REAL Conversations on Reality Computing

Sylvester Lee is a marine scientist, science communicator, photographer and reality capture fanatic. As a co-founder of The Hydrous, a team of scientists, artists, and educators striving to communicate

marine science beautifully through innovative and interactive visualizations, he is helping to create a new way to document and measure the changes happening to corals across our oceans.


In anticipation of his upcoming talk at the REAL 2015 event in San Francisco, we asked Sly a few questions about the future of 3D technology.  Here’s what he said:


Where do you think 3D technology will be in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years?

In 2 years, 3D technology will be so advanced that we will have the ability to capture all of the coral reefs in the world (Indeed that is our current goal). In addition we will have coral reefs integrated in virtual reality for a completely immersive experience. Imagine swimming through a coral reef that is not an artist's rendering, but the actual reef from the Maldives, or the Great Barrier Reef, or Hawaii! This tool is going to instill emotional interests. This is going to make these resources available to those who cannot experience them first-hand due to logistical or financial factors. 



In 5 years I think 3D technology will find its way into every field of study and work, in ways that haven't been conceived yet. The boundaries among various disciplinary fields are blurring as a result of our increased connectivity in this digital age. I think we will have citizen scientists and even children 3D capturing coral reefs to aid in hyper accurate and visual monitoring of their life sustaining resource. 

In 10 years we will be able to 3D print entire coral reefs for mitigation. Sadly, the consensus on climate change is shifting away from how can we prevent it before the tipping point (as we have now reached that threshold), and more towards how can we adapt, mitigate, be more resilient in these times of inevitable climate change. The 3D reefs could serve as valuable break water to protect shores, as substrate for coral to grow, and habitat for fishes. In the Maldives, it costs $4,000 per square meter to build a breakwater because boulders have to be shipped from India. Eventually 3D printing will be competitive to such costly endeavors.  I also see 3D printing integrating with other technologies to drive marine science forward. Customized tools, scuba equipment, submersibles, ROVs can all benefit from 3D technology. 

What is the biggest opportunity for 3D technology?

The biggest opportunity is the potential to make people care. Humans are notoriously emotional creatures. 3D technology has the ability to create immersive, highly visual experiences and products. Not many people understand what a coral is or how complex, resilient, yet fragile coral reef ecosystems are. With 3D technology people can start to explore and investigate on their own, and realize that corals aren't dead rocks on the bottom of the seafloor, but are amazing, living animals that are comprised of a fascinating symbiosis of creatures and plants. Jacques Cousteau said "People protect what they love." But I think people only love what they understand, and this technology has the potential to instill an emotional and vested interest in these valuable resources. The same can be applied to virtually any field of study I think.

What's your take on Reality Computing?

British mathematician, George Box, once said "All models are wrong, but some are useful." In the realm of science, we rely heavily upon models in attempts to understand the world and predict future outcomes. In marine science, the models we use are heavily variable due to the multitude of factors needed to be accounted for. Reality Computing is amazing because it has the potential to make some need for models obsolete. We no longer need to interpret an environment; we can now capture it as it exists in reality (and quickly, and accurately, and beautifully!).

What will you be talking about at REAL?

I will be representing The Hydrous, a collection of scientists, artists, and educators dedicated to communicating science beautifully. I will be talking about the potential 3D technology has in the coral reef realm, how we have pioneered a method of capturing corals in highly detailed interactive 3D, our first world implementation in the Maldives, and our future projects and aspirations. 

To hear Sly speak in person, join us at REAL 2015.