When I saw the announcement on Windows Holographic, I had no real idea what this was, but in effect, this is the redefinition of personal computing. It its ultimate form, this could make obsolete every single personal computing device we currently have, enable a whole new age of remote communication, and so blur the lines between what is real and virtual that we no longer can, or might even want to, tell the difference. This is potentially so much bigger than just HoloLens that it is hard to know where to start.
It was only after having a conversation with another analyst who had been to the Microsoft Holodeck that I began to see that Windows Holographic is potentially not only a new interface into computing, but a potentially a new interface to the world around us. And, I expect, it will be some time before most of us are even able to wrap our minds around this.
Mixed Reality and Microsoft Bob
I’ve often wondered if Microsoft would eventually come back to the idea of a failed product from the 1990s, “Microsoft Bob.” The concept was fascinating, and it was based on a massive amount of research, if decades ahead of the technology needed to do it. Bob created a friendly artificial reality-based environment with smart avatars that would dynamically assist users with tasks. It actually was very successful with folks who were intimidated by computers, but it was so far ahead of the processing power it needed that, as a new interface, it failed miserably.
But now move 30 years into the present. We are working on true artificial intelligence (AI) and the concepts that underpinned Bob are within reach; the core research was solid. Simple AIs like Siri, Cortana and Alexa are increasingly all around us, and we don’t need to create static environments that emulate reality, we can blend reality with virtual reality into concepts we call augmented reality and holographics. This last is highlighted by Microsoft’s own HoloLens.
Now we have the ability to create increasingly intelligent avatars and place them into the real world using a variety of headsets and feedback controllers. We can scan and place people that are on the other side of the world into rooms with us and get to latencies low enough so the distance is virtually erased, creating a new age of video conferencing that approaches the promise of teleportation (without the nasty problem of actually having to stuff a person into an Ethernet cable, which always seemed a tad dangerous to me).
We can not only have virtual pets that seem increasingly real, they can also be intelligent and talk to us, taking any form we choose and creating what some would have called magic just a few years ago. To my mind, this is the promise of old Microsoft Bob cranked up to one million and wrapped with the amazing computational and visual capabilities of today.
In short, Windows Holographic is the beginning of the capabilities we see in movies like The Matrix, where computer interfaces were things we could communicate with like people, further enabling the potential for something indistinguishable from human intelligence in a machine. It’s an interface designed around us, not designed around a machine.
Windows Holographic: Everything Is Obsolete
If we can blend what is real with what is virtual and create whatever we need as the representation of a device, do we really need smartphones, tablets, desktops or laptop PCs as we currently know them? Every surface, and even the air, can be a window, or every part of our body (creating some rather interesting and strange concepts). If we want a new device, we can pick one that someone else designed and immediately have it represented virtually. Or we can create one ourselves, with the same outcome. But why be limited to traditional forms? An existing desktop or picture could become a computer, or even a virtual or real pet. The thing is, what Microsoft has potentially created isn’t limited to the physical world or reality as we know it, it is limited by our imaginations and our ability to see past physical limitations. We’ll be able to see through walls to see what exists, will exist, or only exists in our imaginations, change our clothing, wall coverings, and electronics instantly and whenever we want with little or no cost, and communicate to real or artificial intelligences.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+