Does IT need futurists? When tech and sci-fi collide
There’s a healthy pile of breakthroughs happening at the moment in regards to ‘future tech’. Google has recently being snapping up AI firms all over the place, Microsoft is preparing its Skype translating service for beta, and IBM’s Watson Analytics beta has finally been made available to the public.
It is now, on the cusp of 2015, that we are seeing some of the concepts dreamed about by authors and visionaries decades ago come to life. Whether you feel we’re headed in a dystopian or utopian road, every day we are seeing another acquisition or product relating to artificial intelligence, virtual reality, or automated computer processes that take us a step closer to the worlds of science fiction written in the 20th Century.
It is to this end that it’s no surprise one of the most celebrated science fiction authors, Neal Stephenson, has been appointed as a Chief Futurist at Magic Leap Inc.
“What’s a futurist!?” I hear you exclaim. Well, one definition states that futurists attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present.
And Magic Leap Inc? Magic Leap is an augmented reality startup, and has been plucky enough to receive funding from Google to bolster its efforts. And that’s not Google Ventures, either. It was $542 million in cool cash straight from Google Inc. Magic Leap is attempting to pioneer a method of augmented reality which shoots photons at the eyes to mimic light, making it appear as though objects are in front of you that really aren’t.
So where does a sci-fi author fit into all of this? As the trailblazer behind the concept of the “Metaverse” from his 1992 sci-fi classic Snow Crash, Stephenson imagined a virtual universe where users create avatars to communicate and interact.
Writing in a blog post detailing his new position, Stephenson said: “If you’re one of the seven billion people who haven’t read Snow Crash, I’ll explain that it 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. Accordingly, Snow Crash is set in a near-future world.
“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.”
Of course, Stephenson will most likely be working in a more visionary role rather than a technical one, but the very fact startups are thinking about this kind of appointment shows the direction we are headed in.
However, while the direction is known, the final destination is, as of yet, unclear. Magic Leap has not revealed what its first product may be, aside from showing off this floating proboscidea.
It is mostly expected Magic Leap will be releasing a form of Google Glass-like technology that will project augmented images straight onto the wearer’s eyes using a form of headset.
“Neal is a true visionary and the very first to conceptualise a social, virtual world in a coherent way,” said Rony Abovitz, who is the CEO of Magic Leap.
“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’s work has been variously categorised as science fiction, historical fiction, maximalism, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk, Stephenson’s work explores areas such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science.
“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,” said Stephenson.
“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.”
How much do you know about startups? Take our quiz here!