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Magic Leap Hires Sci-Fi Author Neal Stephenson As “Chief Futurist”

Stephenson invented the concept of the “metaverse” in his 1992 novel Snow Crash.

Magic Leap Hires Sci-Fi Author Neal Stephenson As “Chief Futurist”
[Photo: Max Photography for GDC Online via Flickr user Official GDC]

Few people have actually seen Magic Leap in action, which didn’t stop Google, Andreessen Horowitz, and other heavyweights from sinking $542 million into it. But the mysterious Florida-based startup that promises to meld the best parts of virtual reality with augmented reality is making some notable hires in the technology space.

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Two major coups in particular were announced today: New chief financial officer Scott Henry, most recently the CFO at Beats Music, which Apple acquired earlier this year for $3 billion. And—notably—new “chief futurist” Neal Stephenson, science fiction author extraordinaire.

In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, Stephenson outlined a concept he called the “metaverse,” in which humans interact with one another in a three-dimensional space using avatars. Where reality ends and where cyberspace begins is increasingly blurred. The concept has since been explored in anime, by Facebook (via Oculus Rift), and more.

If that sounds about par for the course of a mind-bending technology startup, well, it is. Writing at the Magic Leap blog, Stephenson highlights what, exactly, drew him to the company, and where he sees himself being valuable:

Yes, I saw something on that optical table I had never seen before—something that only Magic Leap, as far as I know, is capable of doing. And it was pretty cool. But what fascinated me wasn’t what Magic Leap had done but rather what it was about to start doing.

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. Depth perception, in this system, isn’t just a trick played on the brain by showing it two slightly different images.

Most of the work to be done is in applied physics, with a sizable dollop of biology—for there’s no way to make this happen without an intimate understanding of how the eye sees, and the brain assembles a three-dimensional model of reality. I’m fascinated by the science, but not qualified to work on it. Where I hope I can be of use is in thinking about what to do with this tech once it is available to the general public.

Read the rest here.

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About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more

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