Touch of Genius Mukul Sharma The Times of India 29 Jul, 2006
Can't wait to see your favourite novel made into a movie? Very soon you probably won't have to. You could simply scan and digitise the whole book and feed it into a computer to get an instant multimedia screen experience. Well, maybe not with your favourite cast and director too. But researchers at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland have created a unique software package that can automatically transform English text into 3D computer animation.Sort of like getting an instant graphic novel that's also on the move and with real sound. According to Professor Paul McKevitt, who did the main work developing the software, it understands natural-language English input and automatically maps it into 3D multimedia presentations. It can be used in something as simple as bringing a child's story to life or as an educational tool to allow students to view literature from different perspectives. It could also have applications for teaching languages and creating interactive city maps. Film-makers too could use the technology to produce vivid animated storyboards from screenplays so that directors may experiment with viewing different scenes from different angles in different backgrounds before the actors are even brought on the set.
What is the future for such mind-boggling technology? Take machine translation for instance, with which it shares a conceptual similarity. Today, computers can translate most straightforward text without losing much of the meaning; they don't however do a very good job recreating nuances of meaning from one language to another. But even that day is not too far off when a software Edward Fitzgerald could be expected to pull off its own Rubaiyat on an original Omar Khayyam and no one would know the difference. In the same vein the Ulster program can at present make only a rudimentary moving rendition of text. But since it utilises techniques from film editing and theatre for narrative montage to perform cuts, pan shots, imagery and even voice-overs, its grammar becomes almost the syntax of normal film-making. Meaning, when that happens why would we require human film-makers? "For that human touch that can only come from a human brain", some would say. But by that time the human brain would already be having implants to boost memory, process data faster, perhaps even heighten creativity. So what touch are we talking