London, April 4 : Supercomputers may soon start creating virtual worlds where a person should be unable to reliably tell whether he was interacting with a man or a machine, says a New York-based expert.
Michael McGuigan of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton believes that the idea that originally came in 1950 from Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science, may take shape in just a few years.
"By interaction we mean you could control an object - rotate it, for example - and it would render in real-time," New Scientist magazine quoted him as saying.
While existing computers do have the ability to create artificial scenes and textures that look realistic enough to fool the human eye, such scenes typically take several hours to render.
McGuigan says that one solution to this problem can be to marry such realistic-seeming images with software that can render them in real-time.
He even has studied ability whether or not one of the world's most powerful supercomputers-Blue Gene/L at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York-is capable of generating such an artificial world.
He focussed his attention on the supercomputer's ability to mimic the interplay of light with objects, and found that it could convincingly mimic natural lighting in real time.
"The nice thing about this ray tracing is that the human eye can see it as natural. There are actually several types of ray-tracing software out there - I chose one that was relatively easy to port to a large number of processors. But others might be faster and even more realistic if they are used in parallel computing," McGuigan says.
Although the speed with which the supercomputer studied renders high-resolution pictures is quite less than that required to create real-looking virtual worlds, McGuigan believes that the machines may pass this test in a few years.
"You never know for sure until you can actually do it. But a back-of-the-envelope calculation would suggest it should be possible in the next few years, once supercomputers enter the petaflop range - that's 1000 teraflops," he says
However, some experts believe that, though an artificial object can be made to appear real, the eye cannot be fooled unless the object moves in a realistic way.
"The real challenge is providing a real-time simulation that includes realistic simulated behaviour," said Paul Richmond at the University of Sheffield, UK.
While McGuigan agrees that realistic animation poses its own problems, he is optimistic that animation software will be up to the task.
"Modelling that fluidity is difficult. You have to make sure that when something jumps in the virtual world it appears heavy," he says.
"Physical reality is about animation and lighting. We've done the lighting now - the animation will follow," he adds.