Mysterious virtual reality firm Magic Leap hires sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson to help it predict the future

Company doesn't reveal much about what it does, but keeps raising huge amounts of money

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 17 December 2014 15:00 GMT
Neal Stephenson. Photo: Flickr/Bob Lee
Neal Stephenson. Photo: Flickr/Bob Lee (Flickr/Bob Lee)

Magic Leap, which is rumoured to have innovative virtual reality technology but has disclosed very little of its plans, has hired science fiction author Neal Stephenson to help it predict the future.

Stephenson will become the team’s ‘chief futurist’. He said that he had decided to take on the job after seeing Magic Leap’s technology and hearing of its plans.

The company has said very little about its technology, but has been incredibly successful in raising money from investors. It raised $542 million in its most recent funding round, according to reports, from investors including Google and Obvious Ventures, which is run by one of the founders of Twitter.

“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,” wrote Stephenson in the blog post. 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.”

Stephenson coined the word ‘metaverse’ — a word beloved of virtual reality-types, which describes 3D virtual spaces which are persistent and shared, like real public areas.

It was first used in the book Snow Crash. Stephenson said that when he wrote the book, “it seemed as though those technologies were just around the corner”, but that the technology has actually took much longer, mostly as a result of it being very difficult to fool eyes into thinking

“T he retina lies outside of what we normally think of as the brain, but it performs brain-like processing operations on the light that strikes it,” Stephenson said. “What it feeds down the optic nerve to the brain proper isn’t so much an image as it is the beginnings of an idea — something that has already been thought about by that chunk of peripheral brain in the back of the eyeball.

“Banging photons off of this thing in an effort to fool it turns out to be hard. For hundreds of millions of years of animal and human evolution, seeing stuff that’s actually there = not dying = getting to have children.”

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