International Symposium 1998 TOP

Michitaka Hirose, Ph.D.

Current Multimedia - The World of Virtual Reality

About 50 years have passed since the machine we know as the computer came into this world. If asked to name one distinguishing characteristic of this machine, I would answer that it is the speed of its development. Recently, the capacity of computers has improved at the rate of being doubled each year. A simple calculation shows that 10 years will bring a thousand-fold increase in capacity, a figure almost beyond comprehension.

In 1980, said to be year one of the Personal Computer Era, the memory capacity of a computer was several kilobytes, and the data transmission speed was several kilobits/s. Then, in 1990, work stations made their appearance. The capacity of these machines became "mega" in scale, and we may thus call this the "Mega Era." It is claimed that the "G" unit will appear in the early 21st century. Thus, the "Giga Era" lies directly before us.

This astounding quantitative expansion in capacity is bound to result in qualitative changes as well. Computers which in the "kilo" period were able to handle only text and numbers expanded in capacity to handle photographs and still pictures in the "mega" period. In the "giga" period, information with moving images will be processed by computer, meaning that the distinction between computers and televisions will become lost.

"Multimedia" exemplifies that all types of information can be integrated into computers. Thus, the evolution of the computer described above.

Among multimedia technologies, one of the most advanced is the technology of virtual reality. People perform all sorts of activities in a "virtual" space created by the computer, enabling them to broaden the world they can experience directly. Computers are now devices to create activity spaces for ourselves.

Be it good or bad, for children is development, this new computer world is a significant omnipresence, and various new experiences through this extremely powerful medium are sure to affect them.

Some people go as far as to say that the invention of virtual reality technology is comparable to Columbus' discovery of the American continent. As we step onto this new continent, one wonders how our children will grow.

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