He who controls the past controls the future
The newest version of Google Street View is both astonishingly awesome and little short of terrifying. As of this week, the application is now a fully-navigable 3D photographic map of practically every street in the UK, with its previous coverage of major cities and urban areas now expanded to over 95% of the country's public road surface.
I tested it for an entire day, picking little cul-de-sacs in the middle of nowhere from my memory, and Google's vans had been up every last one – even, to my considerable amazement, visiting my auntie's croft down a narrow track in the middle of nowhere in the Highlands and passing so close by that you can identify the plants on her windowledges.
(I'm sad that I'm not a multi-billion-dollar company, as I had the idea for doing this with single cities and selling them to tourist boards 10 years ago after Metropolis Street Racer came out. Think of the reduction in humanity's carbon footprint if you could take an instant high-definition virtual tour of anywhere you wanted to go, without having to twat around getting on an aeroplane and having customs officers scan every last inch of your body inside and out in case you've brought on too big a tube of toothpaste.)
While it's frankly incredible now, the thought of what Street View will be in just a couple of years' time is even more mind-boggling. Picture it running on a 5th-generation iPhone, showing you a real-life 3D map of a city as you find your way to your destination, augmented with superimposed real-time GPS info about the location of the person you're going to meet.
Move ahead just a couple more years and tourist hotspots might even be feeding live imagery into the system from Google Street Cams. Potential privacy issues could obviously be numerous (and horrific), as could more positive or even subversive uses of the technology. But that particular Big Brother scenario isn't what I want to talk about right now.
The picture at the top of this feature is Google's current satellite image of the area around the former British Leyland factory in my hometown of Bathgate, and it's very weird. The actual factory closed in 1986 (the demolished site of the factory buildings is at the centre of the picture, just to the left of the two roundabouts), but the area was used as a storage depot for new vehicles for many years after that.
At the top right corner of the picture, though, you can also see a fairly sizeable Tesco store, and that's where things get a little odd. The Tesco opened around the turn of the millennium, and was shortly followed by the first of the large housing developments that make up the pricey new Wester Inch Village area of the town.
The thing is, to the best of my knowledge and research, the Tesco and the vehicle-storage depots never co-existed. By the time the Tesco was open and trading – as it clearly is in the image – the trucks and vans of the vehicle park were long gone, and the ground torn up to lay foundations and utilities for the new developments. The satellite image must be a composite, and the disturbing thing is that you can't see the join.
(Goodness knows why the image would be patched together – maybe part of the area was obscured by clouds the second time the satellite passed over or something, and old shots were needed to fill in the gaps.)
The scary implications of this sort of global Photoshoppery should be pretty obvious. To avoid ruining your weekend, though, I strongly recommend that you don't think about them, and go and have a nice relaxing virtual walk around the seaside instead.