Hyper-realistic virtual worlds are just around the corner

Scientists believe it will soon be possible to construct computers capable of generating super life-like virtual worlds similar to those seen in the Matrix movies, New Scientist reports.

Michael McGuigan, a scientist at New York’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, says virtual worlds realistic enough to be mistaken for the real thing are just a few years away.

To see how close we are now, McGuigan set up an experiment to see how one of the world’s current set of supercomputers, known as Blue Gene/L, would go in creating a realistic virtual reality.

He found the computer was able to run ray-tracing graphics software 822 times faster than on a standard computer, enabling it to render the look of authentic natural light in real time.

Beyond that, however, it wasn’t able to create high resolution images quickly enough (to make a moving graphical world realistic, images need to update 30 times per second) to look ultra-realistic.

But McGuigan says the next generation of supercomputers capable of passing producing Matrix-like worlds may only be a few short years away. “You never know for sure until you can actually do it,” he says. “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.” (A teraflop is a measure of computing speed equal to one trillion floating-point operations per second.)

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