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Star Trek-like holodeck may be close to becoming reality

This article was first posted on 9 May 2013.

Star Trek is in many respects the quintessential reference point for science fiction.  Its status as a science fiction icon can, however, lead people to be a little too quickly dismissive of any technological development that’s framed with a reference to Star Trek.  So it is with the famed “holodeck”.  But things are changing and there is very real reason to think that the “holodeck” might be on track for the world of reality more quickly than many people might imagine.

A couple of points about this story from the Financial Post and what it might mean for business and strategy:

  1. AMD’s announcement of an aspiration to develop technologies that would make the holodeck a reality marks a growing number of major corporations and institutions that in one way or another are committed to the same goal.  This is not a venture on the fringes of technology and science.  The players are credible and the technologies in scope are in many instances already in the mainstream, well-developed and well-funded.
  2. The suggestion is that we might have working holodeck’s within 15 to 20 years.  While that seems a long way out, it’s actually not as far away as people think.  It only took Kodak 20 years from its high point of 18th position on the 1992 Fortune 500 listing to bankruptcy in 2012.  Twenty years can creep up on you very quickly and can change enough to kill your entire business.  Notwithstanding the conventional wisdom about the appropriate time horizon for strategic planning (often put at three to five years) the time to start thinking about what a functioning holodeck experience might do to your business isn’t 15 to 20 years from now – it’s today!
  3. Following on from point two above, my initial thinking is that developments towards a holodeck type capability have the potential to radically impact any business where a large part of the value delivered is essentially experiential.  As the technologies around augmented and virtual realities improve and become less expensive they will increasingly become acceptable as a surrogate for the “real thing”.  In a world of holodecks I may not need to travel to London to experience a visit to The National Portrait Gallery or I may not need to travel to California to experience the beauty of Yosemite National Park.  It might seem a stretch at the moment (as did mobile, wireless-connected viewing devices to Kodak in the 1990’s) but the airline industry should, for example, be watching developments in this space.  People generally only get on airplanes because there’s something they want to do but can only do in another physical location.  As virtual and augmented reality improve in quality we may well see people begin to substitute the virtual experience for the real experience and, with it, the convergence and disruption of a number of industries.

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