It all started In April 2012 when the deceased rap artist Tupac returned from the grave and performed “live” at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California. Two years later, in May 2014, a fantastic Micheal Jackson hologram performed on stage at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. One year later, a hologram of Ayrton Senna appeared on stage with Fernando Alonso to celebrate the partnership between Tag Heuer and the McLaren Formula 1 team. Holographic recreation of dead people is becoming a trend.
These experiments are clearly business driven. Most of these celebrities have a loyal fan base that is happy to watch their favorite hero again. In 48 hours the Tupac performance was seen 15 million times on YouTube. In the weeks that followed, Tupac albums sales increased dramatically. Hologram USA has announced tours by Whitney Houston, who died in 2012. Marilyn Monroe’s and Elvis Presley’s estates have also shown interest in the holographic reproductions. Technology improvements allow this. If you think that some of the performances we’ve seen are based on an old theater trick called “Pepper’s Ghost,” introduced in the 1860s, plus a patented holographic projection system, it’s probably not even sophisticated yet. Digital video is much more advanced. A lot of people don’t even realize that Brad Pitt wasn’t in the first 52 minutes of the movie “Benjamin Button”. And it won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
But Holograms are difficult to realize, more than a video. They use an array of lights to project a 3D image that’s viewable from all sides. For artists who lived in the age of television and cameras, there are plenty of recordings that can help to rebuild a perfect image. Videos, interviews, pictures are there waiting for the data mining. Technology can enable the recreational image of anything desired by the consumer, but the problem is not the technology, indeed, is the consumer. The audience is not satisfied with a mere likeliness, if the reproduction is not perfect, the so called “uncanny valley” effect is going to destroy the show. I’m not sure how many people will be comfortable to watch dead people on the stage. I believe a few minutes of show are manageable, but I’m not confident an Elvis hologram can face a two hours show. The novelty effect is going to fade at some point. On the other side, this technology gives people an opportunity to experience something they would never have gotten a chance to see live.
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Future holographic recreation with Artificial Intelligence
The point is that this entertainment application is just the beginning of something more. The holographic recreation of people (dead or alive). Building an image and a hologram is a matter of software and computational power. Software already exists and power of calculus will just increase. If you have or can do recordings and images of a person, a computer can return something perfectly matching the real thing, including movements and mannerisms. It’s a matter of elaboration time and algorithms. Some artists were against this practice. Robin Williams, for example, included provisions in his will that barred the use of his likeness in films for at least 25 years. Other artists, who lived at a time when digitally recreating humans seemed liked fiction, never had that opportunity to agree or disagree. Artists still alive, on the other side, understand the potential benefit of being in different places at the same time. And get multiple royalties and audiences. This is applicable for artists, lecturers and even politicians.
The rules about voice are the same. Samples taken from songs, interviews and private documents can be easily remixed so, any hologram will say what the production wants. This is tricky and dangerous. If a company uses a hologram to address the audience, the hologram might say something that the real character would have never said or agreed to. It’s quite easy to generate new combinations of words and sentences and produce entirely new content. On the other side, I see a great potential in the educational area. Can you imagine an immersive lesson in physics given by a hologram of Einstein? And the history of the France Revolution told by Napoleon in person? What about having Civil Rights explained by Martin Luther King? Amazing.
But voice and likeliness are not enough without an artificial intelligence engine, which can really simulate the character. I mean that a well done Albert hologram explaining me his Theory of Relativity is not that interesting, if it’s just like a documentary on TV. But if can interact with him, ask questions or to rephrase the same concept in a different way, that’s fantastic. This is difficult with the technology available today, but in 2035, it will be commonplace. The holographic recreation of somebody, will be the easy part, the core will be the artificial intelligence behind it. AI will acquire readings, books, images, audio-samples about the character, probably just scanning the web or accessing authorized private sources and will build him or her. Programmers will act only to correct mistakes or to manually add additional features. We can expect this will be used for marketing, leisure and education. But at some points wealthy privates will access the technology to reproduce themselves, their deceased people or their own Elvis. The more information they will feed to the AI, the better the final result. This could be a way to personalize the avatars that will live in our giant screens, which I described in a recent post (click here to read more). At that point I will realize my dream to duet with Elvis or just ask an advice to my father again.
Newsletter: because there’s more than holographic recreation here!
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