As I was skimming the list of new MacArthur fellows, one name popped out: Maneesh Agrawala. Strange trails of clicks, via Google and graphics coding forums, have led me several times to Agrawala’s UC Berkeley home page. Sometimes (usually?) the MacArthur picks make you go “huh?”—this one shouldn’t.
His work seems (and this is my description, here) built on two things: One, the realization that pixels are plastic, and that there’s not such a huge gap between 2D and 3D after all. Two, the understanding that we need much better ways to help people understand what they see on computer screens. (And he’s found a way to meaningfully explore both data visualization and user interfaces in the context of number two. Nice.)
I’d love to see more people who make software, in any context, on the MacArthur list in the future. To the degree that software accounts for more and more of our experience of the world, and to the degree hardware is getting to be more like software, this is exactly the spot where giving a super-brain the freedom to just jam for five years could, well, change everything.
I’m pretty sure this is the first Agrawala project I ever came across: I think it’s still the most impressive.
And finally, check it out: He’s even worked on ebooks!