Lewis Shepherd on the IC/Mil/NatSec Potential of Holographic Computing

Cross-posted from zenpundit.com

Lewis Shepherd, formerly of the DIA and IC and recently of Microsoft, has an outstanding post on Microsoft’s exciting ambient/holographic computing interface HoloLens. What I saw in the videos is stunning and I then ran them by an extremely tough, tech savvy and jaded audience – my students – their jaws dropped. It’s that impressive.

Insider’s Guide to the New Holographic Computing 

In my seven happy years at Microsoft before leaving a couple of months ago, I was never happier than when I was involved in a cool “secret project.”

Last year my team and I contributed for many months on a revolutionary secret project – Holographic Computing – which was revealed today at Microsoft headquarters.  I’ve been blogging for years about a variety of research efforts which additively culminated in today’s announcements: HoloLens, HoloStudio for 3D holographic building, and a series of apps (e.g. HoloSkype, HoloMinecraft) for this new platform on Windows 10.

For my readers in government, or who care about the government they pay for, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION.

It’s real. I’ve worn it, used it, designed 3D models with it, explored the real surface of Mars, played and laughed and marveled with it. This isn’t Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance.” Everything in this video works today:


These new inventions represent a major new step-change in the technology industry. That’s not hyperbole. The approach offers the best benefit of any technology:empowering people simply through complexity, and by extension a way to deliver new & unexpected capabilities to meet government requirements.

Holographic computing, in all the forms it will take, is comparable to the Personal Computing revolution of the 1980s (which democratized computing), the Web revolution of the ’90s (which universalized computing), and the Mobility revolution of the past eight years, which is still uprooting the world from its foundation.

One important point I care deeply about: Government missed each of those three revolutions. By and large, government agencies at all levels were late or slow (or glacial) to recognize and adopt those revolutionary capabilities. That miss was understandable in the developing world and yet indefensible in the United States, particularly at the federal level.

I worked at the Pentagon in the summer of 1985, having left my own state-of-the-art PC at home in Stanford, but my assigned “analytical tool” was a typewriter. In the early 2000s, I worked at an intelligence agency trying to fight a war against global terror networks when most analysts weren’t allowed to use the World Wide Web at work. Even today, government agencies are lagging well behind in deploying modern smartphones and tablets for their yearning-to-be-mobile workforce.

This laggard behavior must change. Government can’t afford (for the sake of the citizens it serves) to fall behind again, and  understanding how to adapt with the holographic revolution is a great place to start, for local, national, and transnational agencies.

Now some background…

Read the rest here.

I remarked to Shepherd that the technology reminded me of the novels by Daniel Suarez, DAEMON and FREEDOM. Indeed, I can see HoloLens allowing a single operator to control swarms of intelligent armed drones and robots over a vast theater or in close-quarter tactical combat as easily as it would permit someone to manage a construction site, remotely assist in a major surgery, design a new automobile or play 3D Minecraft.


WIRED – Our Exclusive Hands-On With Microsoft’s Unbelievable New Holographic Goggles 

engadget –I experienced ‘mixed reality’ with Microsoft’s holographic …

Arstechnica.com –Hands-on: Microsoft’s HoloLens is flat-out magical | Ars …

Mashable –Microsoft HoloLens won’t be the next Google Glass, and …

Gizmodo –Microsoft HoloLens Hands-On: Incredible, Amazing …

New York TimesMicrosoft HoloLens: A Sensational Vision of the PC’s Future 

21 thoughts on “Lewis Shepherd on the IC/Mil/NatSec Potential of Holographic Computing”

  1. One important point I care deeply about: Government missed each of those three revolutions. By and large, government agencies at all levels were late or slow (or glacial) to recognize and adopt those revolutionary capabilities. That miss was understandable in the developing world and yet indefensible in the United States, particularly at the federal level.

    He may know a lot about tech, but he knows nothing of history, government, or politicians. What sort of world does one live in if one imagines federal bureaucrats can or want to be on the forefront of technology? A cursory history of the development of ships would show governments for a thousands years have glacially adopted of new technology.

