“Holograms are no longer science fiction today, and their prominence (and influence on our digital culture) continues to expand. This PC Mag article from Seamus Condron has more.”
I don’t typically watch music awards shows, but on Sunday night I tuned into the Billboard Music Awards to catch a performance from Michael Jackson. You know, the music legend and kinda creepy guy who died five years ago? Well, he’s back…in hologram form! If that sound scary enough, the scarier news was how eerily flawless the whole thing was, at least from a technology standpoint.
Geeks everywhere have had a quiet fascination with holograms and their evolution through pop culture and in real life. Our first holographic experience was probably when we all saw Princess Leia plea for help from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Then it made a giant leap on Star Trek: The Next Generation with the Holodeck, a fully immersive environment that felt as real as true life, where you could visit and interact with any time in history. But up until last night’s Michael Jackson resurrection, real-life iterations have been pretty disappointing. There was that time CNN tried to deliver election news via hologram (which wasn’t really a hologram), as well as another musical resurrection, namely Tupac Shakur at the Coachella festival, which also was CGI, and not a true hologram. Which begs the question, where are the damn holograms?
Last night’s hologram, or whatever technology was powering it, was something entirely different than anything I’d seen. Not only did we see Michael Jackson moonwalk, we saw a precisely choreographed, four-minute act that was virtually no different than if Jackson was there in the flesh. I say virtually because it was not perfect; there was that face that reminded you of the first time you saw The Polar Express, albeit vastly improved, and the hologram, while agile, didn’t seem to have the elasticity that Jackson possessed when he moved and danced.
All that said, how will something like this look in a year, or in five? It reportedly took six months to put the Jackson performance together, for four minutes of payoff. But how long will it be before we can push that to 60 minutes, or two or more hours? While watching the performance last night, I could imagine executives from Disney and show promoters from Las Vegas salivating at the prospect of fully immersive holographic theme park rides, or the triumphant return of Elvis Presley for three shows a night.
You’re probably thinking that the prospect of entertainers returning from the dead is a morbid one. However, talk to me in five years and tell me how you feel. You still may not like it, but it will be so present that it will be as normal as walking down the street and following directions by a robot that lives in your phone. You probably wouldn’t have expected that either.
And if you still can’t stomach the idea of the hologram of a dead singer performing in front of you, pick your own passion/poison, because pretty soon the holograms of famous writers, scientists, and ancient philosophers will be at your disposal. Think about sharing a glass of stout with a fully aware holographic version of your favorite writer, Oscar Wilde, and tell me if you’re still creeped out.
About Seamus Condron
Seamus is a veteran social media and marketing pro who was the first voice of @Mediabistro, one of the first NYC media brands on Twitter. He’s also worked at organizations including Hearst and ReadWriteWeb. He loves technology but prides himself on being a heretic and wishes there were more of them. He probably has no interest in being on your panel about how social media is changing blah blah blah, or your app that lets you “connect and share with friends.” You can find him on Twitter at @SeamusCondron.