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Magic Leap promises 'whirligigs and test machines' soon, complete technological revolution later

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Please read these quotes in the voice of Werner Herzog

After months of silence, Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz has promised to complete the human experience with his company's yet-unseen augmented reality technology.

Posted right after the company announced $793.5 million in new investments from Alibaba and several other companies, Abovitz's essay is an ode to the alleged world-changing power of Magic Leap, which he says will transcend the boundaries of a mere gadget. (It's variously compared to a vintage Fender Stratocaster, warm chocolate chip cookies, a great novel, and a kiss.) "Art is everywhere, and can be in everything," he writes. "It is where the feeling of the person (or people) creating the thing for you, is infused into their creation with their spirit, their warmth, and with a depth of feeling and intensity that somehow translates back to you."

"Many whirligigs and test machines and gizmos abound these days."

Since getting $542 million in a Google-led funding round in 2014, Magic Leap has been highly enigmatic about its product, which appears to produce holograms similar to those of Microsoft's HoloLens. But following up on a similar comment in October, Abovitz says that "we are gearing up for our First." His next few paragraphs defy the mundanity of paraphrasing.

Let's not call it a product, although it is a product on many levels; but on some levels it needs to be more. We are setting up supply chain operations, manufacturing — many whirligigs and test machines and gizmos abound these days. Engineers move about our spaces with a sense of urgency. Intense debates about every form of science and art you can imagine float about. Plans have been made. Program and production managers track progress. Coders are coding. Operational and financial systems are being upgraded so that we can scale and deliver at the required volumes. Our First thing will not be everything. But it will be a big step in a whole new direction.

In my mind what we are really doing will transcend what can be contained in a physical product, the thing with atoms and such. What we will bring to you, the part you will really love and find special, is the part without atoms.

We are building a wonderful, special thing — whose purpose is to gently, and in harmony with you (your physiology, your being), produce a Digital Lightfield — a living river of light sculpture, which can transmit to you the feelings of magic and experience and presence. We call this our Mixed Reality Lightfield. It comes to life by following the rules of the eye and the brain, by being gentle, and by working with us, not against us. By following as closely as possible the rules of nature and biology, we can deliver what is truly next.

According to Abovitz, Magic Leap is "computing that makes us smarter, that allows us in all ways to have a better and more complete human experience, one of communication and sharing and enjoying." The company has had these ambitions for a long time — an investment pitch from a few years ago said that "the world is our new desktop" and proposed a variety of augmented reality computing systems, including the weirdly charming plant-based email inbox.

So far, we've seen little of it, although MIT Technology Review published a relatively in-depth piece about the product last year. The video above, released in October of 2015, is the most detailed indicator of what it can do. For all the beauty of Abovitz's pitch, Magic Leap continues to look, well, a lot like HoloLens — which is well on its way to becoming at least a prototype computing platform already.

"It is a product on many levels, but on some levels it needs to be more."

HoloLens has distinct weak spots that Magic Leap could fix, like a small field of view and limited motion controls. So far, it's convinced a lot of investors to put hundreds of millions into its technology, which is highly promising. But we're quickly reaching levels of hype that would require a science fiction-level technological leap to justify. Maybe, say, holographic projection in a pair of ordinary-looking glasses or a full augmented reality computing system. Or something that goes beyond augmented reality entirely — like a headset that literally makes us smarter. We're not sure when we might get a hint of what Magic Leap is actually doing, but at least it has a lot of money to perfect it.