When We All Have Pocket Telephones (1923)

From England's Daily Mirror (January 23, 1923).

Find more timely predictions in the Relateds below.

via Neil Gaiman

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A Virtual Tour of Ancient Rome, Circa 320 CE: Explore Stunning Recreations of The Forum, Colosseum and Other Monuments

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’re likely familiar with the simulation hypothesis, the idea that conscious experience is nothing more than a computer program. This concept has many sci-fi implications, from Matrix-like scenarios to the radical idea that everything in the universe is software, run by incomprehensible beings who might as well be gods. One of the more plausible versions suggests that we are living in an “ancestor simulation,” designed by future human societies to recreate their past.

Presumably, simulated ancestors would create their own ancestor simulations and so on, ad infinitum. There’s no way to know where on the continuum we fall, but wherever it is, ancestor simulations are on the way… maybe. They’re rudimentary at the moment, consisting of immersive video games and VR recreations of ancient cities.




Each iteration, however, is better than the last, as we have seen in the case of Rome Reborn (or Rome Reborn®), a 3D digital modeling project designed to recreate the city’s architecture as it was in 320 CE, through expert renderings informed by architectural historians and "virtual archaeologists" like Dr. Bernard Frischer, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.

Back in a 2012 Open Culture post, Matthias Rascher explained the significance of this year, “when Rome’s population had reached its peak (about one million) and the first Christian churches were being built.” Historians will also recognize 320 as following directly on the heels of the Donation of Constantine that gave the city to the Pope. We can tour the virtual streets of this rapidly changing ancient city, though the burgeoning population is nowhere in evidence. Nothing moves, grows, or changes in Rome Reborn. In that sense it is still like so many previous representations of antiquity.

Now in version 3.0, Rome Reborn began as a 3D model in 2007, and was first owned by the Regents of the University of California. It now operates, under the auspices of the University of Virginia, as a private company called Flyover Zone. They have other such digital recreations in their product line, including “Athens Reborn®, Hadrian's Villa Reborn®, Baalbek Reborn®, Egypt Reborn®, and Historical Games®.” Rome Reborn’s designer, Danila Loginov, has released increasingly detailed promos of the project over the years, and you can see these many videos here.

To fully experience this simulated Rome, you’ll need a Virtual Reality headset. The third version of the 3D model has been made publicly available. “You can immerse yourself in the ancient city and even enter into some of its most famous buildings while listening to the commentary of highly qualified experts,” the Rome Reborn site promises. Famous buildings one might explore include the Roman forum and the Basilica of Maxentius. It is not an experience based in realism. In some of the simulations “you can opt for a whirlwind  flyover tour of the city,” notes Meilan Solly at Smithsonian.

This roughly two-hour tour is like nothing any ancient Roman ever experienced. “Comparatively, the two site visits place users in the driver’s seat,” Solly writes, “affording them freedom to roam through reconstructed streets and halls.” It’s not quite the stuff of a simulated universe just yet, but it may not be too far in the future before Rome Reborn® fully lives up to its name. Learn more about ancient Rome, circa 320 CE, in the videos here, and learn more about Rome Reborn at their official site.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

Revisit Scenes of Daily Life in Amsterdam in 1922, with Historic Footage Enhanced by Artificial Intelligence

Welkom in Amsterdam… 1922.

Neural network artist Denis Shiryaev describes himself as “an artistic machine-learning person with a soul.”

For the last six months, he’s been applying himself to re-rendering documentary footage of city life—Belle Epoque ParisTokyo at the start of the the Taishō era, and New York City in 1911—the year of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

It’s possible you’ve seen the footage before, but never so alive in feel. Shiryaev’s renderings trick modern eyes with artificial intelligence, boosting the original frames-per-second rate and resolution, stabilizing and adding color—not necessarily historically accurate.




The herky-jerky bustling quality of the black-and-white originals is transformed into something fuller and more fluid, making the human subjects seem… well, more human.

This Trip Through the Streets of Amsterdam is truly a blast from the past… the antithesis of the social distancing we must currently practice.

Merry citizens jostle shoulder to shoulder, unmasked, snacking, dancing, arms slung around each other… unabashedly curious about the hand-cranked camera turned on them as they go about their business.

A group of women visiting outside a shop laugh and scatter—clearly they weren’t expecting to be filmed in their aprons.

Young boys looking to steal the show push their way to the front, cutting capers and throwing mock punches.

