I’ve always found that the march of technological innovation has been faster than anything I could reasonably predict. I remember in the very early days of computers, speculating that one day – in the distant future – it would be possible to have all the knowledge stored in the full Encyclopaedia Brittanica, available on a machine on my desktop. Before the ink was dry on my prediction – these were the days on pen and ink – there was Encarta, the first digital encyclopaedia. In the 1980s, as I was gradually losing all my hearing, I remember saying to people that it could be worse, because within twenty years I would be able to carry a mobile computer that would translate speech into text for me. Within 10 years that prediction had been blasted out of the water, and I had a computer processor attached to my head that translated audio inputs into electronic stimulation of my audial nerve. Mindboggling – in every sense of the word!
When AI programmes started being able to manipulate images a couple of years ago, I equally remember saying to my wife, that before too long I would be able to sit down and have a conversation with my grandfather, who died a few months before I was born in 1948. This morning I did!
I accept that the technology – in this case it has been provided by the MyHeritage website – is still a little shaky (my grandfather had a thick Yorkshire accent, not some BBC Home Counties affair), but these are early days: Encarta was much more basic than Wikipedia and the first Cochlear Implants were primitive affairs. But technology does seem to stride forward faster than Gentleman Jack doing the rounds of her lovers, so who knows what is around the corner? Next week I’m looking forward to going out for a pint with Albert Einstein.