Issac Asimov foresaw 3D virtual meetings but gave them the awkward name “tridimensional personification.” While you could almost do this now with VR headsets and 3D cameras, it would be awkward at best. It is easy to envision conference rooms full of computer equipment and scanners, but an MIT student has a method that may do away with all that by using machine learning to simplify hologram generation.

As usual, though, the popular press may be carried away a little bit. The key breakthrough here is that you can use TensorFlow to generate real-time holograms at a few frames per second using consumer-grade processing power found in a high-end phone from images with depth information, which is also available on some phones. There’s still the problem of displaying the hologram on the other side, which your phone can’t do. So any implication that you’ll download an app that enables holograms phone calls is hyperbole and images of this are in the realm of photoshop.

Still, the idea that you can generate 3D from a camera essentially in real-time is pretty exciting. Even if your phone is a few years away from a holographic display, we can imagine this working its way into VR headsets much sooner. After all, VR headsets must choose if they connect to a big computer or have limited capabilities with an onboard cellphone-like computer.

The technique essentially trained a neural network to predict what a scene would look like as a hologram using supervisory holograms as a reference. However, the recent paper expands on this, using a two-stage training regime with one training set having supervision and another training cycle without supervision.f

If you want to give any of this a shot, the models and other things you’d need are on GitHub. This probably isn’t quite ready for casual weekend hacking, but if you are a hologram guru, perhaps you’ll find a way to get us a little closer to the kind of things you see in popular videos about the topic, like the one below.

We need a good holographic display, of course. If you need a refresher on holograms, talk to [Brian McEvoy].