Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of research that goes back to the very beginnings of computer science. The idea of building a machine that can perform tasks perceived as requiring human intelligence is an attractive one. The tasks that have been studied from this point of view include game playing, language translation, natural-language understanding, fault diagnosis, robotics, and supplying expert advice. For a detailed discussion of the successes—and failures—of AI over the years, see the article artificial intelligence.

Computer graphics

Computer graphics is the field that deals with display and control of images on the computer screen. Applications may be broken down into four major categories: (1) design (computer-aided design [CAD] systems), in which the computer is used as a tool in designing objects ranging from automobiles to bridges to computer chips by providing an interactive drawing tool and an interface to simulation and analysis tools for the engineer; (2) fine arts, in which artists use the computer screen as a medium to create images of impressive beauty, cinematographic special effects, animated cartoons, and television commercials; (3) scientific visualization, in which simulations of scientific events—such as the birth of a star or the development of a tornado—are exhibited pictorially and in motion so as to provide far more insight into the phenomena than would tables of numbers; and (4) human-computer interfaces.

Graphics-based computer interfaces, which enable users to communicate with the computer by such simple means as pointing to an icon with a handheld device known as a mouse, have allowed millions of ordinary people to control application programs like spreadsheets and word processors. Graphics technology also supports windows (display boxes) environments on the workstation or personal computer screen, which allow users to work with different applications simultaneously, one in each window. Graphics also provide realistic interfacing to video games, flight simulators, and other simulations of reality or fantasy. The term virtual reality has been coined to refer to interaction with a computer-simulated virtual world.

A challenge for computer science has been to develop algorithms for manipulating the myriad lines, triangles, and polygons that make up a computer image. In order for realistic on-screen images to be generated, the problems introduced in approximating objects as a set of planar units must be addressed. Edges of objects are smoothed so that the underlying construction from polygons is not visible, and representations of surfaces are textured. In many applications, still pictures are inadequate, and rapid display of real-time images is required. Both extremely efficient algorithms and state-of-the-art hardware are needed to accomplish such real-time animation. Technical details of graphics displays are discussed in computer graphics.

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