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Magic Leap Hires Sci-Fi Writer Neal Stephenson as Chief Futurist

Magic Leap Hires Sci-Fi Writer Neal Stephenson as Chief Futurist

by Giulio PriscoDecember 17, 2014

Magic Leap, a secretive Florida augmented reality startup that raised $542 million in October, hired renowned science fiction writer Neal Stephenson as its “Chief Futurist.”

In his 1992 sci-fi classic Snow Crash, Stephenson imagined a virtual universe where users create avatars to communicate and interact. In The Diamond Age, he imagined a near-future world deeply transformed by advanced nanotechnology and new political systems, and in Cryptonomicon he offered a fascinating account of modern cryptography, the Internet and the Cypherpunk and Extropian movements.

In his article entitled “Innovation Starvation,” Stephenson called for a return to inspiration in contemporary science fiction. That call resonated with so many and so deeply that Project Hieroglyph, a science fiction oriented think tank at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, was born shortly thereafter.

Rony Abovitz, Founder, President and CEO of Magic Leap, said:

Neal is a true visionary and the very first to conceptualize a social, virtual world in a coherent way. I am looking forward to his insights as Chief Futurist for the company, helping the team and I bring Magic Leap’s technology to the world.

Stephenson said:

[Snow Crash] has a lot to do with both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). When I wrote it, it seemed as though those technologies were just around the corner. In practice, it has taken longer than just about anyone expected to get that kind of tech consumer-ready. The devil has turned out to be in the details of satisfying the amazingly finicky human visual system. So it was in an appropriately skeptical frame of mind that, a few weeks later, [I got a VR demo] from Rony, the founder and CEO. Shortly thereafter, I agreed to become Magic Leap’s Chief Futurist.

Synthetic Images Indistinguishable from Real Objects for Immersive Virtual Reality and Gaming

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson

Hiring one of the founding fathers of virtual reality, whose narrative work has directly inspired most of the scientists and engineers in the field, is a smart move that may permit Magic Leap quickly become a major player in the burgeoning multi-billion dollar gaming and simulation industry.

Also read: Facebook’s Oculus Rift is Going to Change Everything

Stephenson offers hints at the company’s technology and philosophy:

Magic Leap is bringing physics, biology, code, and design together to build a system that is going to blow doors open for people who create things. Anyone who reads, watches, studies, or plays on screens today is going to enjoy and benefit from the results. I’ve never seen or heard of a company that brings scientists, engineers, and artists together in the way that Magic Leap is doing and I’m excited to be part of it.

According to the Magic Leap website, their Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal technology permits generating images indistinguishable from real objects and then placing those images seamlessly into the real world. That would completely transform how people interact with both the digital and real-worlds.

GigaOM reports that the hire of Stephenson comes one week after Magic Leap grabbed Beats Music CFO Scott Henry to be its CFO and speculates that, with $592 million in funding now in its pocket, these won’t be Magic Leap’s last hires.

Images from Magic Leap and Wikimedia Commons.

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  • it’s an advertising play?

    • Giulio Prisco

      I don’t think Stephenson writes code, works in the lab, sells of manages staff, so yes this looks like a PR move. But a good one.

      • James McCracken

        Stephenson is a programmer but not at the scale that Magic Leap likely requires. Chief Futurist would imply his main role outside of PR will be to help make sure the organization is moving towards innovative, exciting, and reachable goals.

      • Great software requires both broad systems design and narrow detail work, two disparate mindsets best served by two different types of people. Those doing detail work require intimate knowledge of the code, but systems designers see the project as a whole. Systems design, along with accounting of detailed implementation to the overall vision, is the most important and generally the hardest part of a successful programming project. A Chief Futurist would be tightly integrated with systems design, continuity and quality control, no more a PR position than would be the job of a coder.

        • Giulio Prisco

          I totally agree and I am sure that, IF Neal will _really_ work at Magic Leap in a way that is tightly integrated with system design, he will make very useful contribution. My point was that _even_ if Neal will be just a founding father figure, hiring him is a good PR move.

  • Floris Koot

    I like Neal’s work. He is a visionary who can better understand implications of new ideas, than most other people. We are not only influenced by new tech, but also by the psychology of the users, owners and players. He takes that into account.