The future is rapidly becoming our reality … Microsoft’s Julia White uses Azure and HoloLens to deliver a keynote by her own hologram in Japanese

July 19, 2019

Microsoft is all about enabling people to do things they never dreamed they could do.

For Microsoft’s own CVP of Azure Marketing, Julia White, she never imagined she could stand on the stage at this week’s Microsoft Inspire 2019 event in Las Vegas, whilst a life-size hologram of her could simultaneously stand on a stage in Tokyo and talk perfect Japanese.

Like any tech company, Microsoft loves its technology – words like Azure and HoloLens have become part of the lexicon on the company’s Redmond campus. But to the rest of the world, we are still getting used to the potential of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Indeed what’s also important is how these capabilities work together … when you add VR to the cloud, and you combine AI with neural speech … maybe in the future adding in a bit of 3D printing and biorobotics too. The point is what they enable you to do, today and tomorrow.

This week in Las Vegas, Julia White was certainly real. And her Japanese speaking clone seemed pretty authentic too. The future is rapidly becoming our reality. The challenge is to bring these capabilities to life in useful, relevant and progressive ways – to make life better, to help us all achieve more.

As for how Microsoft pulled off this remarkable demo, the first step was creating White’s seemingly identical, life-sized hologram. To do that, she visited one of the company’s Mixed Reality capture studios, where she was recorded delivering her presentation in English.

That would be enough to allow anyone wearing one of Microsoft’s HoloLens devices to feel like White was standing in front of them, delivering her speech.

To then make it seem like White was speaking Japanese, Microsoft used its neural text-to-speech technology to create White’s “personalized voice signature.” Once it had that, it could have the hologram say anything, in any language, and the audio would sound like White’s voice.

Of course, an international audience could still benefit from a presentation like White’s even if Microsoft didn’t turn her into a hologram or use AI to replicate her voice — they could watch her on their television or computer screen, and listen along as a human translator repeated White’s words in their native tongue.

But this technology removes so many of those barriers between the speaker and the audience.

Imagine a world leader delivering a speech, and every person across the globe feeling like the leader was in the room with them and speaking the local language. Or a world-class professor giving a lecture that anyone could attend and understand — without leaving their homes and without learning their teacher’s language.

And then there’s the exciting possibility of what might come next. Mixed reality contact lenses that do away with the need for a headset altogether? AI that can translate speech in the native speaker’s voice in real-time?

As White put it at the end of her demo, “All of these technologies exists today. The future is here.”

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