In his keynote address to the Semicon 2009 conference Intel’s director of technology management and microprocessor research Jerry Bautista said Intel was working towards the internet becoming an immersive connective experience (ICE) where devices would increasingly overlay the digital world onto reality.
“There is another web coming, an ICE web,” he said.
“The digital world and the actual worlds are going to be connected and we’ll find we can create other worlds as well.”
He gave a number of areas where this was already taking place. Intel was working on automating the creation of 3D avatars which could be used to augment videoconferencing. The computer could create an avatar of the participants and the room they are in so that everyone appeared in the same room and had realistic facial impressions.
Intel’s laboratories have also investing in researching visual computing, using computers in conjunction with cameras and GPS in a smartphone. For example, users could take a picture of a sign on their smartphones and the handset would check GPS to see what country the users was in, get a translation of its meaning and give directions from a mapping application overlaid.
He said that applications like Second Life were merely the first generation of virtual worlds and the situation was going to get more immersive. Intel has been using software modelling techniques to render 3D more effectively, including making computer generated environments obey physical laws of movement and building in behavioural intelligence.
Another example of this came from letting users generate their own 3D images, by sending in 20 pictures of an object to be rendered and letting the computer build the object automatically.
He estimated that the techniques of using the camera to produce visual searches for data of photographed object would come online in 2010, with information overlay on camera views by 2012 and a 2D and 3D visual overlay available by 2014.
He pointed out that there were plenty of virtual worlds bigger than Second Life, with teen site Poptropica pulling in 21 million users and Neopets getting over 45 million. Over 50 per cent of all virtual world users are aged between 4 and 12 and as they grow up the idea of interacting in virtual worlds would be normal and natural.
All of these functions do however take a huge increase in computing power. Intel’s research estimates such a system would require servers to work ten times faster, need 100 times current bandwidth and would mean a new generation of ‘many-core’ computing processors.
“This is where Intel smiles,” he said.
“This requires a pretty heavy computing load. If you try and access sites like Second Life with an old laptop the site brings it to its knees.”
He said Intel’s data showed that viewing 20 web pages took about 20 per cent of a computer’s CPU and very little GPU power. By contrast using Second Life took about 70 per cent of CPU time and around 35-75 per cent of the GPU’s power.
However, he said that the key thing holding all of this back with software, not hardware. Intel could put more than enough core on a chip (the record is currently 80) to handle the new demands of ICE.
Another issue was reshaping distributed computing. Networks need to get much smarter in terms of routing data to ensure that data flows were smooth and reliable.
Part of this would include setting up distributed data centres to do local processing and route data to mobile devices.
Battery life is also an issue, but one Intel is trying to beat by using much smarter power management. Processing with be shifted to a few active cores and the processor will shut down spare ones to save power.