From Star Trek To Tupac: How Holograms Are Changing Communication


From Star Trek To Tupac: How Holograms Are Changing Communication

From special effects in the entertainment industry to teleconferences in the business world, holograms and advanced displays are changing what’s possible with today’s communications. No longer confined to the mere video or voice call, we can project our likenesses around the world and ‘be’ present in important situations, duplicate our image for fantastical representations…and even ‘bring back’ personalities from the dead.

One of the more popular examples of hologram technology is pure science fiction: the Holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Once inside, users could ‘program’ the space to virtually recreate any environment or situation with lifelike accuracy. While we don’t have this advanced setup yet (and probably not for a few more generations) we are beginning to see the initial steps from the realms of sci-fi into reality. The Holodeck paints a futuristic picture of the possibilities associated with tele-immersion. But how do we create holograms in the real world and not with movie studio special effects?

Holograms are essentially recorded moving images that are etched into a medium with lasers split by mirrors, then projected onto a special transparent film angled such that it appears to the audience that the image is floating on its own, and creating the effect of a person standing in front of them.

Imagine calling a distant colleague to work on a shared project; in a few years, rather than getting them on the phone and only communicating verbally, you both may have each other’s workspace projected in front of you as if you were in the same room together. This near life-like interaction would be achieved with technology being perfected today. Below are a few examples that demonstrate how holographic technology is poised to disrupt communication in nearly every industry.

Even if you didn’t tune into the Super Bowl you probably heard about Beyonce’s visually stunning performance, in no small part due to the advanced displays around her. While not a true hologram, the LED floor did create a 3D virtual environment (first on the floor, then as a wall) that responded to her performance and added yet another layer of visual entertainment to an already saturated experience.

You can bet that technology like this will be increasingly common for live events. Take for example, Hatsune, a pop star in Japan, who, like Beyonce, sells out arenas on a regular basis. But a major difference between Beyonce and Hatsune? Hatsune isn’t real- she’s a holographic pop star created by a media group in Japan. She eventually became so popular that the group decided to take her on tour- if people will pay money to see a fabricated cartoon character perform ‘live,’ why not create a more realistic experience with a holographic show? Take for example, stage performances like Sesame Street Live! where actors dress in plush costumes- why not use a hologram instead?

Perhaps the day will soon come when artists won’t need to travel at all, in favor of a holographic avatar being projected on stages across the world while they perform in the comfort of their own studio. After the initial cost of installing special screens at performance venues, this could reduce the environmental impact of touring and give audiences a much more dazzling experience for less money…minus the opportunity to get an autograph–or maybe not.

Holographic technology is changing our ability to telecommute from anywhere, so we don’t have to miss out on all the great water cooler gossip. Who hasn’t wanted to work from the comfort of their couch without sacrificing quality and efficiency? If your colleagues were holograms (in their own homes, presumably) and you could turn any surface into a collaborative workspace, you really could work from anywhere. Experts predict that within 15 years this may be possible, and indeed we’re already seeing the beginning. At a recent conference in Turkey, Intel’s General Manager Cigdem Ertem gave her presentation as a hologram, eliminating the distance between her and the audience.

When busy executives don’t have time to travel, or need to be in two places at once, the ability to project their presence anywhere has an invaluable impact. Once a common technology and transmission standards are developed (like with the telephone system), it won’t be long until time, distance and expense will no longer be factors in ‘being’ present for important business functions.

The use of holograms also cuts travel, logistical, and security expenses- imagine how the Presidential campaign trail could be made safer if holograms, not the actual candidates, made their way across the nation!

Another logistical issue being solved with the use of holograms is a project from researchers at the University of South California, who are using holograms to preserve the history of Holocaust survivors. Because these few survivors are old and scattered across the world, the project would be nearly impossible from a logistics standpoint, but holographically recording their stories for future generations will help preserve their unique and valuable perspectives for the ages.  

Having the likeness of an actual Holocaust survivor tell you about their experience is by far a more powerful way to learn about that terrible period in history than reading about it in a book. And at the rate that languages, species and environments are disappearing, capturing them as holograms may be the only way for future generations to enjoy the richness of early 21st century Earth.

As holography like this develops, it could revolutionize not only how we do business, but how we communicate with each other. Doctors could see patients across the world, mentors could guide students at home, and, like in Star Trek, we could all be instantly ‘transported’ to anywhere in the world without leaving the comfort of our homes.