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Before pixels

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Abstract: We have been making and using photographs for not far short of two centuries (and painted images for tens of thousands of years before that). But within the last two decades, a sea-change has taken place in our notion of what a photographic image actually is. We now take it for granted that images are really made of pixels. The digital camera has taken over, not just in the practical sense of replacing chemical cameras for almost all uses and purposes, but in the conceptual sense of defining how we think of an image.

In this talk (one of my very occasional series on the prehistory of the 20th century revolution in information and communication technologies), I try to trace the somewhat tortuous route, through a variety of technological developments, by which we arrived at this way of thinking. Along the way I will discuss necessity as the mother of invention, the physical and the physiological, and some bits of pasteboard with holes in them.

This talk is part of the Microsoft Research Cambridge, public talks series.

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