Since early man started wearing VR goggles, the goal has been simple: escape reality. With Microsoft's radical new wearable computer, reality has never before been so gloriously real.
The first time I saw 3D graphics was on my dad's computer when I was a boy. Dad was a programmer for the phone company, back before they called programmers "coders" and before being a coder was cool. He didn't make apps; he wrote routines for a brute of a mainframe that lived somewhere in the bowels of Pacific Bell. He stayed up all hours of the night telecommuting before it was a perk of every job. Sometimes, my younger brother and I would wander in to see what he was up to, and if we were lucky, he'd set us on his lap and boot up a game, Wolfenstein 3D, a first-person shooter. You were a GI trying to escape a Nazi castle. I never thought of the graphics as looking real, but they were undeniably effective. The three of us would sit in the darkened office, soldiers running down corridors, anxious and scared at the possibility the next turn might lead to Gestapo lying in wait. In the tensest moments, Dad would physically lean his body, my brother and me with it, to try to peer around corners.
Did the rudimentary machine we were playing on intuit my father's movements and respond? Did we become part of the game, in anything more real than our imaginations? Dad was good, but not that good. Besides, it was the Dark Ages—the mid-90s—what do you want?
The protagonist of this story is a machine. A wearable, holographic computer that leaves your virtual, surpasses your augmented, and just gives you the reality. You might call it a second-sight machine, giving you the cognitive powers of the machine you were born with, but freed from the tyranny of physics. It is a set of magic lenses through which humans see, with unprecedented clarity, their relationship to the world.
The applications for this machine are limitless, from planning tricky surgeries to designing other intricate machines with your partner who is in Tierra del Fuego but right there with you at the same time to just having the time of your life. With this machine, the Nazis wouldn't have known what hit them.
What God created this particular universe?
...There are many ways to describe what HoloLens is: a mixed-reality device, a holographic computer, an expensive escapist technology. But what it is, most notably, is the gift of sight. It can see like no machine before it.
HoloLens floats over a person's head like a smoke-ring halo. A padded inner gray circlet rests on the crown of the skull and cinches tight in the back. The glasses—actually a clear glass shield with a second set of trapezoidal lenses underneath—float around the inner ring on a tilting axis. They are adjusted to hover in front of the eyes. And the bulk of the machine is above the lenses, in a crescent moon of plastic and silicon that rests against the forehead: a bundle of sensors.
...Jason Alan Snyder, a futurist whose patents shaped aspects of Google Glass—a forerunner, in a way, of HoloLens—is one of many developers working on experiences for HoloLens. He works for a marketing agency, focusing on what he calls digital sampling, the ability to test products and experiences virtually before buying. But he sees past that. He thinks technology is at a place where we can begin to transcend language. He described an experiment in which subjects from different cultures greeted each other by thinking of a greeting in their own language. They wore EEG helmets to read their brain waves, and when a computer detected a thought forming—say, a greeting—in one person's brain, it triggered a phosphene—a brain-produced optical artifact that looks like a bright light seen in peripheral vision—in another.
"By thinking that greeting, a person on the other side of the world would see that greeting," Snyder says. "If we could direct that into one of these AR [augmented reality] devices, like HoloLens, that would be tremendous."
Mind-to-mind communication sounds like science fiction. But then, so do holograms.