Why Billboard Music Awards' Michael Jackson Can't Be Called a 'Hologram'

A holographic image of Michael Jackson performs onstage during the 2014 Billboard Music Awards
Kevin Winter/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images

A holographic image of Michael Jackson performs onstage during the 2014 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 18, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

The 2D "Pepper's Ghost" effect, and the potential for interactive AI, will be discussed at next month's Entertainment Technology in the Internet Age confab.

Michael Jackson's virtual performance was one of the highlights of Sunday's Billboard Music Awards, but it actually wasn't a "hologram," as was widely reported. It does, however, presage some exciting news about where the technology is heading.

The imagery of Jackson -- and previously Tupac during his "performance" at Coachella in 2012 -- was actually created with an old magician's trick using a mirror, a 2D effect known as "Pepper's Ghost."

"[While Jackson] was a Pepper's Ghost effect, we are looking at ways to make [these experiences] more realistic and interactive," said USC compsci research professor Paul Debevec. "I see it actually becoming three-dimensional and also interactive so that the performers are responding to the audience — almost puppeteered through motion capture while we start to build artificial intelligence into these performances. That’s pretty far off, but I think that’s where it needs to head."

Debevec will discuss this topic as part of the upcoming Entertainment Technology in the Internet Age conference, held on June 18-19 at Stanford University.

Additional topics at the conference, which is being co-produced by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and the Stanford Center for Image Systems Engineering (SCIEN), include the potential of the Holodeck, as imagined in Star Trek. “The Holodeck might not be as far off as you might think, and it might look different than you think,” said Dolby exec Pat Griffis, co-chair of the conference.

Technology strategist Dave Singhal, another scheduled presenter, projected that training, simulation, gaming and Hollywood entertainment will be among the first applications of "Holodeck" experiences.

Also on the program agenda is a keynote from Darcy Antonellis, CEO of multiplatform video services provider Vubiquity (and former CTO at Warner Bros.), who will discuss evolving Web business models for entertainment. Conference topics also include net neutrality and transmedia storytelling.