  2. Hi ErisGuy – I’m the author of the original piece, thanks for reading. I understand your point, and believe it or not agree; I’ve been around in both government and politics, and I wrote about the simultaneous “Way Ahead and Far Behind” phenomenon https://lewisshepherd.wordpress.com/2009/01/22/way-ahead-and-far-behind/ … Ignore the ending of the piece, it was Jan. 2009 and I was trying to be nice to the new Obama tech crowd, who of course – predictably – all turned out to be true simpletons :)

    My issue is, I’m an American, and a patriot, in a dangerous world whose technology changes faster than ever. Our federal government can’t afford to fall so far behind.

    By the way, on the history of ships, check out https://lewisshepherd.wordpress.com/2008/10/09/walled-garden-wikis-and-candlepower/

  3. “governments for a thousands years have glacially adopted of new technology.”

    The same applies to warfare and weapons. Of course, when they finally get it right, they retire the success and buy something with political pull.

    The Henry repeating rifle was an early example. Some Union units bought their own and proved how devastating they were.

    The men of the 7th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry, the 66th WSS and many others that purchased their own Henry Rifles did indeed make a conscience choice of putting up $35 to $50 of their own money for a weapon that they felt would give them an advantage and improve their chances of survival in the war. There were also others who tried to get Henry Rifles but were unable due to a number of reasons, this even included Wilder’s Brigade as the Henry Rifle was his first choice. This essay is about how the Henry Rifle was used in the Civil War by those that made the choice of arming themselves with the Henry Rifle at their own expense.

    The same thing happened to the Colt .45 model 1911 in Afghanistan.

    Being qualified with the weapon, I have to say don’t blame him, most Marines I’d ever talked to hated the standard issue 9 mm Beretta. It’s a glorified pellet gun, as far as I’m concerned, it has no balls, no stopping power. If you’re shooting at a motivated target, and you don’t hit vitals, that target will just keep coming.

    The Marines gave in and reissued the Colt .45.

  4. “governments for a thousands years have glacially adopted of new technology.”

    True during the earliest stages of new technology, but much less so once the first practical demonstrations of the technology have occurred. Consider rockets–neither the American nor the Soviet governments initially showed much interest in this technology (with the exception of the Soviet development on the Katayusha rocket artillery system)…but once the Germans had successfully demonstrated the V-2 operationally, both governments moved very aggressively and achieved results in pretty impressive timeframes.

  5. “once the Germans had successfully demonstrated the V-2 operationally,”

    20 years after the technology, which the Germans copied, was demonstrated by Goddard.

    The only decent progress the US made, as a government, was tied to defense. The Interstate highways were “the National Defense Highway System” and the Internet was also a DoD program. Even the student loan program was National Defense Student Loan program and emphasized certain fields of study, although it quickly went rogue. I was an early beneficiary when I got out of the Air Force in December 1959. I thought I would have to work full time and do pre-med in night school, as I had been doing. The loan program began in January 1960 and I got one along with GI Bill. The oddity was that a premed major was not eligible but English Literature was, so I was an English major. The whole student loan program would be viable if the loans were restricted to useful majors.

  6. Well, an intercontinental missile requires quite a few things beyond what Goddard demonstrated: guidance was a significant challenge (at first, of course, there were no small digital computers available to do calculations), and achieving reentry at ICBM speeds, without burning up the warhead, proved very difficult.

    Prior to nuclear weapons, there wasn’t much military sense in creating *intercontinental* missiles; the cost versus the effect with a conventional warhead was quite high. And even for the much-shorter-range and less-expensive V-2, the military payoff versus investment in resources wasn’t very good. Maybe if the US had begun development of a missile in the 200-mile-range category very early, and had produced it in huge volumes, it would have had a favorable results-to-cost ratio; not sure if anyone has ever analyzed it.

    I think the 14 years from the end of WWII to the deployment of the US Atlas and the Soviet R-7 represents pretty remarkable accomplishments.

    Even the brilliant Vannevar Bush (creator of the mechanical differential analyzer, foreseer of hypertext, to mention just two of his accomplishment) wrote in 1949 that intercontinental missiles would not be feasible for a long time, if ever.

  7. Oh, I agree that ICBMs had little application until nuclear weapons were small enough to fit warheads but I also was in college majoring in engineering when the Russians launched Sputnik. The disbelief by US officials was ridiculous, as was the subsequent failure of the US attempt. I remember well that officials, not amateur commenters, said the weight of Sputnik as reported by the Soviets had to be off by a decimal point. Nobody could launch 184 pounds into orbit !

