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The Evolution of Virtual Reality

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For much of modern history, people have longed to find ways to temporarily escape the mundane and sometimes harsh realities of everyday life.

Following the invention of the Gutenberg press, readers could use their imaginations to “get lost” in fiction books to take a break from all things ordinary. More recently, it has been inventions such as television, movies, and video games that have gotten us even closer to achieving true escapism.

And while that progress is impressive, it is likely that today’s virtual reality technology may be the biggest leap forward yet. The virtual reality experiences coming out right now are so real and immersive, that the “realness” has actually become a potential psychological pitfall for developers to overcome.

As the technology continues to grow, virtual reality will allow us the ultimate escape. We will be able to completely immerse in new experiences such as journeying to new planets, solving mysteries, or flying alongside our favorite superheroes to prevent the next global catastrophe.

The Evolution of Virtual Reality

Although it was the most recent developments in technology that have tipped virtual reality towards mainstream use, the concept of virtual reality itself has been a long time coming.

Today’s infographic from [email protected] shows the evolution of virtual reality, and how new ideas and products over time have helped to put the technology on its current course.

The Evolution of Virtual Reality

Interestingly, the seeds for the evolution of virtual reality were actually sown as early as the 1930s and 1940s.

The first important precursor was the Link Trainer, which was used as a flight simulator for the U.S. military. This device, which would be ultimately used to train over 500,000 U.S. pilots, was entirely electromechanical in nature. By using a series of pumps, valves, and bellows to respond to the pilot’s controls, it produced an accurate reading on flight instruments.

Around the same time the Link Trainer became widespread in use, Sawyer’s View-Master was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1939-1940. Today it is still a popular children’s toy, having sold over 100 million viewers worldwide since then. The View-Master uses reels of stereoscopic film to provide the illusion of 3d images through the plastic binocular set.

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Visualizing Moore’s Law in Action (1971-2019)

Can the predictions from Moore’s Law keep up with technological innovation spanning almost 50 years? Watch this stunning animation to find out.

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Animation: Visualizing Moore’s Law in Action (1971-2019)

The pace of technological progress keeps accelerating.

There are many ways to show this, but perhaps the simplest way is to create a visual representation of Moore’s Law in action.

Today’s animation comes to us from DataGrapha, and it compares the predictions of Moore’s Law with data from actual computer chip innovations occurring between 1971 to 2019.

Defining Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law was originally derived from an observation by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and later the co-founder and CEO of Intel.

In 1965, Moore wrote that the number of components in a dense integrated circuit (i.e., transistors, resistors, diodes, or capacitors) had been doubling with every year of research, and he predicted that this would continue for another decade.

Later on in 1975, he revised his prediction to the doubling occurring every two years.

Like the animation, the following chart from Our World in Data helps plot out the predictions of Moore’s Law versus real world data ⁠— note that the Y Axis is logarithmic:

Moore's Law in Action

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The prophetic prediction of Moore’s Law has led to exponential progress in computing — as well as for everything else touched by computers.

It’s no surprise then, especially given that the modern information age is largely driven by increasingly efficient computing, that this law has had a trickle down effect on nearly every significant aspect of global innovation.

An Accelerated Pace of Change

Moore’s Law has translated into a faster rate of change for society as a whole.

A new idea, like the smartphone, can get immediate traction because of instantaneous communication, increased global connectivity, and the ubiquity of information. New tech advancements can now change business or culture in a heartbeat:

The accelerating rate of technology adoption

Further, since software is a “layer” built upon the foundation of computing, it means that digital products can be replicated at almost no marginal cost. This is why a phenomenon like Pokémon Go was able to captivate 50 million users in just 19 days.

Imagine this kind of scalability, when applied to things like artificial intelligence or virtual reality.

Is Moore’s Law Dead or Alive?

As with any enduring prediction, there are always naysayers out there that will boldly forecast an imminent end to the trend.

Since the 2000s, there has been an ongoing debate within the semiconductor community on whether Moore’s Law will continue its reign, or if progress will ultimately sputter out as certain physical limitations catch up with the process of miniaturization.

Earlier in 2019, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang declared that Moore’s Law is no longer possible. For what it’s worth, Intel still says technology in chipmaking always finds a way to advance — while TSMC has recently said the law is actually alive and well.

Regardless of who is right, Moore’s Law has held true for close to 50 years, and its repercussions will continue to be felt in almost every aspect of life and society going forward.

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Wired World: 35 Years of Submarine Cables in One Map

Watch the explosive growth of the global submarine cable network, and learn who’s funding the next generation of cables.

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submarine cable network

You could be reading this article from nearly anywhere in the world and there’s a good chance it loaded in mere seconds.

Long gone are the days when images would load pixel row by pixel row. Now, even high-quality video is instantly accessible from almost everywhere. How did the internet get so fast? Because it’s moving at the speed of light.

The Information Superhighway

The miracle of modern fiber optics can be traced to a single man, Narinder Singh Kapany. The young physicist was skeptical when his professors asserted that light ‘always travels in a straight line’. His explorations into the behavior of light eventually led to the creation of fiber optics—essentially, beaming light through a thin glass tube.

The next step to using fiber optics as a means of communication was lowering the cable’s attenuation rate. Throughout the 1960-70s, companies made gains in manufacturing, reducing the number of impurities and allowing light to cross great distances without a dramatic decrease in signal intensity.

By the mid-1980s, long distance fiber optic cables had finally reached the feasibility stage.

Crossing the Pond

The first intercontinental fiber optic cable was strung across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in 1988. The cable—known as TAT-8*—was spearheaded by three companies; AT&T, France Télécom, and British Telecom. The cable was able to carry the equivalent of 40,000 telephone channels, a ten-fold increase over its galvanic predecessor, TAT-7.

Once the kinks of the new cable were worked out, the floodgates were open. During the course of the 1990s, many more cables hit the ocean floor. By the dawn of the new millennium, every populated continent on Earth was connected by fiber optic cables. The physical network of the internet was beginning to take shape.

As today’s video from ESRI shows, the early 2000s saw a boom in undersea cable development, reflecting the uptick in internet usage around globe. In 2001 alone, eight new cables connected North America and Europe.

From 2016-2020, over 100 new cables were laid with an estimated value of $14 billion. Now, even the most remote Polynesian islands have access to high-speed internet thanks to undersea cables.

*TAT-8 does not appear in the video above as it was retired in 2002.

The Shifting Nature of Cable Construction

Even though nearly every corner of the globe is now physically connected, the rate of cable construction is not slowing down.

This is due to the increasing capacity of new cables and our appetite for high-quality video content. New cables are so efficient that the majority of potential capacity along major cable routes will come from cables that are less than five years old.

Traditionally, a consortium of telecom companies or governments would fund cable construction, but tech companies are increasingly funding their own submarine cable networks.

tech company submarine cables

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Amazon, Microsoft and Google own close to 65% market share in cloud data storage, so it’s understandable that they’d want to control the physical means of transporting that data as well.

These three companies now own 63,605 miles of submarine cable. While laying cable is a costly endeavor, it’s necessary to meet surging demand—content providers’ share of data transmission skyrocketed from around 8% to nearly 40% over the past decade.

A Bright Future for Dark Fiber

At the same time, more aging cables will be taken offline. Even though signals are no longer traveling through this network of “dark fiber”, it’s still being put to productive use. It turns out that undersea telecom cables make a very effective seismic network, helping researchers study offshore earthquakes and the geologic structures on the ocean floor.

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