Future Issues in Visualization

Many potentially important visualization concepts did not develop successfully in the past because of the lack of proper systems. These concepts had memory and processor speed requirements that were then considered unreasonable. This led to the development of logically more complex systems, which, in turn, created several other diversions. With processors and memory becoming more efficient and less expensive, and with the rapid advancement of graphics accelerators, many of those initial and simpler concepts may be revisited to provide more powerful and richer solutions. Other complex programs that required supercomputers in the past will become more affordable and useful. The synergy of these developments could produce new ideas for visualization systems. Yet, the challenges in visualization will not diminish. For instance, as the capabilities of imaging systems advance, the spatial, temporal, and channel resolutions of data will increase. A twofold increase in spatial resolution means a fourfold increase in image area and an eightfold increase in volume dimension. New types of visualization techniques that handle very large data sizes need to be developed. As the number of imaging modalities increases, system architectures for visualization may change from integrated systems to distributed visualization systems.

Targeting visualization application can be thought of as a visualization problem in itself. The rapid progress in computing and imaging technology makes the planning and coordination of new applications extremely challenging. Traditionally planning of such applications is thought of as shooting a moving target (Fig. 23). The moving target represents an application whose specification evolves during the research and development cycle, as is often the case in visualization applications. Rapid advances in both imaging and computing technology take the shooting game to a more challenging level, by staging it to take place on a rapidly advancing platform of technology. This emphasizes the need to foresee and understand the shrinking gap between the capability of the technology and the demands of the application, so that the development process does not undershoot or overshoot cost or performance factors when it approaches meeting the target. The newly emerging trend represents another level of complexity, where promising technology need not be the best solution if market forces are not conducive to the survival of such technology. Thus, the shooting game becomes one that takes place in a roller-coaster ride where not only is the platform of technology important, but also its stability under the influence of market forces and the strength of the supporting structure become important factors.

One of the fundamental research aims in biology and medicine is to relate structures and functions at the cell level with structures and functions at the organ or anatomical level. In this manner, diseases can be better understood and the effect of treatments on diseases can be studied more effectively. Such investigations will create needs for superscale visualization systems that allow researchers to visualize and correlate information across different scales, including molecules, cells, organs, body, and epidemiological studies in human populations.

The interaction between different disciplines presents another level of complexity in multidisciplinary research in biology and medicine. The interaction between different disciplines provides beneficial synergy. However, such synergy requires precise synchronization of information flow between different disciplines. Both the synergy and the synchronization can be facilitated by visualization systems. The clockwork arrangement shown in Fig. 24 illustrates the interaction between multidisciplinary initiatives in an imaging center for cancer research.

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