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Autonomy's wizardry: Bringing still images to virtual life

Mike Lynch of Autonomy wowed an audience with a demo that brings still images to life.

Paul Sloan/CNET

Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch took to the stage of at Techonomy 2011 and gave a glimpse of some amazing stuff that phones and tablet cameras will soon be able to do.

Autonomy, which Hewlett Packard just acquired for almost $12 billion, bills itself as a leader in "meaning based computing," a tagline that's easy to dismiss. Then Lynch brought out an iPad to demonstrate Autonomy's technology, and he wowed the audience. And this was a jaded crowd, folks.

Lynch had an assistant hold up poster-size images--an ad for a Harry Potter move, a front page of a newspaper, a static ad. Lynch then pointed the camera at the images and, one by one, they came to virtual life.

In each case, the device would pick up a familiar pattern and transform the image. Suddenly, a scene from Harry Potter was playing on the iPad, the page of a newspaper updated to a current story and became a video presentation, and a man walked out of the ad to explain the product.

It was an amazing, if slightly creepy, stuff. And according to Lynch, it's just the beginning of what's possible. He said, for instance, that the iPhone can remember up to 500,000 things that it can draw on to, in effect, trigger its memory and transform static images.

Eventually, he said, the device will begin to scan your physical world, looking for familiar items around you without you even doing a thing. The magic happens within the device, he stressed--there's no need for a website.

The business possibilities seem vast.

"It's a whole new way of dealing with information," said Lynch. "Every object becomes interactive. If you like a wine, you point your phone at it and someone comes out form the wine bottles and tells you about it and where you can buy it."

It's also easy to see how, like natural language tools such as Siri, these capabilities will change the way we search for products because text suddenly becomes unnecessary.

"The whole idea of semantic tagging is ridiculous," said Lynch, referring to how we tag, say, articles on the web with relevant words to make them searchable. "We have to allow the technology to fit to what we want."

The big question now: What will HP do with all this power at its hands?