The New Digital Realism: Retina Display, Lytro and Senseg

The real world has never been more real, with the latest proof being the release of the much-hyped Retina Display on the new iPad from Apple. This new tablet screen, boasting a jaw-dropping 3 million pixels of visual goodness, promises visual clarity greater than that capable of being processed by the human retina. In a review for The Washington Post, Joshua Topolsky compared the new Retina Display to "glowing paper." The display on the 9.7-inch screen boasts 1 million more pixels than HDTV. You get the idea - the image is so bright, you gotta wear shades.

And it’s not just Apple. Just days before the demo of the Retina Display to Apple fans, Lytro unveiled its groundbreaking new “light field photography” camera capable of capturing the world’s images at an unprecedented level of reality. This is not just about upgrading to more megapixels on your camera -- the Lytro camera takes a fundamentally new approach to photography

"When normal cameras take a photo, they measure the color and light coming through the lens to produce an image. The Lytro camera not only sees color and light but can understand which direction the light moves while snapping a photo. Instead of simply grabbing one point of the light in a scene, Lytro analyzes all the points of light and then converts them to data. Once the image is stored using the technology, it can be processed and reprocessed after the photo is taken."

When this Lytro camera technology works as promises, it means that you can shoot first and focus later. When you see images and videos of people experimenting with this Lytro camera, it boggles the mind. It's almost as if you are adding an entirely new dimension to your visual capabilities.

We are, indeed, in the midst of a vast new surge of digital realism, as people increasingly demand that our virtual world be somehow more than “virtual.” In short, the line between our digital selves and our real-world selves is blurring. We are constantly demanding new technologies that go beyond what our human senses can deliver. To give you a sense of what's possible today: a single image captured on the new iPad tablet, if compressed and saved for future usage, would have required hundreds of floppy disks for storage just a decade ago. When companies like Apple are able to deliver on their promise of digital hyper-realism, the experience is otherworldly:

"This display is outrageous. It’s stunning. It’s incredible. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that you can hold these beautiful images in your hands, or maybe it’s the technology that Apple is utilizing, or maybe it’s the responsiveness of the operating system. But there’s something almost otherwordly about how good this screen is. For rendered text or high-resolution images, it just looks like a glowing piece of paper."

Audio, of course, was the first sense towards our achieving this digital realism. Anybody who has experimented with digital music knows that there are many products, devices and accessories that promise a hyper-real audio experience, including multi-dimensional surround-sound. That willingness to augment our physical capabilities as human has crossed over to  other senses as well. The aptly-named Senseg screen, which was rumored to be part of the new Apple iPad launch way back when, promises to be the first screen that “actually touches you back":

"Senseg patented solution creates a sophisticated sensation of touch using Coloumb’s force, the principle of attraction between electrical charges. By passing an ultra-low electrical current into the insulated electrode, Senseg’s Tixel™, the proprietary charge driver can create a small attractive force to finger skin. By modulating this attractive force a variety of sensations can be generated, from textured surfaces and edges to vibrations and more."

Talk about hyper-realism! No more clumsy tapping on a tablet screen, uncertain of whether or not all your touches and taps have been recorded. It's now possible to feel the (Coloumb's) force being transmitted back and forth between the screen and your fingers.

So what's the next step in the evolution of this digital realism? It appears that the next immediate step is the creation of even more advanced human-computer interaction tools. After all, the common garden-variety mouse and keyboard are no way to connect with the virtual world any longer. Taking a cue from the world of gaming with its motion-stimulated controllers, it's easy to see how the future may include many more ways that make it even easier and more intuitive to interact with our digital devices. As the gap between human and computer intelligence narrows, the distinction between the "virtual" world and the "real" world may narrow as well. Analog realism may be one of those quaint anachronisms relegated to the digital dustbins of history e-books.

image: Homo-Digitalis / Shutterstock

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