Neal Stephenson joins mystery firm Magic Leap as Chief Futurist

Alternate reality elephant
Credit: Magic Leap

Hot off his success with Kickstarter project Clang (and just to be clear, I mean that sarcastically...Clang kind of withered on the vine), Neal Stephenson has joined startup Magic Leap as "Chief Futurist." What does that mean? I guess it means he gets to sit around and dream up uses for Magic Leap's tech.

But what is Magic Leap? Well that's not entirely clear either. It seems like the first rule of Magic Leap is that you don't talk about Magic Leap; at least not in any kind of specific way. In a blog post Stephenson says:

"Magic Leap is mustering an arsenal of techniques--some tried and true, others unbelievably advanced--to produce a synthesized light field that falls upon the retina in the same way as light reflected from real objects in your environment."

Magic Leap says of themselves that they are an idea:

"An idea that computing should be shaped and forged to work for us: our life, our physiology, our connected relationships. That exploring human creativity is as great an adventure as exploring space."

About their tech they say:

"With our founding principles our team dug deep into the physics of the visual world, and dug deep into the physics and processes of our visual and sensory perception. We created something new. We call it a Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal™ (you can call it a Digital Lightfield™). It is biomimetic, meaning it respects how we function naturally as humans (we are humans after all, not machines)."

Clear? No, not to me either. And the company seems to be in no hurry to tell us more. But Sean Hollister over at Gizmodo did some digging and put together a general idea of what Magic Leap is doing. It's a great post but to paraphrase him, it sounds like Magic Leap is building a system that uses fiber optics to beam light directly into your eyes in such as way as to fool your brain into thinking that a digital projection is actually real.

It sounds like it's more alternate reality than virtual reality, but I guess that depends on how much of the real world gets obscured by virtual objects. The Magic Leap will have a ton of tracking features too, so as you move around the sense that the dragon you're looking at is actually there doesn't get shattered.

(Anyone else remember Tek War? Magic Leap is reminding me of it; Tek was a 'digital drug' that beamed images directly into your eyes, if I remember correctly.)

So this all sounds a little bit far-fetched, doesn't it? But last October the company secured $542 million in funding, with Google leading. Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai is on the board of Magic Leap, which is curious since some sources are comparing Magic Leap's intended device to Google Glass on steroids.

There's enough real product there to convince Stephenson, who obviously got a demo of the technology. But then he was convinced he could make a great motion-controlled sword fighting game too, and in the end that didn't work out. Let's hope that Magic Leap has better luck realizing their vision. I'm curious to see what comes out of this company.

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