Can CIOs justify replacing employees with a hologram projector?

With hologram technology advancing, it may soon be possible to replace traditional workers with hologram projectors. But is it smart? A CTO weighs in.

Each month, the CIO Media group at TechTarget will be featuring an emerging technology and discussing its potential impact for CIOs and the organization. In this inaugural installment of Future State, senior site editor Wendy Schuchart discusses 3-D hologram technology and finds out what our CIO readers think about using it for applications in the organization.

When is a CIO like a human resources director? Answer: When the employees have been replaced by three-dimensional hologram technology.

Like something off of Star Trek's Holodeck, the science behind 3-D holographic projection made huge news earlier this century when entrepreneurs re-animated dead celebrities for concerts. Now, 3-D holographic projections have become mild novelty pieces in airport security lines in Washington, D.C., New York, Boston and Long Beach, Calif. Recent technological advancements make clear that a new 3-D hologram projector will be attainable by even the smallest SMBs very soon. Three-dimensional holograms could potentially be used to draw foot traffic into a retail store or to communicate information at recreational facilities, for instance.

Hologram technology vendors such as Tensator and AirportOne stress that 3-D holographic projections are the perfect employee: They never need caffeine or a bathroom break and can work 24 hours a day all year without asking for vacation during the busiest time of the business cycle. With starting costs of $25,000 per "worker," if used around the clock, hologram technology could certainly pay for itself quickly over the salary of actual workers in the same roles.

CIOs and industry leaders are concerned that the 3-D holographic projection is just a really expensive, pretty video monitor.

But CIOs remain doubtful that a hologram projector would be applicable to most business functions.

"Although we have a fairly large number of people visiting our facilities daily and have an active presence in tradeshows, we would not procure, maintain or transport such an item. The dynamic nature of both those environments requires human communication and collaboration," said Chadd Carr, executive vice president and CTO at Gainesville, Va.-based Advanced Concepts Research Group LLC.

Cheap 3-D holographic projection?

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., have enhanced the visual quality of 3-D holographic projections, improving on the spatial light modulator to potentially offer more affordable options. At a starting cost of $500, hologram technology could suddenly be within the grasp of small SMBs.

But until technology allows for significantly more interaction with the customer, CIOs and industry leaders are concerned that the 3-D hologram is just a really expensive, pretty video monitor.

"The holographic informative technology is better suited for environments which allow for captive audiences for an extended period of time, such as waiting rooms (clinics, hospitals, dentists, etc.) or the department of motor vehicles," Carr said. "Preprogrammed communications are not conducive for sales where potential clients choose whether to do business with you or not in a matter of seconds."

Others agree with Carr's contention that the technology isn't always feasible -- or even a good spend of IT budgets. "I've seen the one at IAD [Washington Dulles International Airport] -- it's pretty weak, and no more useful than a screen or even a static sign would be," said Phil Smith III, a senior product manager and architect at Voltage Security Inc.

For now, the marketplace doesn't seem terribly interested in replacing its live in-person workforce with 3-D hologram projections. Case in point: The company that created the 3-D hologram of Tupac Shakur for Coachella went bankrupt last year. Perhaps a 3-D hologram projector is more complicated than flesh and blood, after all.

What do you think? Would you ever deploy a 3-D hologram projector in place of a real employee? Vote yea or nay in the comments.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Wendy Schuchart, senior site Editor.For midmarket IT news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ciomidmarket.

This was first published in June 2013

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