Playing Pokémon Go? You can thank Einstein for that
Yes, the physicist had a hand in the world's most popular new app.
Asking someone if they've heard of Pokémon Go is like asking if they had breakfast this morning. The week-old app has made international headlines. It has quickly become a cultural phenomenon likely to surpass Twitter, by some estimates.
Pokémon Go uses a technology called augmented reality. That basically means that something on your screen appears atop a real-life image. For example, point your camera at a building and you might see a little Pokémon character on the sidewalk in front of it. The app uses your phone's GPS location to determine where you are standing at any given moment.
So how does Albert Einstein fit into all of this? Einstein's brain was full of ideas. In particular, his work with the theory of relativity has long been credited as giving birth to our modern-day GPS navigational system. Time and space is relative, Einstein said. It's because of that theory that GPS satellites in space know that high above the surface of the Earth, time is flowing faster than down here. Using that knowledge, they can coordinate with other satellites and your cell phone to figure out your exact location.
Izzy Kasdin is the executive director of the Historical Society of Princeton, which hosts a permanent exhibition on the beloved genius. "Little did he know it would be put to this use," she told From The Grapevine when asked about the Pokémon app.
Below, Caltech physicist Kip Thorne explains more about how GPS wouldn't exist without Albert Einstein's guiding hand:
So as if he wasn't famous enough, we now have Einstein to thank for the latest pop culture craze.
"Einstein's face is the most recognizable face worldwide," Hanoch Gutfreund, the director of the Albert Einstein Archives at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told From The Grapevine. "The interest in Einstein does not fade into history. If one can say anything about this, the interest in Einstein increases with time. It's greater now."
Kasdin from Princeton agrees. "He's certainly one of the most remarkable public figures," she said. "It's certainly remarkable that he wasn't an athlete or a film star. He was a physicist, but he was much, much more than that during his lifetime, and after. The physics that he did was so incredibly important that even that should warrant him being credibly famous. He changed the face of modern science."
Using Einstein's GPS, the app has designated many public areas as "PokeStops," a location where players can retrieve Pokémon Go items if they open the app while standing at the location. "There are actually a lot of museums that are capitalizing off of the Pokémon Go phenomenon, putting the characters in their museums. Millennials are sort of that elusive, golden ticket audience for museums," Kasdin, herself a millennial, told us. "And there's all sorts of conversations about, 'How do you get them to come inside? Oh well, you place a Pokémon character in one of the galleries.'"
Perhaps it's just the digital equivalent of what's already happening. "Every time you drive down Mercer Street, which is where Einstein lived, you always see people outside taking photographs."
So will Kasdin's Einstein exhibit become a PokeStop? She has a one-word answer that starts with "P" and is not Pokémon: "Potentially."
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