Going . . . going . . . still here

December 25, 2002

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comOne way to define technological progress is to observe whether it starts a revolution. Our latest revolution is digital: digital

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

One way to define technological progress is to observe whether it starts a revolution. Our latest revolution is digital: digital cameras, digital TV, and, of course, digital imaging.

A revolution requires that something big happens. In digital imaging, at least early on, that meant eliminating film.

In 1995, for example, executives at DuPont Diagnostic Imaging said that digital imaging would make film go away. Shortly after that, DuPont Diagnostic Imaging went away. It was bought by an investment group and renamed Sterling Diagnostic Imaging. Many DuPont executives showed up at Sterling, and were just as optimistic about digital imaging. Then Sterling Diagnostic Imaging went away. Most of its assets were bought by Agfa, which likes digital imaging but sees a future in film. I think that makes sense.

Film has been around for a long time, and it's going to stick around a while longer. After a decade of trying to make it go away, a lot of people have come to the same conclusion. Many of them have refused, however, to let go of the idea that we are in a digital revolution.

This has made me wonder just how big a transformation is needed to qualify as a revolution. Maybe it doesn't mean that one way of life has to be entirely replaced by another. Maybe there is something in between--the introduction of a new breed of technology that creates a unique situation and forces older technologies to innovate in order to survive. This produces a range of alternatives, a kind of technologically induced freedom.

I think we're seeing this now, even though it's not widely recognized. On the RSNA exhibit floor a few weeks ago, film companies were anything but willing to let go of their old ways. In fact, some very smart people came up with a way to make images sharper by making the film absorb x-rays better. Chemistry, not electronics, provided the answer here.

Then there are the changes in digital technologies. I was told when digital radiography was first introduced that electronic x-ray detectors would squash computed radiography. But CR keeps on going.

So instead of imposing a monotechnological world, the digital revolution is actually giving us a world of increasing choices. That's both good and bad: good because practitioners can pick the best solution for a problem, and bad because we have to be able to recognize which is best. And that's where CAD comes in.

Or is that another revolution?