I love computer science for the beauty of it, but often that beauty is obscured by the Moore's Law-rate of progress in the field. Things get so much better so quickly that it's easy to lose track of just how far we've come. It's also possible that even the most profound advances in processing speed get swallowed up by still-faster-bloating software.
The Moore's Law I mentioned above states roughly that computing speed doubles about every two years. So the computers we buy this Christmas should run about twice as fast as computers we got back in 2011. Sounds great, and while we still might be stuck waiting for computers of any generation to boot, worries about things like "speed of macro calculation" are lost to the distant past. Big Data is the computing frontier, because advanced analytics is the only area where calculations aren't instantaneous - yet.
At the other end of the spectrum, computer graphics is one of the best areas to see just how far computer power (and the human ingenuity that it advances) have come. My wife Kate and I went out to see the Disney film Frozen over Thanksgiving, and it was a great example of just how far we've come. The animation was breathtaking and beautiful, and it was even more beautiful because it was INVISIBLE.
Frozen is a fun movie and I hope you go see it, but forget the computer animation for a minute: Great songs and two strong female characters, with the remarkable Idina Menzel as the "bad witch" and Kristen Bell playing the good witch this time. The songs are straight from (or possibly heading STRAIGHT TO) Broadway -- Frozen really not a cartoon animated by computers, but a Broadway Show animated by computers!
Forget "Frozen" -- they might have called it "Wicked - Cold!"
But back to our main point. The wonder of the computer animation of Frozen is NOT that it's wonderful (it is, but we've grown to expect that from that-which-once-was-Pixar). The remarkable thing is that the animation is invisible -- John Lasseter is back with his storytelling genius, and the show unfolds beautifully before our eyes.
John Lasseter is one of the wonders of our time, and it's a joy to see the computers let him tell his story. Such has it ever been: even 25 years ago (in 1988) Lasseter was already at work with a set of Macintosh IIs at his command. Each machine in his arsenel now is roughly 6,000 times more powerful than each box was then, but even then he was the sorcerer and the machines did his bidding.
To appreciate the storyteller and how much richer his current computer canvases are, just watch this wonderful time-piece -- his video "Pencil Test" from way back in 1988!
Mmmmmmmm... Computer animation sure has come a long way in the past 25 years. Craftsmen are still craftmen and whizzy graphics are nothing without a great story and a compelling storyteller. The great wonder of a John Lasseter or a Steve Jobs is that they could envision stories like "Frozen" -- back in 1988 and probably even earlier...
...and that's something we can all enjoy and be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
...Happy Thanksgiving, everybody...!