Going Back In Time With Google

April 25th, 2014

Google has made time travel possible. Virtually at least.

Through their Street View program, Google has been taking 360-degree recordings of every street in just about every city in the country for about 7 years. When this first launched in 2007, I attempted to figure out when the recordings were made. My best effort–I checked the news ticker at the ABC studios in Times Square, and saw a headline about a specific sporting event, and was able to reverse engineer the date it happened. But, when I checked back later, the ticker was different. Of course, Google was updating their maps. And it hit me. Couldn’t Google somehow stitch together these photos over the course of the years. And, if enough recordings were made, perhaps even in realtime, it could crate a virtual time machine.

In Omniveillance (the first draft of which I wrote in a 72-hour period in the summer after my 1L year in 2007), I predicted a future surveillance technology that would be able to record vast amounts of video over a wide area, and permit a user to effectively watch history progress, as if they entered a time machine. I wrote:

As distinguished from previous forms of public monitoring, this new form of surveillance will be omnipresent, as it can record vast areas of space over a very small period of time. It provides the users of this system with omniscience to know everything happening in a specific location at a specific time. Furthermore, this information will be indefinitely retained, and easily accessible. When future versions of this technology is properly implemented, it will be possible to enter a time, date, and location, and witness what happened at that moment as if you were there. It is a virtual time machine.

Now, Google has done just that. See the details at the new blog post, “Go Back in time with Street View.”

Starting today, you can travel to the past to see how a place has changed over the years by exploring Street View imagery inGoogle Maps for desktop. We’ve gathered historical imagery from past Street View collections dating back to 2007 to create this digital time capsule of the world.

Enter the Street View mode on most recent version of Google Maps, and you can actually scroll through time. Witness the construction of the World Trade Center’s Freedom Tower.

In 2007 before ground was broken.



In 2011:

In January 2013:


In August 2013:



Imagine if these cameras were rolling 24×7, rather than once a year. The virtual time machine would arrive very soon.