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With Microsoft's New Holographic Computer Goggles, You'll Never Unplug Again

HoloLens is your chance to give up analog life forever.

DJ Pangburn

DJ Pangburn

At yesterday's Windows 10 event, Microsoft announced an array of products, none more mesmerizing than HoloLens. Described by Microsoft as "the world's first holographic computing platform," the company hopes HoloLens will allow it to leapfrog virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, and Sony Morpheus by taking users out of the interior virtual realities of headsets and back into analogue reality. Indeed, judging by the demo videos, HoloLens alters the current virtual reality landscape by blurring the distinction between our offline and online lives.

What Microsoft's Alex Kipman, inventor of the Xbox Kinect, created is a computer that blends virtual and analogue worlds. Like augmented reality (AR), and the mysterious Magic Leap (which would project an AR directly onto users' eyes), HoloLens maps its holographic visuals onto everything from walls and desks to a room's empty space. The company claims it also tracks users hands with its camera, allowing them to manipulate virtual objects.

To hear Microsoft tell it, untethered and free from wires, phones, or connection to a PC, users will be able to walk, run or sit, staring off into space checking email, reading, Skyping, or doing something as mundane as making dinner reservations. Put more simply, you'll always be jacked in, or as much as possible anyway.

If this vision of an always connected world isn't clear enough already, just watch the HoloLens videos. Microsoft sees users wearing it at work and home. People will make phone calls on the job, then go home to play Minecraft or watch Netflix. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since technology is in and of itself is amoral. But it should remind us that with every new and cool bit of tech, people will have to consider the drawbacks of usage. Do we want to live in reality where our analog lives are constantly mixed with holograms? And do we want to give Microsoft and developers more access to our offline lives and the data that lies within that time and space?

While Microsoft believes HoloLens will become a new engine of creation and communication, with developers creating apps that exploit the headset's depth camera, the blending of realities will result in people spending more time, if not staring at an actual screen, computing nonetheless. As we've seen with the ubiquity of mobile devices, there has been an erasure of offline and online existence. With virtual objects, interfaces, and experiences mapped onto the territory of our analog worlds, the obliteration of the line separating our offline or unplugged lives from our online ones will only be amplified.

Microsoft is thinking far beyond immersive video games, the medium most immediately ready for VR; the company is imagining HoloLens infiltrating a much greater share of our reality, and gaining access to a lot more data in the process. "We envisioned a world where technology could become more personal—where it could adapt to the natural ways we communicate, learn, and create," reads the HoloLens website. "Where our digital lives would seamlessly connect with real life."

Imagine watching your favorite movie or TV series on the HoloLens. Instead of being limited to television sets, computer screens, and VR headsets, an entire room becomes the screen. If the HoloLens experience is dynamic enough, it could be tempting to ditch the TV, laptop or tablet for a single device—the HoloLens. Granted, this assumes developers and filmmakers exploit the HoloLens's depth camera, allowing users to walk within a motion picture scene in a way that one simply cannot with Oculus Rift content.

HoloLens could also trigger another evolution in book publishing. Three in ten American adults read an e-book in 2013, according to Pew Research, and that figure should only grow. Imagine those who read e-books on mobile devices migrating to HoloLens, and haptically flipping pages of a book hanging in space. Speaking of haptic feedback, a virtual shopping platform could allow users to see and manipulate products from various angles.

Filmed entertainment, video games, books, and virtual shopping would be just the tip of the iceberg with HoloLens. Developers will be offered a template to do things that simply cannot be done on mobile devices, laptops, or even an Oculus Rift. "Holograms will improve the way you do things every day, and enable you to do things you've never done before," Microsoft says.

That sounds like a radical reimagining of human reality. The question is, are we ready to experience it?​