have allowed J.K. Rowling to turn her visions into movies, even though these imagery would likely have existed in her minds while writing the books. (I believe she can do that because that is exactly what happened in my minds when reading her books.)

Thus, allow me to propose a necessary condition to claim the completeness of graphics research, the “Rowling criterion”: it should be as easy for a single individual to author a movie/animation/image as to write an article. And when such technology is available, I would happily turn myself from a researcher into a content creator.

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