Intel guru says 3-D Internet will arrive within five years

Tech evangelist says 3-D capabilities will change look and function of the Internet

A technology guru at Intel Corp. predict that the internet will look significantly different in five to 10 years, when much of it will be three dimensional, or 3D.

Sean Koehl, a technology evangelist with Intel Labs, said technology is emerging that will one day change the way we interact with electronic devices and with each other. That could come as soon as five years from now when, he predicted, there will be realistic-looking three-dimensional applications.

"I think our lives will be a lot different," said Koehl. "Look at the trends of the last decade or two. Think about computers becoming widespread, and the Internet and these mobile devices. With the availability of all this computing power, we're only beginning to exploit it. Now we're adding more intelligence and more capability. Add that to 3-D worlds and it could be very different than the sort of experiences that we have today."

"When we get to the point where suddenly it becomes easy to do something that seemed hard before, then it will be a dramatic change," he added.

Of all the emerging technology projects underway at Intel Labs, Koehl said he's most excited about its work on 3-D technology and how it will change the way we interact with online information.

He said an initial push to develop three-dimensional online applications was slowed to do more work on 3-D quality and application functionality.

"The Internet may never go fully 3-D, but making 3-D environments broadly accessible is probably capable within five years," noted Koehl. "I think it remains to be seen but there are certain kinds of interactions people will want in two dimensions, like reading text. The things we'll do in three dimensions may be things that we don't do at all on the Internet today because it isn't feasible."

He explained that speeches at large conferences certainly aren't personal experiences to attendees. Creating a 3-D virtual world, ont he other hand, could let an audience member feel like he or she is sitting at a table with the speaker.

"I think it's going to give flexibility to let people really take advantage of virtual realities. The power to shape your environment would be dramatic," said Koehl.

"If you look at virtual worlds today, the graphics are a little behind," he added. "Once we get to a certain level of performance, the realism of the 3-D world will change by leaps and bounds. The realism could be like a Hollywood CGI (Computer-generated Imagery) movie in maybe 10 years."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said a three-dimensional Internet would cause a big shift in the way we use the network.

"The introduction of a 3-D Internet, with the ultra-realistic representations of people and places, will definitely change things," he added. "We're going to be attending a lot more virtual meetings and fewer physical ones. This also will revolutionize entertainment. Why go to a sporting event, like a football game, when you can watch it in 3-D on the Net and position yourself anywhere in the stadium?"

Olds added that this kind of technology, if it works well and is widely adopted, could wreak havoc on industries that depend on people who must travel to various venues, say a football game, a Nascar race or a dog show. If someone can get a better view of of the action on a 3-D Internet, then why deal with the hassles of airline travel, gas prices and crowds?

"As the technology gets better, users are going to have a lot more choices," Olds said. "Any game, anywhere, at any time. People are going to be able to do a lot more remotely. Companies could use this technology as a competitive weapon to give customers better service. A lot could shift because of this."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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