trouble distinguishing a cofeepot from a teakettle.
But where others see big threats, Mitra recognizes only
tiny wrinkles. The glitches in how his app works are temporary byproducts of a powerful deep-learning process, he says,
one that’s well on the way to creating “a superhuman brain”
with “the entire knowledge repository of the whole world.”
He also argues that the company’s head start in weaving
together disparate disciplines like 3-D rendering and computer vision will give competitors no choice but to use its
operating system. “We started this well before any of the big
guys even thought about it,” he says.
Mitra’s vision is itself a form of augmented reality: what he is
sure will be superimposed on what is. One thing he’s not imag-
ining is the scope of what he’s undertaken. “Making the physi-
cal world digital is a bit of a holy grail in the tech community,”
says Brian Blau, vice president of research at tech advisory frm
Gartner. “That’s really what they’re after, but almost all these
other augmented reality businesses are after it as well.”
Still, Blau believes Blippar is looking at a gigantic opportu-
nity—if it can survive as an independent company until society
is ready to embrace its augmented future. “There’s a lot of
possibility there,” he says, “but also a lot of risk.”
M ITRA’S PARTICULAR blend of toughness and ethe- reality has its roots in Dhanbad, in eastern India, where he grew up. Historically, the city was a center of wisdom, home to one of the world’s
HOW BLIPPAR CHANGES YOUR REALITY
frst universities. Then the Industrial Revolution happened, and
the vast coal felds underneath Dhanbad became more valuable
than any of the learning happening there. You can guess what
followed. “Spiritualism went down and corruption went up,”
Mitra says. “Literally, the dark side of human nature came out
by fipping the very land. This has been core to my foundation.”
When his family moved from Kolkata, where Mitra was
born, to Dhanbad, it was one of India’s most violent towns.
Mitra’s father, Aghore, was an engineer for the steel company
Tata, and the family lived in a secure company-run enclave, but
at every opportunity Mitra and his friends played in abandoned
coal mines, running along ropeways over open pits. “When I
look back, the stuf we did, every day someone could have died,”
he says. “In rural parts of India, adventure is built in—so when
you get into cities, you fnd all parts of life not a problem.”
When his internet company went public in 2000, Mitra
suddenly found himself charged with a sense of invincibility.
He moved to England and resumed his studies, while doing
contract IT work for the government and working at a series
of startups. The frst one he joined quickly fzzled. Then he
launched a company of his own, SwapShop, a sort of Craigslist
Like Pokémon Go and Snapchat’s flters, the Blippar app adds an extra layer of reality—or at least information and images—to
anything you view through your smartphone’s camera. We tried it out, with help from an Inc. stafer’s cat.
Point your camera at whatever you
want to blip (introducing Nico) and
words appear: Fur! Cute! Cat!
The app turns the most
relevant words into circles that
you can scroll through.
Click on a circle for an extensive
defnition of what your
smartphone camera sees.
Here’s the really cool part: Blippar then
sho ws you links to related content.
(Everything’s better with cat videos.)