In a way, it all starts with the classic question: “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?” It’s a loaded question, deployed to ferret out your inner desires and see if you pass the test, if you’re erudite, insightful, or rebellious enough to put forward a name that engages the questioner. But holographic technology might be reframing that question as: “What person, dead or alive, would you like us to recreate to sing at your event, entertain your guests over dinner, or just tell you you’re fantastic?”
This weekend, part two of the Coachella music festival rages beneath a desert sun in California. It’s hard to know if they can top the holographic Tupac Shakur that took the stage with other hip-hop legends Doctor Dre and Snoop Dog. Actually, technically it wasn't a hologram - it was 2D, not 3D. But there he was, rapping, and dancing, and moving and interacting to a degree with human beings. Apparently, the entire thing is being masterminded by Doctor Dre himself.
Technologically, the image was built on a 19th century patented technology used in ringside shows. It was brought into the 21st century thanks to the work of Digital Domain Media Group, a multiple Oscar-winning firm started by director James Cameron. They, along with Dr. Dre, have a big vision for the technology which, despite making a huge media splash and stealing the entire stream of Coachella buzz, is being regarded as a beta version.
In an interview with TMZ, Dr. Dre said, "Right now it's flat, it just looks like it's three-dimensional from the front. But I'm working on some new and different things for the future," he said. "Hopefully, we can see Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye. Let's see what happens."
Dre is an entrepreneur in the truest sense, and quite possibly the Coachella-Tupac stunt created an inflection point for holographic technology. Here are five things to consider:
1. Some of the best technological minds are probably figuring out how to do this better. We now realize that it can be done, that it can be integrated into big (and profitable) venues, and that the current version of the technology is nowhere near as good as it could be. Whether it’s at a hot start-up, the innovation lab of a special effects studio, or a really smart kid in his mom’s basement (probably all three), tech geeks around the globe are in their element figuring out new ways to make holograms better. Tupac made holograms sexy again.
2. Investors will be right behind them. Although the project reportedly cost $100,000, talk of bringing Tupac and other virtual entertainers on tour undoubtedly gets the cash registers ringing in people’s minds. Entrepreneurs eager to monetize this, particularly in the entertainment and experiential fields, will be making important investments to move the technology forward.
3. Innovation may come from experiential requests from the ultra-rich. To revisit our original question of who would you like to have dinner with, as the technology evolves, one way that massive infusions of capital will make advancements possible is if ultra-rich investors help make it happen. If Sir Richard Branson is dying to have dinner with Marilyn Monroe, the quality of this technology could improve exponentially overnight.
4. Integration with other technologies such as artificial intelligence: If you integrate holograms with other technologies, such as those that enter the entire body of known data about a particular person (for example, all their written words, blog posts, tweets, film footage, and other details) into a system designed to find patterns and then make decisions in response to stimuli, you could have an amazing product on your hands. In other words, Marilyn may very well be singing “Happy birthday, Mr. Billionaire” over that dinner with Branson.
5. Privacy issues: One has to raise the question: Who owns the digital image of Tupac Shakur? Who owns the digital image of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Louis Armstrong, or Abraham Lincoln (and anyone else likely to go on “tour” soon)? And who owns the digital image of people still living today. If this technology proliferates, are holograms governed by the same legal structures that govern the use of a person’s image? This seems to be an inadequate measure, particularly as the holograms could be manipulated to make position statements, endorsements, and take actions that have even more dramatic implications for the source person than for a static image.