Electronic Engineering Blog

Time travel will happen – and I can prove it.

About 14 years ago, around about the year 2000, I wrote an article for a magazine called ‘Develop‘ – it was a magazine for developers in the console game industry. The magazine printed it, but they called it the ‘the Oddview’ and the editor (Owain Bennallock) followed it with a sly comment that said something along the lines of “if anyone else has an odd view of the future, write in and let us know”. The thing is, my vision of the future came true. I have another vision of the future to share with you, I think you’ll find it interesting and maybe a little scary at the same time. It will come true and you will remember where you heard about it first.

In the past

My article in develop magazine went something along the lines of this (Writing in the year 2000): In the future when you browse the net you will see adverts at the side of the pages. These adverts will be targeted directly at you, they will be for things you are looking for, and targeted directly to your own preferences. TV shows will be filmed with blank placeholders in them, such as products on tables, bill boards in the back ground, signs on buses etc. Every time the program is broadcast these placeholders will contain a product being marketed directly at you. Sports matches will be filmed with blank advertising boards around the arena, when the match is broadcast it will look like they have adverts targeted directly at you. This all happens right now and we don’t even notice it most of the time. How many times have you looked for something online, maybe with google or your favourite shopping site, and then when you go to Facebook you start seeing adverts for the same and similar things?

Get to the future!

How does this tie in with time travel? Well I can tell you that in the future we will all be able to time travel. Howver it will be one way. We’ll all be able to look back in time, to pretty much any place and see what happened, who was there and who wasn’t. It won’t be the time travel of HG Wells or any sic-fi writer; it won’t require you to jump through a portal and de-materialise and re-materialise in another dimension. No you’ll just need to call it up on your computer/tablet/virtual screen.

Here’s the tech of it. Pretty much every smartphone sold these days has an array of sensors built in. Things such as cameras, GPS, compasses, orientation and temperature sensors. Your smartphone knows where it is, what time it is, the temperature, which way it is facing, and it has a camera on the front and the back. It also comes with <some large amount> of free ‘cloud’ based storage. Right?

So your phone can take pictures any time. Tag them with location and time data. Append environmental information and even record sound. It can then store this in a central location, along with the same data from every other device in the world. If you’re an Apple user, you know how it goes, you take a picture on your phone, shove the phone in your pocket and then immediately pick up your iPad, and the picture is already there. It’s tagged on a map showing where the picture was taken, it’s on a time line of when it was taken, and it’s magically appeared on all your apple devices instantly, without any interaction from you. It’s not stored on your devices, it’s stored in the cloud. The cloud being some remote server farm on the other side of the planet.

Again, how does this let us travel back in time? Well you can imagine that with existing data, stored in any of the numerous cloud services, some authority could request from the cloud operator (Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc) details of every device which was present in a particular location at a particular time. This is possible now, without any new developments.

Let’s also ask the cloud operator for the details of the owner of every device that was in such a place at such a time. Now ask for every picture that was taken on every device that was in said place, at said time.

Now, when the authorities start to realise how valuable this kind of data is, and how easy it would be to collect, they will without doubt start to legislate for access to it without hurdles.

Battery technology continues to improve, power consumption of devices continues to fall, data rates over mobile networks continue to improve. So what happens when, in the very near future, every device is continuously recording, and continuously storing what it records in the cloud? What you have then is a chronoscope.

A what-in-the-where-now? A chronoscope – chronos, meaning time, scope meaning to view. A time viewer.  With every device, carried by every person contributing to a massive, global database of images, video, sound, location and environmental data. All stored not on your home PC but in the ‘cloud’ – it’s easy to pull up video of any location at any time and see what happened.

Aye, but, naw, but.

“That’ll not work, because my phone is in my pocket where it cannot see anything.” – No it won’t be. Phones will change in the near future, in fact the term ‘phone’ will probably get dropped pretty soon since ‘phono’, or audio is one of the least used features of modern phones. Holding a slab of technology to your face to speak to someone, or up in the air to video something will soon look old fashioned as we move to more wearable devices like Google Glass and others. Apple, Samsung and others are already developing wearable ‘smart’ technology. So add to that big data bank in the sky some parameters like your skin temperature and your heart rate at the time and it’s all starting to look a bit like the future.

Except it’s already here.

Applications like ‘Tile‘ are already convincing us that it’s a great idea to allow our devices to mesh with other nearby devices. If your device doesn’t have a data-package, or no mobile coverage it might be in range of one that does, and it just hops over there. Again, this already happens, it happens now, right now. This is not tinfoil-hat scaremongering, this is today’s world.

There is one big chronoscope already in existence. It is in it’s infancy, and holds only small snapshots of time. You can view it freely. It’s called google street view. Try it for yourself, go to the local high street where you live on street view and click along the road. You can see the people moving, the traffic, you can see people going into and out of shops.

Imagine google street view, but with a ‘play’ button so you can see not just snapshots of people and places, but also what they were doing, where they were going, how they were feeling and who they met. Then add to that a big dial to dial in a particular date and time. The data is already being recorded, it’s already being stored. It just needs someone to pull it all together.

And finally, Owain Bennallock, if you are reading this – I’d love to hear from you! Failing that I’ll just look you up in the past, in the future.

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