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Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold, the technology duo who brought us such classics as the Hurricane Suppression System for the Gulf of Mexico, are back with another idea: A device or app that can automatically create a customized video snippet from any random selection of text.

Nathan Myhrvold and Bill Gates check out new inventions for the toilet
Nathan Myhrvold and Bill Gates at a Gates Foundation event last year.

We know this, of course, because they filed for a patent on the approach.

The newly surfaced patent application, “Autogenerating Video From Text,” describes a device that can scan text on a page, read and analyze the text, understand what a given sentence is saying and automatically create some kind of video (or series of pictures) based on that text … with features that tailor the experience to a user’s preferences.

Gates and Myhrvold are two of 10 inventors listed on the patent filing — a telltale sign that this was a product of one of Intellectual Ventures’ brainstorming sessions. Intellectual Ventures leader Myhrvold, the former Microsoft technology chief, is involved in a variety of ventures with Gates, and has regularly included him in these sessions.

So what are the potential applications of “Autogenerating Video From Text”?

Here’s an example from the filing, “According to one contemplated scenario, a student is assigned a reading assignment. To make the assignment more interesting, the student may use his or her mobile phone to take a picture of a page of the textbook. The systems and methods described herein may then generate a synthesized image sequence of the action occurring in the text. Thus, rather than simply reading names and dates, the student may see soldiers running across a battlefield.”

Another actual example from the filing illustrates the personalization features: Someone reading Shakespeare could scan a section of text to create a video depicting one of the scenes — and the system could be set to “insert family members into the video clip instead of the typical characters.”

The GeekWire reader who tipped us off to this patent filing got very creative, and had some fun envisioning how Gates would use this …


The patent application was submitted in January 2012 and made public a couple weeks ago, on July 25.

The whole idea of generating videos or images from any random selection of text seems like a giant stretch, or at least a very difficult computer science problem. I’ve asked Intellectual Ventures if there’s a working prototype. Stay tuned.

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