Ready for Hologram: Could Virtual Campaigners Shake Up Elections?

One company thinks beamed-in candidates are the future of campaigning.

Hologram Tupac took Coachella by storm. Could hologram Hillary do the same in 2016?
National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
Aug. 1, 2014, 1 a.m.

Will voters turn out to watch a holo­gram de­liv­er a stump speech?

Well, of course — who would turn down the chance to see something out of Star Trek? But once the ini­tial nov­elty wears off, per­haps es­pe­cially after the nov­elty wears off, some think the tech­no­logy could be­come an es­sen­tial part of fu­ture pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns.

Ima­gine a can­did­ate stump­ing in Col­or­ado, with his vir­tu­al dop­pel­gang­er beamed live to Flor­ida, Iowa, and Ohio. Cam­paign ral­lies will no longer be lim­ited to a can­did­ate’s travel sched­ule.

That’s the vis­ion of Jeff Taylor, who has gone from cam­paign spe­cial­ist to holo­gram ad­voc­ate.

“If a can­did­ate has to be in Ports­mouth, New Hamp­shire, and there’s also a very im­port­ant event in Clair­mont, you send a sur­rog­ate [today],” he said. (Taylor helped George H.W. Bush cap­ture the Gran­ite State in the 1988 primary.)

He doesn’t think that will be the case for long. Taylor is the point man in Wash­ing­ton for Holo­gram USA, a com­pany that holds the North Amer­ic­an li­cense to a pop­u­lar holo­gram tech­no­logy. The world­wide pat­ent-hold­er, Mu­sion, helped In­di­an Prime Min­is­ter Nar­en­dra Modi win that coun­try’s elec­tion in May, hold­ing more than 1,000 holo­gram ral­lies.

Of course, a holo­gram can’t press the flesh or kiss a baby. But what it lacks in re­tail cam­paign skills, it can nearly equal with its many­fold mul­ti­plic­a­tion of can­did­ates’ ap­pear­ances. And watch­ing a holo­gram won’t just be like like see­ing a re­mote can­did­ate on a screen, says Al­ki Dav­id, Holo­gram USA’s CEO. The tech­no­logy will “cre­ate an im­age that is pro­jec­ted in such a way that is ab­so­lutely in­dis­tin­guish­able from a real per­son or ob­ject,” he said.

But bring­ing can­did­ates “on stage” around the coun­try won’t be holo­grams’ only use. Taylor en­vi­sions a GOP con­ven­tion in which a holo­gram Ron­ald Re­agan de­liv­ers his icon­ic “tear down this wall speech” or a Demo­crat­ic rally that fea­tures John F. Kennedy’s in­aug­ur­al ad­dress brought to life in vir­tu­al form.

Or a party’s nom­in­ee could beam in­to the first day of the con­ven­tion to ex­cite the crowd be­fore his or her in-per­son ac­cept­ance speech later in the week.

It’s all but cer­tain that the tech­no­logy can do all this. But will voters see it as a sideshow or an­oth­er way to hear from pres­id­en­tial wan­nabes?

In In­dia, Modi’s holo­gram cam­paign stops were able to reach rur­al voters who would likely have nev­er oth­er­wise got­ten a “vis­it” from a can­did­ate. But even in the bet­ter-con­nec­ted United States, Dav­id thinks holo­grams can con­nect with cit­izens. “The Amer­ic­an mind is a very vivid-think­ing cul­ture,” he said. “More re­served cul­tures may or may not re­act as col­or­fully “¦ [but] the U.S. em­braces this type of tech­no­logy.”

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