A 4-D Data Picture Has Arrived

UCSB Allosphere

UCSB Allosphere

The only reason Allosphere–UCSB’s virtual reality world–wasn’t invented sooner is processing speed. A holographic world, ala Star Trek’s holodeck, is a simple matter of collecting the data and feeding it out as fast as the eye can focus on a new portion of the surroundings. To date, no computer approaches the brain’s processing speed of 20 million billion calculations per second. If AlloSphere wants to live up to its hype, it’ll have to work at least that hard.

In the 2006 TOP 500 list, which ranks supercomputers by speed, the top three were:

1. IBM’s BlueGene/L – 360 teraflops
2. IBM’s BGW – 115 teraflops
3. IBM’s ASC Purple – 93 teraflops

This is far too slow for a virtual reality world. It has been estimated by many Who Should Know that we will have a computer as fast as the human brain within a few decades.  That means it will be able to make a really simple decision–like naming a picture or reading a word–within 300-700 milliseconds.

How is it possible to create a computer that processes that quickly? Simple–theoretically. Instead of using silicon, use the same materials used in the human computer: DNA. DNA computers operate parallel to each other, like StarTrek’s Borg, all working to solve a problem. A silicon computer works at blazing speed on one problem (think of 7 of 9 when she was separated from the hive).


Speed is one part of our brain’s amazing structure. The other is storage capacity. According to Dr. Chris Westbury at the University of Alberta:

“Let’s assume that a change in any connection strength between two connected neurons is equal to one bit of information and further assume (a huge over-simplification) that neural connections have just two possible strengths (like a bit in a computer, which is either 1 or 0). Then each neuron has ‘write’ access to 1000 bits of information, or about 1 kilobyte. So we have 100 billion (number of neurons) X 1 K of storage capacity, or 100 billion K. That’s about 100 million megabytes. Since in fact neural connections are not two-state but multi-state and since neuron bodies can also change their properties and thereby store information, this is a very low estimate, so you can see why some people have estimated it to be functionally infinite.”

This is about 167 hard drives (at 600 gig per). Then again, a DNA molecule inside your cell contains about 750 megabytes of information.

Most scientists consider the brain’s storage capacity to be infinite. Why are they probably right? Because your brain, with its DNA-based computing power,  is made up of about one trillion cells with 100 trillion connections between those cells. which could be 10 quadrillion instructions per second.

What that means is that the data and speed necessary to create a virtual world boggles the mind. Still, AlloSphere is a good start and shows us all we’re that much closer.

A 360-Degree Virtual Reality Chamber Brings Researchers Face to Face with Their Data

Scientists often become immersed in their data, and sometimes even lost. The AlloSphere, a unique virtual reality environment at the University of California, Santa Barbara, makes this easier by turning large data sets into immersive experiences of sight and sound. Inside its three-story metal sphere researchers can interpret and interact with their data in new and intriguing ways, including watching electrons spin from inside an atom or “flying” through an MRI scan of a patient’s brain as blood density levels play as music. (more)

More on DNA computers:

DNA Computers–Think Origami, or Brain Folds

Why isn’t DNA Computing Further Along?

DNA Computers Moving from SciFi to Reality

Ten Weirdest Computers


2 Responses to “A 4-D Data Picture Has Arrived”

  1. September 20, 2009 at 1:29 am

    So cool post! I am really in to this virtual reality and future technology things! Thanks!

  2. September 20, 2009 at 2:16 am

    Virtual reality along the lines of StarTrek’s holodeck is limited by the energy available and the speed of our processors. DNA computers solve both, as soon as we can solve DNA’s mutation problems. Thanks for the post.

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Assembling California
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Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
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Sand Rivers
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