History in the future

I just saw this amazing presentation in TED Talks about an application called photosynth. It allows photos taken by anyone and uploaded to the web to be synthesized together. Together, these can give us a multidimensional view of a building or an event using images collected by people who may not even know each other. The ability to assemble random photographs to construct the big picture had me totally stunned.

I have been wondering now and then what the explosion of digital information will mean for a historian in the near future. Without doubt historians in the future will have a lot more materials to work with. But I imagined that, thanks to information overload, history in the future will not be radically different from how it is done today. Today, I feel that I have grossly underestimated the potential such technologies have for historians in the future.

One radical way of producing a work of history in the future would be to do it interactively – where the historian would be a technologist who can synthesize digital information that will be widely available. More than anything else, this would enable us to see history from so many angles in ways that were not possible before. Even when information is available, putting them together is not a simple business; but the evolution of technologies that can even identify similar pictures and put them together gives me the feeling that we should be able to develop very complex ways of sharing and synthesizing information in the future. With these, writing history in the future is bound to be an exciting new enterprise.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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