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Information visualisation needs in the IST programme

The needs and options for research and technology development in information visualisation (InfoVis) within the IST programme were recently thrashed out by a group of 40 experts, in preparation for the inclusion of InfoVis as a topic in the fourth round of IST proposals to be ...

The needs and options for research and technology development in information visualisation (InfoVis) within the IST programme were recently thrashed out by a group of 40 experts, in preparation for the inclusion of InfoVis as a topic in the fourth round of IST proposals to be launched in July. Scientific and technical visualisation has progressed enormously in the last ten years, allowing surgeons to practice complex operations using augmented reality, and the use of 3D and 4D imagery for weather. The IST programme is actively promoting research to accelerate and broaden the impact of these new techniques, and to help increase their acceptance across the EU. The speakers illustrated how researchers and advanced computers can use visualisation techniques to make large sets of multimedia data more interactive and usable, in ways previously thought impractical or impossible. Only ten years ago, computer visualisation was a complex affair, often relying on supercomputing and high-performance networks. Today the barriers of high power, speed and costs are falling and computer graphics are widely accepted everywhere, from children's games to Hollywood. Scientific visualisation is the graphic representation of data in order to gain understanding and insight. It allows a researcher to study scientific, technical and medical phenomena in ways previously impossible. It enables users to compress a lot of data into one picture, to reveal new correlations between different quantities, and to view the data selectively and interactively in real time. Information visualisation is much newer than scientific visualisation, and was defined at the meeting by Keith Andrews of Graz University of Technology, as a new way to present information spaces and structures such as Web sites or networks to make them easier for rapid assimilation and understanding by users. It enables large masses of data to be presented quickly in an understandable way by using graphics. Different types of visualisation approaches are under research for different classes of information, for example whether the data is linear (as in tables), in a hierarchy (as in a thesaurus) or maybe in network form (like hypermedia nodes). New trends in the visualisation side of computer graphics were discussed during the workshop, especially scientific visualisation for understanding scientific and technical data and information visualisation for mapping cyberspace and for information retrieval. Participants showed that scientific visualisation is now more accessible and has vastly superior tools, including virtual reality and augmented reality. They decided that although there have been many breakthroughs in the computer graphics and image processing side, it is now important to focus on the semantics, interactivity and usability of the images. They noted that there are major potential applications in the hard sciences, engineering, biomedicine, and virtual laboratories. Information visualisation - navigating through cyberspace - is a new discipline, which experts said will be essential for Web and corporate database navigation. It was agreed that a big research effort is needed to design new metaphors for visualising information. Current examples include trees, spheres, cities and filing cabinets. A call for proposals on this topic will be launched in July 2000 within the IST programme, under the action line for multimedia content and tools, specifically information access and filtering.