See How These Scientists Built an Information Time Machine of the Past

What if you could browse through Facebook from another era like during the Renaissance or Middle Ages? An information time machine: sounds like fiction, right? Not so fast – the Venice Time Machine wants to take you on an interactive virtual journey through the past!

Imagine if you went to Google and you could search not only for keywords but for specific dates in history too? Have you ever wondered how much a piece of bread cost in ancient Egypt? “Can we build ‘Google maps’ of the past? Can we rebuild social networks of the past? How can we build time machines?” asks Frederic Kaplan during his TED Talk.

Well, if you look at digital information across time, you can see the exponential explosion of big data in recent years. This poses a challenge for accurately gathering and digitizing data from years past.

How to Digitize Information

The first step Kaplan proposes is digitizing the many publications, newspapers and books that exist solely on paper from the past, followed by simulating events relative to other examples and archives from distant eras.

digital information vs. time

digitze information

simulate information
To begin this attempt, Kaplan and his colleagues looked for an area that has been well documented over time and they came up with Venice, a place with a rich history and thick archives to prove it. Thus the Venice Time Machine project was born as a collaboration between EPFL and the University of Venice Ca’Foscari. The effort will digitize 80 kilometers of books to create a 1,000-year historical and geographical simulation of Venice.

Venice archives

Venice Time Machine Project

The Venice Time Machine will be a museum of the past where viewers can browse through historical recreations of maps and related artifacts like paintings and other documents simultaneously.

Now imagine also being able to explore recreated virtual scenes from the past in groups:

historical maps and paintings

venice reimagined

Frederic Kaplan  How I built an information time machine

Of course any project of this magnitude and uncertainty will not be without its scientific challenges in qualifying and accurately representing information from the past. So Kaplan and his team will document each step of the conversion process for all information gathered, a meta layer of info that can help recreate each decision and can be used to improve upon the process in the future.

Kaplan believes we are undergoing a paradigm shift merging science and humanities and will start to see more large scale, never attempted projects like this. “We need to foster a new generation of ‘Digital Humanists’ ready for this shit,” Kaplan said.

You can learn more about the Venice Time Machine project on the EPFL site here.

Crop & Save