    It made them look like fools and all they needed to do was to read “Interplanetary flight” by Clarke which I had read in high school. One of my high school long papers was “The Principle of Rocket Propulsion” written in junior year of high school which explained escape and orbital velocity.

    The subsequent panic did me d=some good but it soon passed and, by 1959, every engineer I knew at Douglas was planning to go to medical school, loa school or get an MBA. I did the same starting medical school in 1961. A classmate had been a fighter pilot in the Air Force and was invited to join the astronaut program but declined.

  8. What are you using C to develop?
    Do simulations and visualizations that you can actively manipulate and modify on the fly sound useful to you?

  9. >>The only decent progress the US made, as a government, was tied to defense.

    I agree with that. Interesting to note too that what they did was set requirements, I need a rocket to go this far, and hand it off to industry for competition. That usually got results. Sometimes very expensive results, but results nonetheless.

    (Interesting thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older. I have to read my typing very carefully. I think words, but when I read what I typed, some of the words are missing. I skipped right over them. Weird.)

  10. “I need a rocket to go this far, and hand it off to industry for competition.”

    The proximity fuse in WWII was such a development. The story of the fuse.

    “Almost no one ever hit an airplane with the old-fashioned fuses,” recalled Dr. James A. Van Allen, the discoverer of the Earth’s radiation belt, who worked on fuses at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University during the war. “It would be just a sheer stroke of luck to hit anything.”

    But the Helena had more than luck that morning. It carried one of history’s first smart weapons — anti-aircraft shells armed with Hopkins’ new proximity fuse, an electronic device designed to detect its target and detonate if it flew within about 75 feet.

    That weapon was a closely guarded secret. So the pilots of the nimble Aichi 99 bombers may have felt they had the advantage as they screamed toward the Helena, an island of guns and steel as long as two football fields.

    Within 90 seconds, two gun crews, firing an estimated 50 to 60 shells, brought down both planes. (Not all the shells fired had proximity fuses, but the ship’s chief gunnery officer gave the new fuse credit for both kills).

  11. Weelllll, technically APL is a UARC, a university affiliated research center. It’s similar to JPL in some ways.

    I was thinking more along the lines of the development of jet aircraft or the Apollo program. As an example, TI got kick-started in semiconductor production building IC’s for Apollo. Or all the research the DoD drove in aerodynamics during the 50’s and 60’s. Or the money and talent that went into digital computing starting in the 1940’s. It started with the University of Pennsylvania and Los Alamos, but expanded to IBM and Sperry and others.

    In some ways it was a bad precedent. It gave people an impression that if the government just throws a bunch of money at something you get results. Results are hugely dependent on the people involved and the efficiency of the organization.

  12. I worked on the Nike Zeus project at Douglas Aircraft and it was a model of inefficiency (except for me, of course). In the power plant division, I knew one engineer who came to work every day for a year and never did anything. Nothing. It was a joke. Plus, of course, that was before internet pornography so I can’t imagine what he did all day.

  13. I strongly support a constitutional amendment that prevents government from using any new technology until ThAT TECHNOLOGY HAS BEEN IN USE FOR 100 YEARS.

  14. >>20 years after the technology, which the Germans copied, was demonstrated by Goddard.

    I was reading a bit about Von Braun. At a time when the local press thought Robert Goddard was a harmless but comically eccentric figure – Crazy Doc Goddard out playing with his rockets in the fields – German scientists like Von Braun thought he was a brilliant visionary doing important pioneering work. They read the papers he published very carefully.

    This from a NASA website…

    Dr. Goddard’s Major Contributions:

    Explored the practicality of using rocket propulsion to reach high altitudes, even the moon (1912)

    Proved that a rocket will work in a vacuum, that it needs no air to push against

    Developed and fired a liquid fuel rocket (March 16, 1926, Auburn, Mass.)

    Shot a scientific payload in a rocket flight (1929, Auburn, Mass.)

    Used vanes in the rocket motor blast for guidance (1932, New Mexico)

    Developed gyro control apparatus for rocket flight (1932, New Mexico)

    Received U.S. patent for a multi-stage rocket (1914)

    Developed pumps suitable for rocket fuels

    Launched a rocket with a motor pivoted on gimbals under the influence of a gyro mechanism (1937)

    At his own expense, he began to make systematic studies about propulsion provided by various types of gunpowder. His classic document was a study he wrote in 1916 requesting funds from the Smithsonian Institution so that he could continue his research. This was later published along with his subsequent research and Navy work in a Smithsonian Miscellaneous Publication No. 2540 (January 1920). It was entitled “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes.” In this treatise, Goddard detailed his search for methods of raising weather-recording instruments higher than sounding balloons. In this search, he developed the mathematical theories of rocket propulsion.

