Stealthy mixed reality startup Magic Leap has been having a bit of a tough time on the publicity front of late. Its head of PR departed last month, following a report by The Information suggesting it had inflated claims about its tech, and that a commercial product remained far further out than its marketing messages had suggested. And that despite investors ploughing some $1.4BN into the three year old, still productless startup.
All of which perhapsÂ explains why CEO Rony Abovitz felt the need to leapt into 2017 by penningÂ a blog postÂ aimed at putting some positive puff back into Magic Leapâs image.
The problem is, you canât fight cynicism with hot air. AndÂ Abovitzâs post has Zeppelinâs worth of the stuff.
First a fewÂ sample reviews from some nameless grumpy mouse tech bloggers: âthis is the dumbest thing I have ever readââ¦ âit sounds like an âessay on creativityâ assignment written by an 8th graderââ¦ âwowâ.
And now a few sample lines fromÂ Abovitzâs post itself:
Our first system will be the first step towards a really cool dream. Of flying squirrels and sea monkeys and rainbow powered unicorns. Of most anything you can imagine.
We are not going for perfect, but for a feeling, a flow, a moment to high-five our inner child. Our photonics may be powered by a novel array of unique nano-structures designed by our otherworldly optics team. Our sensors and computing pack a lot of punch in a small package. But the experience you should have must feel as if it were powered by unicorns and rainbows (and we have had many of those here).
You get the idea. (You can read the blogÂ in full here.)
The whale-sized problem in the room here is that penning some trippy PR is not going to go very far towards correcting a growing suspicionÂ that all might not quite be as it seems at this highly financed, heavily hypedÂ mixed reality startup.
And as my colleague Lucas Matney wrote last month: âItâs clear that the time has arrived for a shift in the way the company communicates its ambitions.
âWhile the process of miniaturization has advanced more slowly than the company may have expected, where the clearest failures have lied is in the cult of mystery and high expectations that Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz seems to haveÂ chasedÂ in order to inflate his company and his own premature illusions ofÂ grandeur, all of this before the company has anything to back that visionary status up with.â
YetÂ instead of a shift in PR strategy, Magic Leapâs New Yearâs Resolution appears to be to lay on the mystique even more thickly â rainbow powered unicorns and allâ¦
So what, if anything, can we takeaway from Abovitzâs post? And I donât mean idle considerationsÂ about what all those dreamers might be smoking inside their âreally big spaceâ. What concrete things can we learn?
In truth not very muchÂ â but hereâs what, to my eye, looks like a few creeping realities intruding on thisÂ fantastical dreamscape.
1 â Magic Leap does not have a coherent product roadmapÂ or unified vision forÂ theÂ company yet
âI see our journey at Magic Leap extending out over many decades, over many products and technologies.â
2 â Magic Leap has not yet identified aÂ clear use-case for itsÂ technology
âCreative and practical.â
3 â ItsÂ first product still does not have a release date (despite talk of itÂ debuting âhopefully soon-ishâ way back in July)
âOur first product is coming.â
4 â Their first product might not be quite so reality-bendingÂ as people have been led to believe
âOur first system will be the first step towards a really cool dreamâ¦ We are not going for perfect, but for a feeling, a flow, a moment to high-five our inner child.â
5 â The first product might launch this year. But â equally â it might not
â2017 will be a big year for Magic Leapâ¦ We are not about building cool prototypes. We are scaling up so we can manufacture hundreds of thousands of systems, and then millions. That requires a level of perfection, testing, and attention to detail by determined professionals.â
6 â Magic Leap does haveÂ aÂ smallish prototype. But it might not be up to ârainbow unicorn levelsâ of reality mixingÂ (hence, no doubt, the delays)
âWe have made something that is small, mobile, powerful, and we think pretty cool.â
Abovitz does also tell us about a personal concern of his â relating to the rise of AI and how information systems might edit out the intangibleÂ things that are really important in life.
The next few decades will likely see machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) approach, and perhaps surpass, many human intellectual capabilities. Machines may become the dominant centers for intelligence and technical skill on the planet, outpacing people.
This worries me.
Creativity matters. People matter. At Magic Leap, what we are building is designed to bend technology to serve the needs of people. We are emotional beings, not information systems. We create and dream and think. We love, we laugh, we taste, we feel. We experience things that we can not explain.
This is a rather interesting thought. Itâs just a shame itâs drowned out by all those banal rainbow powered unicorns.