Sorry, lads, the award for Most Memorable Performance by a Juvenile goes to the small fellow at the 4:10 mark. He’s not hamming it up at all, merely taking a quick puff of his cigarette while running alongside a crowd of men on bikes, determined to keep pace with the camera person.

Numerous YouTube viewers have observed with some wonder that all the people who appear, with the distant exception of a baby or two at the end, would be in the grave by now.

They do seem so alive.

Modern eyes should also take note of the absences: no cars, no plastic, no cell phones…

And, of course, everyone is white. The Netherlands’ population would not diversify racially for another couple of decades, beginning with immigrants from Indonesia after WWII and Surinam in the 50s.

With regard to that, please be forewarned that not all of the YouTube comments have to do with cheeky little boys and babies who would be pushing 100…

The footage is taken from the archival collection of the EYE filmmuseum in Amsterdam, with ambient sound by Guy Jones.

See more of Denis Shiryaev’s  upscaled vintage footage in the links below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Vintage Footage of Tokyo, Circa 1910, Get Brought to Life with Artificial Intelligence

For more than 200 years, the rulers of Japan kept the country all but closed to the outside world. In 1854, the "Black Ships" of American commander Matthew Perry arrived to demand an end to Japanese isolation — and a commencement of Japanese world trade. Within decades, many fashion-forward Europeans and even Americans couldn't get enough things Japanese, especially the art, crafts, and clothing that exemplified kinds of beauty they'd never known before. (Vincent van Gogh was a particularly avid fan.) But if Japan changed the West, the West transformed Japan, a process fully in effect in the footage above, shot on the streets of Tokyo between 1913 and 1915.

These scenes may look familiar to dedicated Open Culture readers, and indeed, we previously featured another version of this film back in 2018. With its speed corrected to remove the herky-jerkiness common to old films and with background noise added, these glimpses of the men, women, and many children of the Japanese capital, all of them living between the inward-looking tradition of their country as it had been and the onrush of modernity from without, already felt realistic.




But now you may feel you've been personally transported to this culturally and economically heady time in the Land of the Rising Sun thanks to the work of Denis Shiryaev, a Youtuber who specializes in enlarging and restoring vintage film clips with artificial intelligence.

Shirayev is also responsible for the enhanced versions of scenes from Belle Époque Paris, czarist Moscow, Victorian England, New York City in 1911, and even the Lumière Brothers’ early motion picture The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station. At the beginning of this video he reveals the stages of the process that brought this century-old footage of Tokyo to greater vividness: de-noising and damage removal, colorization, facial restoration, and upscaling to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second — all assisted by neural networks that, "trained" on relevant visual materials new and old, crisp and weathered, to determine the best ways to make it all look more convincing. The results may make you wonder what else will soon be possible — surely not a feeling unknown to  these early 20th-century Tokyoites.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

16th Century Bookwheels, the E-Readers of the Renaissance, Get Brought to Life by 21st Century Designers

Most of us, through our computers or our even our phones, have access to more books than we could ever read in one lifetime. That certainly wouldn't have been the case in, say, the middle ages, when books — assuming you belonged to the elite who could read them in the first place — were rare and precious objects. Both books and literacy became more common during the Renaissance, though acquaintance with both could still be considered the sign of a potentially serious scholar. And for the most serious Renaissance scholars of all, Italian military engineer Agostino Ramelli designed the bookwheel, an elaborate mechanical device allowing the user to turn from one book to another in relatively quick succession.

First drawn by Ramelli in 1588 (and previously featured here on Open Culture in 2017) but never actually constructed by him, the bookwheel has attracted renewed attention in the 21st century. "In 2018, a group of undergraduate engineering students at the Rochester Institute of Technology set out to build two," writes Atlas Obscura's Claire Voon. "They began by diligently studying the Italian engineer’s illustration, then procured historically accurate materials, such as European beech and white oak.




With the help of modern power tools and processes, such as computer modeling and CNC routing, they brought it to life." You can see the RIT bookwheels under construction and in action in the video above. (Its schematics, near-impossibly complex by the standards of Ramelli's day, are also available at RIT's web site.)

