Science fiction author Neal Stephenson has become the "Chief Futurist" of Magic Leap, an augmented reality company that made news this year after Google led a $542 million round of funding for it. In a blog post, Stephenson said he'd been won over by the project after seeing Magic Leap's eye-fooling prototype technology, as well as its plans. "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," he said. "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."
"The creative minds who make games have done about as much as is possible in two dimensions."
Stephenson was apparently approached a few months ago, possibly around the time that he officially gave up work on his long-awaited swordfighting game Clang. Magic Leap apparently won him over with a replica of Orcrist, the mythic sword from The Hobbit, and he refers to a "high-tech katana" out of Snow Crash, his best-known novel and one that's influenced decades of thinking about the internet and virtual reality. Clang was scrapped because its technology was supposedly innovative but not fun, but Stephenson seems to think that Magic Leap could be a transformative technology for games. "I sometimes feel that the creative minds who make games have done about as much as is possible in two dimensions," he writes. "It feels like the right time to give those people a new medium: one in which three-dimensionality is a reality and not just an illusion laboriously cooked up by your brain, and in which it's possible to get up off the couch and move — not only around your living room, but wherever on the face of the earth the story might take you."
Stephenson describes Magic Leap's technology in terms of fooling our sense of depth perception in ways that current stereoscopic 3D can't. Its current projects are shrouded in secrecy, but Gizmodo's Sean Hollister dug into its previous work and has suggested that it's working on a fiber optic projector that could manipulate vision to make digital images seem to blend into reality. As "futurist" rather than technologist, Stephenson is working with them on a more theoretical level, and he's devoting his time to "thinking about what to do with this tech once it is available to the general public." For now, just getting the father of the Metaverse on board as an advisor is a coup. Oculus might be a bit jealous right now.