Intel and Stanford University announced yesterday that Intel is giving Silicon Valley's private engineer farm $2.5 million per year for five years to drive development of computer graphics to the point that they could almost replace many things that still have to take place IRL.
The money will go to projects overseen by Stanford Prof. Pat Hanrahan, who refers to the rich-graphics-enabled computing universe he projects as "visual computing," rather than simply user interfaces or graphics.
The difference is that the manipulation of data and metadata could be graphical rather than text-based, allowing far more people to scenario-plan with real data, allow architects and engineers to model real-world situations far more easily, and allow nearly everyone to become more creative by communicating in a combination of text, voice and images.
He imagines enough advancement in graphics will allow computer simulations to become sophisticated enough to replace far more realistic learning situations -- allowing teenage student drivers to get realistic experience off the road rather than on, for example -- and simulating entire cities or neighborhoods using images from Flickr.
The research isn't exactly pure science, but it's not corporate R&D, either, so it may be a while before anything comes out of it.
Hanrahan was responsible for data visualization software that's now available in a business-analytics package called Tableau, however, and a method of rendering hand-drawn maps automatically into sets of directions, which is now part of MSN's mapping system.
So it might not be that long before you see virtual teenage student drivers on the road, after all.