Others have also brought Ramelli's design into reality. In the video just above, for example, we have writer Joshua Foer (previously featured here for his work on the science of memorization) taking his own reproduction for a spin. "It's a ferris wheel for books," Foer explains, "so that a scholar can have eight books in front of them, sort of like tabbed browsing before tabbed browsing." The device's cherry wood and laser-cut gears are certainly handsome, but what of its practicality? "I often read multiple books at one time, and this way I can have them all open in front of me." Most all of us start more books than we can finish, and as we attempt to read them all in parallel, occasionally one or two do get forgotten. Hence one advantage, even in our modern times, of Ramelli's book wheel: any book placed on it becomes as unignorable as the machine itself.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The End of an Era: A Short Film About The Last Day of Hot Metal Typesetting at The New York Times (1978)

This is usually what happens when I write a piece for Open Culture: As I drink an overpriced coffee at my local coffee shop, I research a topic on the internet, write and edit an article on Microsoft Word and then copy and paste the whole thing into WordPress. My editor in Open Culture’s gleaming international headquarters up in San Francisco gives it a look-over and then, with the push of a button, publishes the article on the site.

It’s sobering to think what I casually do over the course of a morning would require the effort of dozens of people 40+ years ago.




Until the 1970s, with the rise in popularity of computer typesetting, newspapers were printed the same way for nearly a century. Linotype machines would cast one line at a time from molten lead. Though an improvement from handset type, where printers would assemble lines of type one character at a time, linotype still required numerous skilled printers to assemble each and every newspaper edition.

The New York Times transitioned from that venerated production method to computer typesetting on Sunday, July 2, 1978. David Loeb Weiss, a proofreader at the Times, documented this final day in the documentary Farewell - Etaoin Shrdlu.

The title of the movie, by the way, comes from the first two lines of a printer’s keyboard, which are arranged according to a letter’s frequency of use. When a printer typed "etaoin shrdlu," it meant that the line had a mistake in it and should be discarded.

Watching the movie, you get a sense of just how much work went into each page and how printers were skilled craftsmen. (You try spotting a typo on a page of upside down and backwards type.) The film also captures the furious energy and the cacophony of clinks and clanks of the composing room. You can see just how much physical work was involved. After all, each page was printed off of a 40-pound plate made of lead.

The tone of the movie is understandably melancholy. The workers are bidding farewell to a job that had existed for decades. “All the knowledge I’ve acquired over my 26 years is all locked up in a little box now called a computer,” notes one printer. “And I think most jobs are going to end up the same way.” Someone else wrote the following on the composing room’s chalkboard. “The end of an era. Good while it lasted. Crying won’t help.”

You can watch the full documentary above. It will also be added to our list of 200 Free Documentaries, a subset of our meta collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in August 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Artificial Intelligence Brings to Life Figures from 7 Famous Paintings: The Mona Lisa, Birth of Venus & More

Denis Shiryaev is an AI wizard who has liberally applied his magic to old film—upscaling, colorizing, and otherwise modernizing scenes from Victorian England, late Tsarist Russia, and Belle Époque Paris. He trained machines to restore the earliest known motion picture, 1888’s Roundhay Garden Scene and one of the most mythologized works of early cinema, the Lumière Brothers 50-second Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station.

Shiryaev’s casual distribution of these efforts on YouTube can make us take for granted just how extraordinary they are. Such recreations would have been impossible just a decade or so ago. But we should not see these as historic restorations. The software Shiryaev uses fills in gaps between the frames, allowing him to upscale the frame rate and make more naturistic-looking images. This often comes at a cost. As Ted Mills wrote in an earlier Open Culture post on Shiryaev’s methods, “there are a lot of artifacts, squooshy, morphing moments where the neural network can’t figure things out.”




But it’s an evolving technology. Unlike wizards of old, Shiryaev happily reveals his trade secrets so enterprising coders can give it a try themselves, if they’ve got the budget. In his latest video, above, he plugs the NVIDIA Quadro RTX 6000, a $4,000 graphics card (and does some griping about rights issues), before getting to the fun stuff. Rather than make old film look new, he’s “applied a bunch of different neural networks in an attempt to generate realistic faces of people from famous paintings.”

These are, Shiryaev emphasizes, “estimations,” not historical recreations of the faces behind Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Lady with an Ermine, Botticelli’s model for The Birth of Venus, Vermeer’s for Girl with a Pearl Earring, or Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. In the case of American Gothic, we have a photo of the model, artist Grant Wood’s sister, to compare to the AI’s version. Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird gets the treatment. She left perhaps a few hundred photographs and some films that probably look more like her than the AI version.

The GIF-like “transformations,” as they might be called, may remind us of a less fun use of such technology: AI’s ability to create realistic faces of people who don’t exist for devious purposes and to make “deep fake” videos of those who do. But that needn’t take away from the fact that it’s pretty cool to see Botticelli’s Venus, or a simulation of her anyway, smile and blink at us from a distance of over 500 years.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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