In honor of UC San Diego Extension's first 50 years, 50 Voices of the Future asks thought leaders about the trends, breakthroughs and social advances they foresee over the next 50 years.
Dr. Jürgen Schulze foresees a future in which each person can create his or her own reality. Technology will enable us to edit our own perceptions, so that we see what we want to see. If you so desire, your Honda Civic will look to you like a Bentley. “What we see will be a combination of virtual things and real things,” predicts Schulze, a research scientist in UC San Diego’s computer science department. “And it won’t matter as much anymore what things look like in reality, because you can make them look like anything using software.”
Why is the work you do important?
I research novel methods for people to interact with computers using 3D technology. I've been working a lot with medical data, and you can imagine taking a CT scan or MRI scan, which normally has been looked at cross-section by cross-section, slice by slice, and what we do here is, we composite those slices back together into a 3D object, and then interact with that 3D object as if it's a physical brain, or physical body, that would be in front of you, so you can look for tumors or other ailments that someone might be dealing with.
What are the exciting/influential developments happening in your field now?
The software for virtual reality applications has matured to a point now that they are commercially available, and in fact they're free for students to use, applications that allow you to build virtual reality software in probably about a small fraction of the time that it used to take. This is only possible because the gaming industry essentially has now embraced virtual reality, so they’re making tools that are easy to use and inexpensive to create and we can use them in science as well.
What’s the next big thing?
Augmented reality. Augmented reality is when you can see through your goggles. There are companies like Magic Leap that come to mind. The hollow lens from Microsoft is an augmented reality device, and others. Those are essentially virtual reality without the lid on your goggles, so you can see through your screen, and you can see the real world behind it, and you can mix the two. You can mix the virtual with the real. That's going to be augmented reality, where you can walk around and go see a world that consists of partly real object, and other objects that are just going to be displayed via the computer, but they'll look like they're real objects. Once it really works well, you won't be able to distinguish between them, and that's where it really gets interesting.
How big of an impact will your field play in shaping the future of the San Diego region and beyond?
I think there's a lot of impact that we have here with my lab, in that we're one of the leading virtual reality research labs in the country. Once we have a virtual reality computer lab, we'll be one of the leading teaching institutions that are going to really teach virtual reality on a larger scale. We already have one of the largest computer science departments, maybe the largest in the country, so that's going to be a huge impact.
Hop into your time machine. What does the future look like for this field in 50 years? How can individuals/companies prepare for what’s next?
What I'm hoping will happen is that augmented reality hardware will become so small and lightweight that it's going to be built into regular glasses and sunglasses, and everyone is going to have it available at all times. Just like you can now buy these smart watches, have smart glasses, and in 20 years or so that should easily be possible.
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