Skip to main content

See also:

It’s Time We Invented a Holodeck

Jeff DeGraff
Jeff DeGraff
Jeff DeGraff

I have always loved living up north but this year winter sucked. The Great Lakes froze over completely for the first time in a century. We had a gazillion days when the thermometer dipped below zero. No not wimpy Celsius zero but badass Fahrenheit zero. We had such a Homeric amount of snow that even the children in the village have started to compose folk songs about the omnipresent and eternal flurry. And the sun decided to spend the winter in Vegas and beat the house out West of all of its water. The bad news is that our roads now resemble a Zambian rock quarry, the melting snowpack is inciting our riotous rivers and monstrous lakes to reclaim territories lost to cities and other demonstrable landmarks of civilization after the ice age, and we now look upon the sunlight with the sensitive eyes of a mole rat in serious need of some opaque black Ray-Bans.

Yah we know its global climate change come a-calling. Maybe it will get us to reduce, recycle and reuse but I doubt it. Instead, I suggest we use this as another opportunity to escape from reality. We need something stronger than Netflix, World of Warcraft and Häagen Dazs. We need a Holodeck. You know that room they have on the Starship Enterprise, not the original one but all of the other goofy ones afterwards, where people go back in time to talk to Einstein or pretend they are in a Speak Easy in the Roaring 20’s. Of course they probably really used it to stage wild orgies with famous figures of history or exact their terrible revenge on imagined enemies past and present. But vile human nature aside a Holodeck is just the ticket when you need a little time-out to down a couple of glasses of chardonnay and a sleeve of Belgium chocolates on the calming beaches of Bali. It wouldn’t have to be a large Holodeck. Maybe something the size of a sauna. I guess that’s what keeps the Finns sane during the long dark days up near the Arctic Circle. Sure you could just use your imagination but why not give it a little extra boost? It’s not really a mind altering experience as much as it is giving yourself some innocuous steroids for your psyche.

We could be on to a totally new dimension of wellness. Lose the natural spectrum lighting, the sound spa, and the biofeedback goggles. Your Holodeck could include some better relaxing scenarios including your colleagues doing real work around the office or better yet your children doing their appointed chores around the house. Sure it’s a fantasy but it will at least give you a false sense of hope. And that’s what’s really needed when winter drags on and on. Barkeep, another round of deception and denial for everyone.

But is a Holodeck really possible? MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has a working prototype of a Holodeck albeit not quite Star Trek grade yet. The University of Tokyo has developed “invoked computing” that makes the creation of Holodeck hardware and software feasible in the near future. Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and Michigan have all recently made great leaps in “augmented reality” technology design. And of course, dozens of video game design firms and computer hardware companies are partnering on “virtual reality immersion” games and related services. The point being that we are reasonably close to having the wherewithal to actually construct a Holodeck.

Getting the size down to something accessible and cost down to something affordable is another matter. Given that our mental health hangs in the balance I suggest we pressure the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation to jumpstart funding for our National Holodeck Initiative. Think of it like our mission to moon launch in the 1960s. Sure we could use the money to fix the roads or improve our schools instead but that sounds like too much work.

Now all that is left is for us to come up with our Holodeck settings, situations and storylines. I’m deciding between taking a slow boat down the Mekong River and enjoying an afternoon aperitif on the balcony of a small hotel somewhere on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Of course there always is that Nobel Prize thing but I imagine that would seriously cut into my free time. What will your Holodeck story be?