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The RoBlog
Sunday, December 28, 2003
Proflies of the Future: Accessing the Past
pp. 128 - 130
In these pages, Mr. Clarke explores the idea of recovering the past. He touches on a couple of things I thought I might comment on:

* "No amplifier can recapture the words you spoke a minute ago..."

True though this may be in the most literal sense where an amplifier is thought to increase the magnitude of a sound occurring at that moment, I think it is not too difficult to imagine that it would be possible for all, or at least a good deal, of the words we speak, and the other associated sounds of living, might be recreated at some unknown future time.

Mr. Clarke actually allows for such a thing, doubtful as he may be of its eventuality, for a later thought experiment that I address in minor detail below. He mentions that a good deal of our ability to peer into the past now is a byproduct of atomic research. It is not too out of the question then, in my humble opinion, that at some point in the future one might be able to point an atomic scanner at a wall, for example, and recreate the sound waves that have impacted that wall based on the impact those waves had on the molecules comprising its surface.

No doubt much of history would still remain dark and silent to use owing to the fact that that the inhabited surface of the earth is continually destroyed and rebuilt, but what interesting stories must still exist (in our little fantasy) in the Parthenon in Greece, the pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall of China, or even in the caves of Lascaux, France? Which is not to speak of decidedly interesting times when no human foot had yet tread.

* "If the past were suddently opened up to our inspection, we would be overwhelmed...by the sheer mass of material..."

Ah yes, this is a quandry of a sort, but one we are already living with, if not quite to the same degree of magnitude. Computational Archaeology would need to bloom as a field of study branching as much from Information Theory as from the skill with a brush and pick, but the roots of this science are already plunged into the field. And with all of the information coming at us from so many directions now, a major revolution in computing relating to finding associations between vast amounts of information (a la the data mining that already goes on in the marketing departments of major corporations) is primed to unfold.

These, along with our ever increasing ability to store large amounts of data immediately at hand, lead me to believe we should not fear being overwhelmed by the volume of information that past can reveal to us.

* "Better that the good and the bad lie forever beyond such detailed scrutiny."

We humans are forever playing the game of managing our external images. We write those things we want people to read, film those things we want them to watch, talk about those things we want people to hear, leaving out, or editing, those things we fear reveal too much. What things, both depravatious and glorious, could we learn when human lives are laid bare for inspection en masse?

No doubt we would discover what many have stated before: that those parts of us that we think are uniquely vile to the personal us, are in fact those things that are common to mankind regardless of place or time. Will it be an uncomfortable thing for us to examine our weaknesses and attempt to come to terms with them? Most assuredly. But pain is part of the price of knowledge, and it is ever worth its price.

* "How would WE care for the idea that, at some unknown time in the future, men not unlike ourselves except for their superior science may be peering into our lives, watching all our follies and vices as well as our rarer virtues."

This particular topic is interesting as it is something we are going to have to contend with long before we can recreate famous speaches, and secret conversations, from the walls in which the occurred.

Already there are a large amount of people with recreational video cameras, and an equally large (if not larger) number of fixed cameras in banks and stores and the like. It is increasingly becoming common that some illegal activity, or merely an illicit one, has been captured, at least in part, on video.

We can expect in the next decade, as both the hardware to capture, and the medium to store, video information becomes small, cheap, and efficient, that people will be recording every moment of their life (this is a larger discussion I keep meaning to get to, but haven't as yet). This means that we will have to become more comfortable with the fact that any moment of our life could be presented to anyone else (as many celebrities continue to famously discover).

Add to this the fact that the same technology advances will increase our ability to spy on eachother indirectly (through hidden cameras and the like), and we are on the precipace of this problem long before we can recreate the past from the very air unaided.
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