Why Magic Leap Could Be Very Magical
Much of the way we interact with computers has fundamentally stayed the same. When Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the mouse, gave the Mother of All Demos in 1968, you will notice the same technologies we still use today: a screen, a mouse, and a keyboard.
Computers and smartphones today have vastly more processing power than computers of the mid-late twentieth century. Despite that, we still operate them no differently: point and click. That’s in no way trivializing the progress; smartphones are becoming the remote control to various functions within the world. Want a car? Push a button. Want an apartment for a weekend? Push a few more buttons. This is only the beginning.
Steve Jobs said “computers are like a bicycle for our minds.” PCs and mobile devices have, in a sense, augmented our intellects. They have allowed us to get various types of information instantly and have transformed communication and productivity arguable more than any other previous technology. Yet the interface with all this has been happening on a two-dimensional device. That is about to change.
The semi-secretive startup Magic Leap released a video about two weeks ago demonstrating the capabilities of their technology:
What Magic Leap is doing is known as augmented-reality/mixed-reality. From what I’ve read, they seem to be interacting directly with the light field — the natural way our eyes view the world — instead of images directed onto multiple side-by-side screens. Here is Rony Abovitz, CEO of Magic Leap in an AMA on Reddit:
The current view of AR is that it is a monoscopic text overlay, or a stereo 3D, see-through system.
VR (as known today) is a stereoscopic 3d, world blocked out, cell-phone in front of your face in a Viewmaster type configuration.
Our vision for AR and VR is a true replication of visual reality. The ONLY safe way forward is to make a digital light field that is naturally tuned into your brain and physiology. And it’s amazing how when you give the mind and body what they want, how much it gives back.
The possibilities for this technology are endless. Everything from entertainment, work, arts, education, etc. will be altered by this technology. Education, individually and as an institution , will become more effective when you can physically interact with what you are learning. Learning about geometry would be done best by walking through city streets and analyzing how structures are built. Learning about biology would involve using your hands to break apart a cell hovered in mid air.
This makes learning much faster. Information that is rendered in creative ways can produce more meaning faster than if you had the raw information. Imagine the first time someone plotted a line graph. With a single glance you can understand what was happening with the data, rather than spending much more time looking through the numbers and trying to find a pattern of change over time. Information will no longer remain static, rather it becomes a dynamic form of interaction.
Every industry will transform. Military and police force training will be able to replicate real life skirmishes with actual territories, all conducted in an empty warehouse. Entertainment will be get even better. Today it costs thousands of dollars for front row seats to a ball game, and with augmented/mixed reality, everyone can partake in that experience.
Communication would change yet again, except this time the focus will be on telepresence. Instead of flying around for conferences, I can attend the conferencing by rendering it in front of my eyes, as if I had front row seats. Of course, nothing will beat the actual experience of being physically present, but it will do what technology does best: give to the masses what only few had access to.
This impacts the nature of work tremendously as well. Many companies already allow remote work due to the effectiveness of the communication tools we have (Slack, Trello, Github, etc). The current argument against remote work is that it is much easier to have a discussion when you are face-to-face. That problem goes away with this technology.
History can be taught by physically walking through the streets of Rome. Astronomy can be taught by seeing a supernova occur right in-front of your eyes. Architecture can be designed using only your hands. The weather can be analyzed by looking outside and seeing an overlay of data on what is happening.
This will also improve long distance familial relationships. More people and traveling to different cities for work, which means they leave their family members behind. Just as how Skype and Facetime allow for family members in other areas of the world to communicate better, this technology will allow families to have dinner together, even though the members may be on opposite sides of the world.
The list can goes on and on. Advancements in technology and science are about giving the masses what only few have. It is about understanding the world at a deeper level and enhancing what we are capable of doing. These themes are present throughout the history of innovation. Magic Leap’s technology can offer that, and much more. A fundamentally different way of interacting with objects, information, and the world.
Many advancements in technology and science have been about enhancing our physical capabilities. Trains, cars, planes, and ships allow us travel anywhere in the world and through any terrain — those advancements extend our ability to move. Telescopes and microscopes have allowed us to see things our eyes could never do on their own — they extend our sight. Communication via phones and the internet allow us to speak and hear each other in ways generations before us only dreamed of — they extend our speech and hearing.
What excites me about the computational advancements over the past few decades is that they directly enhance our mental capabilities, as if they were extensions of our minds. Yet we have limited these tools to two-dimensional rectangular screens that don’t offer much in relation to how our minds work.
I still read physical books because it incorporates touch and the memory associated with touch and location. I still have a physical personal-library because I glance over my collection of books and my mind can get creative by cross-pollinating ideas from different sources, all at a glance. I love going to the white board to sketch out an idea because the whiteboard allows me to express my thoughts in various modes: pictures, language, code, symbols, etc.
I am very excited about Magic Leap because the limitations of modern PC/mobile devises go away. I can create my own version of Jarvis and mimic Iron Man’s lab at any time, as my own creative space, interacting with information and ideas in ways that would make modern creative places seem crude. And when I am done working for the day, I simply “turn down” the shop, and restart it later, bringing everything back to the state I left it at.
When I think of the possibilities, I can’t help but think of the famous phrase by Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message”. The mediums we use tend to restrict the way we think. Thats why there are so many different forms of expression. Paper is so great because it it is agnostic to the ways we can express ideas. It allows for the various forms of mediums to take place, but is still limited because we can’t add video and sound.
I’m excited about Magic Leap’s technology because it has the potential to combine all these forms of expression: video, text, images, sound, free hand drawing, symbols, etc. It would enhance our capabilities of the mind and body in dynamically interacting, in tandem, with ideas, objects, information, and everything in between while residing in the physical world.