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This recent entry from the Scientific American Library is a fair introduction to its topic. Its format meets the high standards of the series with well organized layouts and eye-catching pictures, illustrative drawings, reprints of paintings and computer graphics. The text is written for people with no computing or mathematical background; there is not one line of code or equation to be found. A history of visualization - the visual arts prior to computers - is provided as it relates to the means used by computer scientists to mimic perceived reality. Techniques are discussed in general terms, demonstrated with graphic results. The differences in conscious, serial processing and preconscious, parallel (i.e., visual) processing that most people engage in are outlined. In many ways it seems to be a well rounded volume.
Yet there are signs that much more could have been included. From a layout standpoint, when compared with other volumes in the Scientific American Library, this book is very "lite". The space between the lines of text is large. For a book with only 132 pages of single column text (including illustrations, some of which take two full pages; other volumes have 200 or more pages, some volumes compacting two columns per page) the authors must not have had much to say about their topic. Unlike the majority of other volumes in the series, there is no list of books to suggest for further reading in the topic following the end of the text - a surprising omission.
From a content standpoint there are three issues. First, there are issues touched on in this book which are dealt with in greater detail in other volumes in the Scientific American Library. The issues of human perception and conscious and preconscious processing are well described in "Perception" by Irvin Rock. The issues of color perception and how it is accomplished are reviewed in depth in "Eye, Brain, and Vision" by David H. Hubel. The illustration on page 122 is similar to one on page 14 in "Supercomputing and the Transformation of Science" by William J. Kaufmann III and Larry L. Smarr, where they take time to describe how this visualization helps atmospheric scientists understand the phenomena of thunderstorms and how to model them. "Visual Computing" does not analyze how recent achievements in visuals and computing aid science and the arts.
Second, for a book that includes the word 'computing' in its title, there is no discussion of the science of computing. Though the word 'algorithm' is used, it is not sufficiently described. The algorithms and techniques mentioned in the text are not denoted in computing terms. True, there are plenty of books which cover this, especially with page after page of mind-numbing math equations and arcane code examples. But there is a need for a general, non-specialist text for describing what computing is, especially in relation to making visuals via a computer. This book does not meet this need.
Third, it would be instructive to have a history of computer-generated visuals over the past 40 years. Examples from computer games (from Pong to Final Fantasy maybe) or movies (from "Tron" to "Final Fantasy" and "Gladiator", uses of digitalization and digital editing) or other easily recognizable mass media could be used, to demonstrate the science of visual computation behind them. The complexity of computation, greater capabilities of computing hardware, better algorithms with explanations of why they are better now than earlier, centralized versus networked visual computing, digitalization: these and other aspects would make a facinating history for showing the progress that has been made. "Visual Computing" does not provide this.