Augmented reality startup Magic Leap was founded in 2014. It demonstrated a new kind of technology called "light field signal generation" that promised to be far superior to existing augmented reality and virtual reality technology. It received $2.6 billion in funding from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, and Google.
In 2018 Magic Leap released a headset called the Magic Leap One, which almost everyone was disappointed with. The problem with it, according to this Tech Crunch article is that Magic Leap pulled a bait-and-switch. It did not use light field signal generation. It used the same kind of technology found in other augmented reality headsets released by Microsoft and others years earlier.
It appears Magic Leap was unable to sufficiently miniaturize the groundbreaking technology. From Tech Crunch:
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As The Information’s Reed Albergotti revealed more than three years ago, “The Beast” was Magic Leap’s original demo box. It was everything people said. It was stunning, dreamlike, breakthrough technology. And it weighed “several hundred pounds.”
“The Beast” was followed by “The Cheesehead,” which fit on a human head, and “showed they could miniaturize the light field signal generator they’d invented” … but still weighed “tens of pounds,” obviously far too heavy for any real-world applications. (There are pictures of both in the linked CNET piece.)
“The Beast” and “The Cheesehead” help explain the multiple rounds of massive venture investment. But then — could Magic Leap miniaturize their breakthrough technology further, to anything actually releasable?
Clearly they could not, and that’s the crux of the matter, the answer to how and why Magic Leap raised $2.6 billion dollars, then laid off half its employees, while hardly releasing anything at all in seven years.
Lawyers have their legalese. Academics have their own intra-academialogical post-linguistic theories. And it was only before the MBAs joined the fray with their own self-important syntax. If you've ever been in the sleek office setting of a start-up or some tech-savvy corporation, you've heard it. You may have even picked up on its tics to help you sound smarter, too; after all, that's how it works.
Molly Young has a great new piece at Vulture about this phenomenon, which she has coined "Garbage Language." Her article is full of insight not only into the ways that we do and don't communicate, but also how that reflects the other issues inherent in these kinds of office cultures:
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[G]arbage language works because garbage is what we produce mindlessly in the course of our days and because it smells horrible and looks ugly and we don’t think about it except when we’re saying that it’s bad, as I am right now.
But unlike garbage, which we contain in wastebaskets and landfills, the hideous nature of these words — their facility to warp and impede communication — is also their purpose. Garbage language permeates the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers. It is obvious that the point is concealment; it is less obvious what so many of us are trying to hide.
When we adopt words that connect us to a larger project — that simultaneously fold us into an institutional organism and insist on that institution’s worthiness — it is easier to pretend that our jobs are more interesting than they seem.
Dan Lyons, a former tech journalist who wrote a funny blog years ago called "Fake Steve Jobs" and wrote one of the best episodes of HBO's Silicon Valley ("White Hat/Black Hat") gave a funny 20-minute talk about his horrible experience in a start-up.
From YouTube description:
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When he lost his job at Newsweek, Lyons - who had long reported on Silicon Valley companies - accepted an offer from HubSpot, a red-hot Boston startup, as a "marketing fellow". Watch the talk to learn what happened next.