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Imaging Essay


George M.C. Fisher
Retired Chairman and CEO
Eastman Kodak Company

Images and the process of creating them (imaging) seem to have both attracted and driven me through much of my professional life. As a schoolkid, I studied photographs of cave drawings made by Cro-Magnon people and wondered how difficult it must have been for them to communicate their stories unless someone actually came to their caves. Surely even our prehistoric brethren had stories they wanted to tell with pictures and were frustrated by their limited technological capabilities.

As a graduate student, I was awed by the high-speed photos of bullets penetrating plastics and glass that were taken in our lab at Brown University. At the same time, I was learning the marvels of developing film and printing pictures in a darkroom—the wonderful process of storing images through the magical combination of photons and photochemistry.

At Bell Labs in the 1960s I was privileged to work with some of the world's brightest scientists and engineers. Yet, once again, images and the restrictions on storing and communicating them seemed to dominate the world of so many of my colleagues. In those days a number of things limited our ability to transfer images electronically. Bandwidth was low (1.2 kilobits per second seemed good), and storing and processing images were possible only with film and central computing facilities that had such "powerful machines" as the IBM 650 or 7090 or, later, the 360.

But in the 1960s, as today, we had dreams. We talked of the "natural state of communications" and envisioned a world where wires were not necessary, memory and bandwidth were virtually free, and the human-machine interface didn't require much tactile (keyboard) input. We dreamed that the cost of memory could drop to one cent per bit some day, that modems could speed up transmission to 56 kilobits per second, and that broadband media such as fiber optics would improve enough that we could increase the distance between repeaters to more than a mile. And then there were the new silicon technologies based on insulated gate field effect transistors (IGFETs), the precursor to today's MOS (metal oxide semiconductor) devices. Perhaps eventually there would be integrated circuits with thousands of devices per chip of silicon.

We thought we were being so optimistic! Yet, today, we can only marvel at how far short our technological dreams were of the present reality. Today, multimegabit images can be captured digitally as well as on film and transmitted at multimegabit speeds. We can process images on desktop computers operating at gigacycle-per-second clock rates. We have in-camera storage on solid-state devices that cost only pennies per megabit (nearly a million times better than our dream of the early 1960s). What if we had set our expectations even higher?

Today, thanks to the dramatic gains in these underlying technologies, we are much closer to the natural state of communications in which we share and store not only voice but also images as part of our normal electronic communication. As I later came to appreciate at Eastman Kodak Company, images truly enrich our lives, whether they are for information, as primarily discussed in this chapter; for entertainment, as we see in movies and television; or for preserving precious memories, as with family photographs. Truly, imaging is an important manifestation of the symbiotic relationship between our technologies and our need to tell a story. We will be limited only by our too-modest expectations of what technology can bring to fulfilling the imaging needs of humankind.


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