We live in an age of really, really huge tech companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc, and one of the great things about this age is that these companies have lots of excess cash. It's an advantage because lately, tech companies seem to be in the habit of taking their excess cash and throwing big piles of it at technological problems and projects.
Sometimes these projects fail miserably, some seem like practical solutions to basic problems, and some have the potential to change the very way we live our lives, but almost all of them are interesting. One of these very exciting and buzzy projects is the Microsoft HoloLens.
The Micorsoft HoloLens could be called an 'Augmented Reality' or 'Mixed Reality' device, but, in very basic terms, it is a headset with a computer in it. The headset has a visor on which images and information can be projected in such a way as to appear to be part of your actual, three-dimensional physical environment. Using recognizable gestures (similar to what the Xbox Kinect does) and voice commands a user can interact with the projected images. A device like this could have useful applications in many different fields. Here is an idealized vision of the device in action:
Like most tech innovations, Microsoft is insisting that the technology will 'change everything,' which is a claim that has been made before. While words like 'revolutionary' are being tossed around HoloLens has received a measure of flak from critics and experts. According to Wired, the effective field of view for HoloLens is quite narrow, forcing you to move your head around to actually see the holograms. As a corollary to this, the Verge notes that it only seems to work effectively with small holographic objects. It will also be expensive. The device itself, while sleek, is bulky and obtrusive (as you can see below), which is a problem if you intend it for general consumer use.
Future iterations of the device will tell us if issues with he HoloLens can be solved, but as a side note it is important to realize that tech companies' efforts to innovate are not a zero-sum game. Like NASA, which reached the moon but also helped invent many different spin-off technologies, pouring cash into a tech project doesn't mean it goes to waste if the project stumbles. Google has had some major failures, like Wave and Glass (which, it should be noted, is still an active project, just not publicly), but the technological advancements garnered from them are often integrated into other projects. Even if HoloLens crashes and burns, there will still be something to be gained from the effort.
Also in question with a lot of this new technology is, well, the entire fate of human social interaction. This is only a mild exaggeration when we consider the implications of Google Glass: We are, somewhat inexorably, moving towards a future where we are always at risk of being recorded. One of the criticisms of Google Glass was the privacy concerns involved with having a small electronic device that could discreetly record what was happening around it. (Okay, maybe Glass wasn't exactly discreet, but electronic devices are getting smaller and harder to notice.) A human experience that is continuously recorded does have advantages in terms of accountability, but the privacy implications remain staggering.
Now, what does the future hold if HoloLens takes off? What happens to reality when we can change it to our liking? The most interesting aspect about the technological advancements that these companies are creating is the inevitability. If one company doesn't create an advancement, another will. We really don't know what the future holds, but we're going to find out, eventually.