Several weeks ago, I watched an impressive TED talk entitled “A Futuristic Vision of the Age of Holograms.” Presented by Alex Kipman, this interactive lecture detailed how 3D holographic programs could change the face of human-software interaction by creating an empathetic technology that will transcend anything we have ever seen. According to Kipman, instead of being confined to a computer that reflects our world in a very limited way through predetermined code, holograms invite us to experience our own surroundings in a heightened way and with greater freedom. They will open the door to a relationship to technology that is absolutely unprecedented, enabling us to be transported through our vision to places that actually exist and to created worlds of our own imagining.
Kipman explained to his audience that he believes humanity is hampered by a computer universe dictated by “causality” when our own world is actually full of “infinite probabilities and shades of grey.” He looks at us as “putting up with the two-dimensional limitations of our current digital world,” suggests that “we could have the same digital powers in our world,” and enthusiastically endorses a “technology that will let us stop living inside this 2D world of monitors and pixels, and let us start remembering what it feels like to live in our world.” He powerfully illustrates his point through the use of a holographic headset and predesigned holograms that are visible to the audience on the screen above the stage.
I was already somewhat familiar with the idea of holograms, but Kipman’s philosophy surrounding them intrigued me even more than the actual technology. Look at what he says about it in comparison to the computer world as we know it:
“Today, we spend most of our time tapping and looking at screens. What happened to interacting with each other? I don’t know about you, but I feel limited inside this 2D world of monitors and pixels. It is this very limitation, and my desire to connect with people, that inspires me as a creator. But simply, I want to create a new reality. A reality where technology brings us infinitely closer to each other. A reality where people, not devices, are the center of everything. I dream of a reality where tech senses what we see, touch, and feel. A reality where tech no longer gets in our way but instead embraces who we are. I dream of technology on a human path.”
Now, to a large degree, I concur with Kipman: what did happen to human beings interacting with each other and engaging in a deep way with their family and friends in a world of laptops and IPhones? However, although the question is the same, I believe that the inventor and I are on completely different paths of inquiry - while he views the hologram as an opportunity to connect people more fully with their own reality, I see his vision as potentially missing the point of bringing humanity “back to itself” and certainly as feeding into our culture’s obsession with fantasy.
What is most striking to me about Kipman’s hearty endorsement of holograms is his firm faith that they will break us out of the prison of two-dimensional mediocrity and release us back into "our world." How can a holographic world be "our world" when, according to Kipman, we can float between “reality” and “virtual reality” by choice? Metaphysics has confused even the most brilliant minds for centuries, but it looks like now the 21st is taking the question "what is real" to the next level of confusion.
The potential danger in all of this is that our culture has proven that it loves fantasy over reality: from video games, to Xboxes, to the entertainment saturated home-life we are accustomed to, we never tire of investing in what is not real. For many of us, these things are not just a part of life, they are also a "fix" from the pressures and responsibilities of real life. This is not a problem if it is done in moderation but, unfortunately, I don’t think America knows the meaning of that word. The truth is, I see holograms as a symbol of what our society has begun to value over real connection with others and real investment in life itself, namely an escape from reality (which is ironic given that Kipman sees holograms as a salvation of sorts that ushers us back into “our world").
Now, I do not mean to imply that holograms are somehow evil or could not be extremely valuable in fields such as science and medicine (contexts which Kipman asserts are making good use of them), but I do doubt that they will draw “us infinitely closer to each other.” Engaging with a holographic vision of someone who is in several different places at once (to reference Kipman’s presentation) will not be legitimate human connection and, sadly, our culture’s obvious preferences in other areas suggests that that is just fine with them. In fact, the unreal element of these holographic projections are probably preferable to many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, then real relationships.
Although Kipman sees holograms as somehow giving our own world back to us, they will also give us unprecedented control to manipulate our surroundings to be whatever we want them to be without changing anything in the real world at all. Instead of drawing people together, they have the ability to keep everyone isolated in a world of their own making that, most of time, could probably never compete with both the harsh reality but also the satisfying joy of the physical world. After all, in our own holographic worlds, we can be whoever we want to be and everyone else can become and look like exactly what we choose. It’s intriguing, certainly, but I would suggest that before we bring 3D technology into our world, America first needs to get its feet firmly planted in real reality.
Take a look at Kipman's TED talk here.