Euclideon Unlimited Graphics – Too Good to Be True?
Every so often a news item comes along that gets me excited. Often times these are technology news items, researchers and companies distributing press releases about their new “breakthrough” technology. I get excited but I stay level-headed, the vast majority of the time exciting new medical or energy technologies simply don’t pan out in the long-term. Sometimes things turn out to be prohibitively expensive, sometimes it’s a technological limitation and other times it’s a fundamental misinterpretation of results or an intentional deception. One such technology that I stumbled upon the other day comes from an Australian company named Euclideon that promises a paradigm changing computer graphics technology that will revolutionize video gaming by processing “Unlimited Detail” on current generation computers.
Such a claim is extraordinary, so extraordinary in fact that the whole thing started to smell a bit fishy and I soon began to notice red flags popping up all over the place. Now before I go into this let me make something clear, I am not making any factual claims about Euclideon’s technology, I am not a computer programmer or graphic artist and am coming at this from a layman’s point of view. Nevertheless there is no expertise required to notice a few red flags, except perhaps some experience with critical thinking.
For the full scoop straight from the horse’s mouth you can watch this 10 minute video recently released by Euclideon:
In it they describe the course the company has taken, the apparently staggering power of their technology and repeatedly emphasize just how near to completion the tech is.
Here are a few quotes from the transcript:
“There are lots of large companies that are pouring billions of dollars into trying to increase their polygon count. At present, they seem to be able to increase it by about 25% a year. If any of these large companies were to suddenly come out with 10 times more polygons than their competitors, it would be enormous news. But we didn’t increase the geometry count by 10 times, or 100 times, or 1000 times. We increased it so far that we could abandon polygons altogether and move to little atoms, and run them in unlimited quantities. If what we’ve said is true, then it is the largest breakthrough since 3D graphics began.”
“Two months after announcing this we declined all further interviews and then completely disappeared. Most people said the technology was too unbelievable and was probably never real to begin with.”
“As for our supporters who play games, your graphics are about to get better. Better by a factor of about 100,000 times. 100,000 is a pretty big number, but perhaps we’re exaggerating? So we’ll let you be the judge of that.”
“Some months from now our Software Development Kit will be complete and it will be ready to be handed over to the games developers. Until then we’re all working as hard as we can and we hope to produce a product that our fans and supporters will find acceptable.”
It reads like a gamer’s dream, 100,000 times better graphics? If you’ve watched the video then you know that what they present does indeed look stunning, incredibly stunning. However I mentioned a few red flags early, perhaps it’s time I went over them
Red Flag #1: The sheer level of advancement is a red flag in itself. Contrary to what most of us would wish technology does indeed tend to progress in small steps. Sometimes it can be many steps over a few years (like mobile phones) and other times it can be gradual steps over decades (like automobiles), but technology advancement tends to be incremental. They even say it themselves that currently the polygon count is increasing by around 25% every year.
Red Flag #2: The extraordinary claim followed by the long silence is a common occurrence in the world of cranks. A good parallel to Euclideon might be the Irish company Steorn who annoucned in August 2006 that they could provide free unlimited energy that defying the currently law of conservation of energy. In July 2007 after a fumbled and flawed demonstration that impressed no one, they disappeared from headlines only to reappear in 2009 with another failed demonstration. There are a few reasons an apparent crank might do this. Firstly they might genuinely think they’re on to something and be shocked when it fails. They retreat into re-planning and arise later when they’ve sufficiently deceived themselves once more. Secondly the company might make a big announcement in order to string along donors and grants and disappear quietly, hoping that no one will get mad that their investment fell through.
Red Flag #3: Euclideon is a very small company, a fact that they appear to be proud of. It just so happens that most ‘too good to be true’ technologies come from hobbyists, individuals or very small companies rather than big well funded companies. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly big companies have more accountability, there are multiple levels of management that help assure invests are sound and research is promising. Large companies are not in the habit or funding extremely far-fetched sounding enterprises that could jeopardize their reputation or financial security. One the other side of the equation individuals and small groups are more susceptible to their own biases and can happily delude each other into thinking they’re on to something big. Thirdly some people just love the underdog story, and lone scientists or inventors revolutionizing a technology has a certain romantic quality to it.
Red Flag #4: While the demonstration was very pretty, there were a number of key features required to match their claims that are left out. Chiefly amongst these was animation, actual moving parts. I have asked a few graphic artists and computer programmers and the consensus seems to be that there is a huge difference between animating still images and animating moving objects with their own physics and collision detection. They also fail to provide a rough estimate for the type of system they predict will be able to run their technology. For all we know they could be running the software on a true beast of a machine that is far outside a home gaming budget.
Red Flag #5: They repeatedly claim that the technology is just around the corner. Mere months away from being distributed to other designers and digital artists. This may well be true, but the notion that a revolutionary technology is “nearly finished” is a common theme with unbelievable advances, and things tend to stay “just around the corner” forever. Often times these inventors are asking for donations and investors, stringing them along with the notion that the pay off is coming soon. In fairness though I have not seen Euclideon asking for money anywhere. What is on record however is that Euclideon received $1,984,652 from the Australian Federal Government’s “Commercialisation Australia Initiative”. Now that’s a LOT of money, and it’s not beyond imaging that Euclideon is coming out saying they’re nearly finishing in order to make it look like the grant money has gone to good use.
So there you have it, a few odd things I noticed in the presentation of the technology that are probably cause for a healthy dose of skepticism. But boy do I hope this technology works as described, it truly would transform an entire industry. I actually like the way the company describes computer generated imagery as becoming either non-fiction (digital duplicates of real objects) or non-fiction (objects designed in digital space). It’s not like the claims are as far out as the technologies that defy reason like such as perpetual motion, a complete and easy cure for cancer or free energy, so who knows?
I must stress again that I am making no factual claim about Euclideon’s motives or technologies. I am using their example as a training ground for sharpen my critical thinking and to share with others some common red flags with technological advances.