What if a computer could make you a picture-perfect glass of milk, let you feel the tension as it pulled an ant’s leg from another room, and chat you up with the charisma of Oprah Winfrey? No one machine can do all three — yet. But some sophisticated new projects are showing just how far we’ve come toward creating an “I can’t believe it’s not real” virtual world.
Last month, Brookhaven National Laboratory computer scientist Michael McGuigan told New Scientist magazine he believed a “Matrix”-style virtual world, in which one cannot always distinguish between what’s real and what’s not, could be up and running in just a few years. His optimism derived in part from the impressive ramp-up in processing speed he obtained with the lab’s BlueGene/L supercomputer while running a conventional ray-tracing software program that mimics the effect of natural light.