I may be what they call an old soul. Cringeworthy though the term may be, I am no doubt persuaded by Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese&rsquos films to try and find ways to go back to the boroughs of New York City. Graham Greene&rsquos description of the Brighton of the &rsquo30s and Joyce&rsquos wanderings through Dublin make me pine for events whose places and eras I am several times removed from.
However, with the AQI well over 700 in the national capital, time-travel now seems more of a necessity than a romantic whimsy. I am often inclined to believe the crazy temporal shifts in Interstellar seemed even more incredible than they were because of the heavy dust-storms at the beginning. Pollution and environmental degradation are probably the greatest reason why most of us dream of retreating into the past now. Whatever may the reason be&mdasha kind of a solution seems to have arrived in us time-travel loyalists&rsquo midst. And it is a new AI-based toolset/platform called re (pronounced &lsquoreturn&rsquo), created by Google Research.
Sparing you the technical ackamarackus, re is being developed as a tool promising both an enriching &lsquotime-travel&rsquo experience for those of us routinely drunk on nostalgia and a dynamic repository aiding the work of researchers and policymakers. Through the open-source, 3D map-style layout, one will be able to visualize how a certain street in their city has changed over time, to greater degrees as more visual evidence is incorporated within the editor.
One can look at city maps both from bird&rsquos-eye and pedestrian POVs. The buildings you will see materialising currently are all created from historical fire insurance maps&mdasha valuable source of knowledge as regards the ages of buildings, their sizes, roof shapes etc. The slider at the top (refer to the image above) can be used to watch the transition of a certain neighbourhood over time.
However, since the platform uses historical imagery for its digital reconstruction, you wouldn&rsquot really be able to just search for a random year and place and find yourself in front of a historical building. Only a few city neighbourhoods are available at present, most of them in the US, but they&rsquore good enough to indicate the potential of the experiment. We tested out the interface and the controls and navigation has scope for further improvement.
The open-source format allows anybody with relevant resources such as photographs to integrate them within the system. Any piece of valuable detail in those photographs can be semantically parsed and used to reconstruct the missing details of a building. The developers intend to even recreate the insides of buildings and public spaces under this project.
So, what are you waiting for Reach into the attic and empty out the shoeboxes. Time travel might just be possible.