Magic Leap hires famed sci-fi writer to foretell the future

We don’t yet have an established conception of virtual and augmented reality. Startups and corporations alike are making up its form and culture as they go, and they are hiring famous visionaries to illuminate the way.

Magic Leap, a secretive Florida augmented reality startup that raised $542 million in October, just brought on Neal Stephenson as its “chief futurist.” That title conjures up images of AOL’s eccentric Shingy, who is the company’s “digital prophet.” But take a look at Stephenson’s background and the hire totally makes sense.

Stephenson is the author of Snow Crash, a 1992 science fiction book that was the “very first to conceptualize a social, virtual world in a coherent way,” Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz said in a release. Stephenson has also written essays for national publications like Time, Wired and the New York Times. He has also written fiction books touching on nanotechnology, robotics and other futuristic technologies that have now arrived.

Stephenson said in a blog post on Magic Leap’s website, where it appears he will be writing regularly, that the time feels right to give people a new medium because “the creative minds who make games have done about as much as is possible in two dimensions.”

“I’m fascinated by the science, but not qualified to work on it,” Stephenson wrote. “Where I hope I can be of use is in thinking about what to do with this tech once it is available to the general public. ‘Chief Futurist’ runs the risk of being a disembodied brain on a stick. I took the job on the understanding that I would have the opportunity to get a few things done.”

The hire comes one week after Magic Leap grabbed Beats Music CFO Scott Henry to be its CFO. With $592 million in funding now in its pocket, these won’t be Magic Leap’s last hires.