    That’s quite a list. His research was funded through grants from the Smithsonian Institution and the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation while he taught at Worcester [ Wuss-ta :P ] Polytechnic.

  15. “technically APL is a UARC, a university affiliated research center.”

    My understanding is that APL developed the criteria and the specs and industry followed with manufacture.

    The Navy nearly lost the Pacific War through its determination to build all torpedoes at its Goat Island torpedo station where they were all hand made and too expensive to test. As a result, US torpedoes did not work until 1943.

    The Torpedo Station conducted only one test using live warheads, with hand-built Mark 6 detonator prototypes installed in old Mark 10 torpedoes. In two shots on the Newport test range using a decommissioned submarine as the target, one torpedo passed beneath without exploding, apparently running too deep, but the other exploded below the keel, quickly sinking the sub.

    There it stood until sub captains were coming back from patrol and reporting failures.

    The influence detonator went into production with no additional testing. To ensure that it remained a closely guarded secret, the Mark 14 torpedo entered service with only the impact detonator installed. Not until the summer of 1941 were the first fleet boat crews introduced to the Mark 6 detonator and told that it would enable them to sink a ship with a single torpedo.

    The failures were hushed up and captains punished if they went out of channels.

    After assuming command of U.S. submarines based in Fremantle, Australia, in May 1942, Rear Adm. Charles Lockwood, decided to conduct his own tests. A series of realistic trials in June and July revealed that the Mark 14 ran an average of 11 feet below the depth setting.

    Lockwood figured this out by firing torpedoes through a series of nets and measuring the holes they created.

    By February 1943, when Rear Adm. Lockwood took command of the Hawaii-based submarines under Pacific Fleet Commander-in-Chief Adm. Chester Nimitz, complaints about the Mark 6 influence detonator had become so strident that even BUORD was having second thoughts. However, the Bureau incorrectly concluded that the malfunctions were caused by variations in the earth’s magnetic field, so its recommendations, issued May 7, proved ineffective.

    Frustrated by clear evidence of Mark 6 malfunctions in decoded Japanese communications, Lockwood took the bull by the horns and persuaded Nimitz to order the Mark 6 disconnected for good. Nimitz’s order, however, did not apply to the submarines based in Australia, which were part of the Seventh Fleet, reporting to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The commander of those submarines, Rear Adm. Ralph Christie, was an MIT-trained engineer who had been personally involved in developing the Mark 6. Christie continued to insist that his boats use the flawed detonator right up to the end of 1943, when a new Seventh Fleet commander finally ordered it deactivated.

    The whole sad story is in a book, Iron Men and Tin Fish.

    Finally, the Navy wrested control away from the torpedo station and gave the job to Westinghouse which developed the wakeless electric torpedo and solved the quality issues.

    A John Wayne move was made about the story but is inaccurate.

  16. What percentage of the population has monocular vision – sight in one eye? They seem excluded from this market.

  17. There is a significant incidence of amblyopia of one eye. A surgery resident with me had trouble with depth perception and that was the reason. He had never known it. We see kids applying to the military with one bad eye and sometimes it can be hard to tell if they are blind in that eye. One reason to patch the eye of a small child with cross eyes is to prevent the brain from suppressing that image because of diplopia (double vision). I think the eye will test OK with visual tests but they don’t have binocular vision.

    Here’s one study”

    Public Health. 1991 Nov;105(6):455-62.

    The incidence and prevalence of amblyopia detected in childhood.

    Thompson JR(1), Woodruff G, Hiscox FA, Strong N, Minshull C.

    Author information:
    (1)Department of Ophthalmology, Leicester Royal Infirmary.

    We present incidence estimates for amblyopia using data from a study of a cohort
    of 364 children from a single English county who were referred during 1983 for
    occlusion therapy. Using a criterion of a visual acuity of 6/12 or worse to
    define amblyopia, we estimate that 3.0% of the county’s children develop the
    condition. Successful treatment of some of these children means that 1.9% will
    remain amblyopic as adults.

    Occlusion therapy means patching one eye and alternating which one. Only half end up with binocular vision. That’s about 2%.

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