AI ~ 1959

AI - now

Alfred Inselberg
Senior Fellow San Diego Supercomputing Center
&
Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Departments
Tel Aviv University
, Israel

Parallel Coordinates – How it happened

My interest in visualization was sparked while learning Euclidean geometry. Later, while being a Ph.D. student in Mathematics at the University of  Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), and studying multi-dimensional geometry I became frustrated by the absence of  visualization. Basically, we were doing Algebra which was being interpreted as Geometry but without the fun and benefit of pictures. I kept  wondering about ways to make accurate “multi-dimensional pictures” and derive insights about what may or may not be true in the multi-dimensional worlds. Since parallelism is the fundamental concept in geometry, and not orthogonality which uses the plane very fast, I experimented with putting the coordinate axes parallel to each other.

In 1959 Prof. S.S.Cairns, during a lecture in his Topology course, lamented our inability to visualize “high-dimensions” and prompted us for  suggestions. I shared with the class the idea of  parallel coordinates  (abbr. ||-coords). In turn Prof.  Cairns mentioned it to another topologist Prof. D. Bourgin and they both encouraged me to pursue the idea. Other than deriving the basics like the point ↔ line duality, it took me many years to take their advice seriously. It was in 1977 while giving a Linear Algebra course that I was challenged by my students to “show” them some multi-dimensional spaces. This was the catalyst leading to the subsequent development  of the methodology : How do multi-dimensional lines, planes, curves, surfaces etc look in ||-coords ?   Later I had the good fortune to collaborate with Bernard Dimsdale  (an associate of John von Neuman) , at the IBM Los Angeles Science Center, who made many important contributions.

In 1987 IBM and another competitor were left at the last stage of the contract competition for the new Air Traffic Control (ATC). One of the contract specifications was for an “Automatic Collision Detection and Avoidance ” Algorithm. Together with Bernie Dimsdale, Mike Boz (a superb student at UCLA and part-time at IBM) using ||-coords we came up with a solution (USA patents # 4,823,272 ,  # 5,058,024 ,  # 5,173,861). In retrospect, it was the ATC application (T.R.Willemain , J. Hu et. al , J. Chiang et al. and others ) which brought  serious and broader interest to ||-coords.

As of 2004 the most common applications are on Visual and Automatic (Classification) Data Mining (USA patent # 5,546,516), Optimization (C.V. Jones, D. Joos, A. Goel  and others), GIS ( J.A. Dykes, N. & G. Adrienko,  R. Edsall  and others) , Process Control, Decision Support, Approximations (USA patent # 5,631, 982) and elsewhere.

Email : aiisreal@post.tau.ac.il