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In the future, all our political leaders will be holograms. (Image: Don Rowe)
In the future, all our political leaders will be holograms. (Image: Don Rowe)

Techweek18May 23, 2018

The Jacingularity: is the hologram prime minister the future of live events?

In the future, all our political leaders will be holograms. (Image: Don Rowe)
In the future, all our political leaders will be holograms. (Image: Don Rowe)

The visibility of hologram technology was given a major boost in New Zealand when the prime minister used it to make a Techweek speech. So how might the technology be used in the future?

If holograms are the future, what exactly are they the future of?

Anyone who saw Jacinda Ardern striding out onto the Techweek stage as a hologram – or a 3D video projection, for the pedants – will have pondered this. Are they simply a way of projecting our leaders, like Yoda and Tupac, into physical spaces? Or could the technology have far greater applications?

In some ways, Jacinda Ardern’s holographic turn shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, this very thing was predicted just a few months ago by The Spinoff’s partnerships editor and in-house futurist Simon Day, who said “we are are not far from that inevitable moment when the prime minister starts making appearances at festivals as a hologram.” 

So what was it actually like? Techweek attendee Chris Gregory said it was a compelling experience when compared to experiencing other emerging technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. “I was taken aback, because it didn’t take anything away from the PM, watching it I was always engaged. Perception is reality with this sort of thing and it was clear that you’re actually dealing with a person.”

Read the experts’ pick of the best of Techweek18 here

The Ardern hologram was in some ways an incredibly fancy video piece – the PM had recorded it beforehand. That’s similar to Tupac’s groundbreaking Coachella “performance”. As the rapper is only rumoured to be still alive, the hologram in that instance had to be based off footage of previous performances.

Joshua Cassin from Thinking Machine Productions – who put it all together – was initially just going to do the AV for the event. But a few weeks out they were asked if they knew how to do holograms. A lot of logistical heavy lifting later, they had Jacinda Ardern on stage.

In this case, like with Tupac, it was a video projection, an augmented reality. Basically there was a translucent surface that light was refracted off, rather than somehow being beamed into thin air. And it was static and pre–recorded. But what if it could be more like The Empire Strikes Back, in which Darth Vader has a real time conversations with his holographic underlings?

Theoretically, it’s already possible. Joshua Cassin said that it had been discussed, and he was quite keen on the idea of Q&A with a holographic prime minister. But because of scheduling issues – prime ministers tending to be relatively busy – it couldn’t be done.

Queen’s University in Canada recently unveiled a system that can be used for 3D video chatting. They told the CBA that it was an improvement on Skype calls, because you can really look the person you’re talking to in the eye – currently with the standard Skype format, people look at the screen rather than the camera, and so appear to be looking down. Of course, the technology being put out is still wildly cumbersome, requiring multiple cameras and projectors, so it’s fair to say it’s not yet ready for public use. And many people will probably conclude that it’s far easier to have a slightly gammy video chat rather than bothering with turning themselves into a 3D projection.

But at the same time, it potentially has applications for large scale meetings. Imagine for example a session of the UN General Assembly in which half the participants are holograms. It’s almost like a form of teleportation – people could effectively be in the room, without having to travel to get there. That could be an attractive proposition if, for example, fuel suddenly became very expensive, making flying difficult.

A more immediate future use of holograms doesn’t involve people at all. The technology can be used for 3D modelling, potentially useful for the likes of architects and industrial designers. Australian company Euclidion is one such developer of this technology – they’re expecting to get a hologram  table on sale to the public at some stage this year. Users of this sort of technology still have to wear headsets, but in the form of glasses, rather than bulky headsets. It’s also being billed as more interactive than what currently exists in virtual and augmented reality – according to their website, a city planner “could zoom down to a single blade of grass.”

Joshua Cassin says such applications, particularly with conferencing, could one day have mass appeal. “It’s all about the technology becoming more accessible to people, people understand how it works and what the limitations and parameters are, and it will become more prolific.”

As for his effort, Cassin says it’s only his “pedantic perfectionism” holding him back from declaring himself completely happy with how the Techweek project went. And for Ardern herself, she can chalk it up as just another one of those weird and surreal experiences that are part and parcel of being a modern prime minister.

This content was made possible ATEED. Auckland is a natural breeding ground for innovation and home to almost half of New Zealand’s tech sector. The region’s diverse and world-leading tech offering will be on show at Techweek’18 May 19-27, a festival designed to amplify New Zealand innovation that’s good for the world.

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