Magazine Article


Spotlight on Dr. Albert Edgar - Chief Scientist, Applied Science Fiction

Spotlight on Dr. Albert Edgar
Chief Scientist, Applied Science Fiction

by Dan Havlik

Dr. Albert (Al) Edgar, a co-founder and ASF's chief scientist since June 1995, is responsible for inventing the fundamental concepts and patents relating to film scanning, surface defect correction, color reconstruction and digital film processing on which ASF was established. With over 65 patents to his name—many as sole inventor—Dr. Edgar has been a pioneer in creating technology relating to analog to digital conversion, image display processor design and printing. His first four patents were written while he was still in college and over 40 came during his tenure at IBM. Also an accomplished wedding, children's and commercial photographer, Dr. Edgar has developed many of his solutions for ASF based on his photographic experience and his love for digital imaging. As Dr. Edgar once put it: "You shouldn't want to just see the wetness of the grass—you should feel it." He was recently named PMDA's "Technologist of the Year."

Another lesson: At a wedding I average 1,500 images, and actually assembled a few 800-image albums before tearfully realizing it was impossible. For an image literate world, we must assemble pictures like I am assembling these words on this page to make a story. I can do fine art in Photoshop, but I can't do it to 1,500 images a weekend. By focusing both art and science, I am surprised to find "fine art" slowly yielding to my algorithms, leaving to the human mind the more exciting job of assembling stories. Imagine a world where the average person takes a hundred pictures a week. Why not? Look at e-mail, look at cell phones. People need to tell stories. Why not use all the color of life? We have not given them the tools for an image literate world. Product by product I am doing what I can to fix that.
Fine art and invention are identical expressions of the human soul, but we have built a society where the two are considered different political parties, the "nerds" and the "artsy fartsy" types often disparage each other. This is changing, and as the two groups merge, there will be more people who bridge both, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo daVinci. Encourage your children to bridge their technology to the aesthetic by actually performing in the arts they study to lead.

Our silver eyes are another bridge technology. What seems so common to us now will be only a flash in history, but if we had had to wait for silicon eyes the world would have been blind for a lifetime. Digital ICE is a bridge as we take the century seen with silver and convert it now, and forever, into our new world of silicon. Digital PIC was conceived as a bridge to make the world comfortable with digital at the same time extending the life of silver. The silicon technology that will eventually kill silver will give it its most brilliant period. With Digital PIC I can effectively put a $5 disposable digital camera in the hands of a child, now, not after that child grows up. I can put a $5 disposable digital camera in the hands of a tourist now, and let them enjoy and e-mail their pictures directly from Anaheim and Cozumel.
In an early public test one of our daily customers was a new father who kept returning with film of his infant in the hospital across the street. If you can give people fun, instant feedback, you can double the size of the photo industry, right now, without waiting for everyone to be computer literate.
Prepare for digital, extend the life of film, double the photo imaging market? This is not a zero sum game. There are some large companies that should be on their knees praying that we succeed. I very much treasure those that are working beside us.

Remember that there is much more than what you can see with your eyes. If you could scan everything on a transparency that you could see, you would only capture a part. Infrared, for example, lets you remove defects. In Astronomy I learned to always look farther than you can see. Use this in science and art as well as life.

Call me Dusty. One of my patents, issued in 1976, removed the effects of dust from vinyl phonograph recordings, and the analogy is real. With Digital ICE, film is now a medium in the digital world that can be handled, like a CD, by a child. We are working on defect correction for reflection prints, which will help the world bridge a generation of family albums to digital before our silver eyes fade into memory.

If you are in school and wish to prepare to invent, then you must go off road. Spend quality time in the library dreaming. Learn about trichromatic vision, study Thomas Moran paintings, and collect ideas like gems from all corners of human knowledge. Ignore your teacher who wants you to work till midnight solving n-tuple tensor vector equations to the exclusion of all else. Your teacher will punish you with bad grades, but you, and the world, will be spiritually richer. Someday, like assembling DNA, you will put a sequence of sparkling ideas together in a wonderful new way, and will have an uncontrollable urge to utter a Greek exclamatory.

But all my companies are intimately synergistic. Check out a network member at and peruse our 10,000+ page website. There you will find an intensely visual "realizable fantasy." Here are the smiling faces that will meet you at the airport, the Mexican bed sprinkled with petals you will sleep in, the exotic dishes you will eat, the excitement of Las Vegas you will actually see, not the $1,000,000 winners check you won't. We weave reality into a "realizable fantasy," so that vacations, which people work hard for all year, unfold according to their fantasy.
Most images are made on vacation, so the photo imaging business is really the vacation business. You better not be just selling pixels, you are selling "realizable fantasies," as distinguished from Hollywood fantasies. If we do our job right, Digital PIC images say: Here are the smiling faces of your children you can hug, your beautiful spouse, the love you shared walking in the twilight on the beach this evening, here are your footsteps in the sand held forever, as you turn off the lights. Photography can lift the dowdy veil of immediate reality from the truth and beauty of life. That new father understood. If we understand this bridge together, then we can really grow photo imaging.
Technology, travel, web, weddings, fine art, are all intimately synergistic, but I am resigned to living in a state of controlled chaos. If I ever lose control of the chaos, it may be spectacular, like losing confinement of a plasma. But if I can keep control, chaos is actually a wonderfully flexible, mathematically fascinating state of change.
Beware of anyone whose desk is too neat.

(...pause for effect...)
I'm not kidding, we are testing now. It is the first fruits of new theories on how the human visual system perceives, not just sees. People are right, they have a reason to fear the dreaded camera, they do look fat and ugly in photographs. Photography may not lie outright, but in taking a living breathing spirit and stamping it motionless on a small sheet of paper, accuracy is relative. Can you imagine the effect on an industry dependent on the "realizable fantasy?" Run backwards, I call it the mother-in-law brush. Whoever uses our technology will feel the intoxication of Power.

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