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Magic Leap has written our future in its patent filings

Magic Leap has written our future in its patent filings


Would you like jungle noises with that coffee?

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Augmented reality company Magic Leap's public statements tend toward vagueness — its last major statement simultaneously promised to transform the world as we know it and hinted that we shouldn't have high hopes for an actual product. But the company's patent documents are endlessly entertaining. They're relatively non-specific claims about light field technology and human-computer interaction, padded with little sci-fi set pieces and illustrations that are even weirder than your average surreal patent line drawing. The latest filing is no exception.

The actual claim for this application covers an augmented reality environment that can be shared by multiple people, using unspecified computing devices. To illustrate this, it's pulled together a host of tiny predictions for our future, from the adorably silly to the grimly dystopian.

Magic Leap Patent Robot

Magic Leap spends a lot of time focusing on how augmented reality will modify public spaces. One of its ideas is, predictably enough, giant virtual objects that will appear differently to different people. It's the details that start getting weird. In the future, urban planners will create huge empty platforms to house art that's available only to augmented reality users. "If the user is a small child, the statue may be a dog," the patent application explains. "Yet, if the viewer is an adult male, the statue may be a large robot," because in the future adult men will wish the whole world were their own personal Gundam theme park. I can't tell if that's absolutely reasonable, sort of depressing, or both.

But wait, what's that smiling bee up in the corner? Well, it's a fascinating blend of augmented and virtual reality. The bee is the avatar of someone using a full VR headset to fly through a completely rendered world that also maps onto the real world, and the tiny man at the base of the statue can see the avatar in what looks like real space. The whole thing is a little confusing, but imagine a sport where players compete in virtual reality and spectators see them as miniature figures on a tabletop. That's cool!

Dog statues are for children — real men like giant robots

Turning stereotypical AR ideas into incredibly elaborate productions is kind of Magic Leap's thing. For example, think of how you might use hologram overlays in a coffee shop. Maybe you'd get some information about each bean? Or an exclusive holographic concert performance? Or calorie counts? I guess, but don't you also want the entire coffee shop to turn into "a Madagascar jungle scene ... with or without jungle sounds and other effects" until your augmented reality headset deduces that you've finished your drink by "noting the upside down orientation of the coffee cup as the user ingests the last sip of coffee?" (Re/code is a big fan of the coffee jungle as well.) Disappointingly, the application did not include a picture.

This is roughly the point at which Magic Leap starts imagining the really futuristic tech. The sections that follow inform the USPTO that augmented reality and eye tracking software can be used not only on smartphones and head-mounted displays, but on mixed reality contact lenses and "implantable devices that stimulate the optical receptors of the human brain."

And then, once you're getting used to the idea of getting augmented reality surgically implanted in your brain, it springs the real consumerist nightmare on you: using image recognition, brands will look through your eyes and guess when you're interested in them.

A purveyor of coffee such as Starbucks may invest in creating an accurate recognizer of Starbucks coffee cups within pertinent worlds of data. Such a recognizer may be configured to crawl worlds of data large and small searching for Starbucks coffee cups, so they may be segmented out and identified to a user when operating in the pertinent nearby space (i.e., perhaps to offer the user a coffee in the Starbucks outlet right around the corner when the user looks at his Starbucks cup for a certain period of time.)

Actually, Starbucks might not even have to invest much in its brand-bot, because the operating system will urge users to identify objects around them in order to train its image recognition tools.

To quote the application one last time, our future is your brain-computer whispering, over and over:

"Is that a Starbucks coffee cup?"

"Is that a Starbucks coffee cup?"

"Is that a Starbucks coffee cup?"

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