Microsoft HoloLens Part Deux to Be Served With Artificial Intelligence

AI coprocessor to be added to holographic processing unit in next-generation mixed-reality headset.

Do you want your mixed-reality headset to have artificial intelligence (AI)? Oh, you don’t want a heavy and gawky computer attached to your head with a computer you have no choice to ignore powered by AI?

Tough luck because you’re getting it.

In Philip K. Dick’s short science fiction story Colony, planetary explorer Major Lawrence Hall survives an attack by his microscope, which attempted to strangle him with its eyepieces. He blows it apart with his laser gun, leaving him short of one useful scientific instrument for his continuing study of the galaxy.

Science fiction can be a useful flashpoint for discussing AI, and the world we live in today can seem like science fiction sometimes if you look at things from a certain angle. If you constantly read the news and can imagine a projection of how design and manufacturing will evolve that is realistic, then you can test your hypothetical vision over time.

Microsoft HoloLens is attempting to persuade the public that its holographic computer headset is going to be the next successor in the evolution of popular computing platforms, following the trace from desktop computers to smartphone computers.

In the news, there are countless parables and hopes written into reviews for the newest technology to improve our lives and make us more than just temporarily satiated consumers, or profit-seeking entrepreneurs and businessmen.

Reporting on the advances of technology comes with a lot of hype from businesses hoping to give their products the best chance to be as profitable as possible and show that they have the best designers and engineers that money can buy.

In the realm of augmented reality, Microsoft introduced a hardware product called HoloLens in 2015, and people were genuinely ecstatic to imagine that they might be witnessing a major evolution in computing platforms from 2D displays to a 3D “holographic” experience.

Thecompany has just released news that the next-generation HoloLens will come equipped with a redesigned holographic processing unit (HPU). The HPU is a custom-made multiprocessor that digests information from the HoloLens’ plethora of sensors. Some of Microsoft’s components for the hardware headgear are custom built, like the time-of-flight depth sensor.

The infrared cameras, inertial measurement unit and head-tracking cameras originate from off-the-shelf components, but it is the multitasking of the custom HPU that impresses.

At a keynote speech during CVPR 2017, Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence Research Group, made the announcement that an AI coprocessor is being baked into the design for the new HPU. The reason is to enable the HPU to better implement deep neural networks (DNNs). If you are unfamiliar with machine learning, a DNN is a type of connectionist system that is based on biological neural networks of animal brains. A DNN differs from a program because it can process data without being explicitly told what do every step of the way like other common programs for desktops and other computing devices like iPhones. The benefit, from a technical standpoint, is the ability to process multiple streams of sensor data much faster, enabling the refinement and creation of new mixed-reality applications.

The HPU with baked-in AI is going to run off the HoloLens battery as well. Presently, Microsoft has no plans to release the new version of HoloLens until 2019.

For the most part, AI isn’t understood in the same way that people understand their smartphones and wearables. Adding AI to a holographic computer headset to process all kinds of sensor data seems like it would be useful, and it may be necessary to make the headset more flexible in terms of interesting applications, but tech companies should make note of the possibility that there is an abstract cultural bottleneck in terms of technological saturation. It certainly isn’t going to explode like the iPhone computer did.

Let’s just hope the latest version doesn’t decide to strangle or blind you either.