Spotting time travellers in the wild

Two physicists from Michigan Technological University decided to take time out and search for online evidence of future travellers coming to the (near) present.

Their methodology involved looking on the internet for evidence of websites, and searches, for important events before those events happened.

They decided to take a more general approach and see if a time traveler has accidentally left some information behind on the Internet by mentioning a topic that hadn’t yet occurred. This proved to be much more challenging than you might imagine. For starters, they had to identify events that hadn’t yet occurred but were likely to still be memorable in the distant future. One of the ones they came up with is Pope Francis. This makes sense in that Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first Pope to choose that name, and records of papal nomenclature have been preserved for millennia.

But the second thing they chose was Comet ISON. Given that it never put on much of a show from Earth, its name is unlikely to be very prominent in the future.

Those two items were it, so this wasn’t exactly an exhaustive search. But searching the Internet for indications of their use prior to their announcement or discovery turned out to limit things even further.

Ars Technica

As you might expect, they found nothing (apart from an oblique reference to the new Pope). It’s really just a bit of fun on the researchers part, but the comments on the Ars Technica story make the point the chosen research method may not be the best way of spotting a time traveller.

If travel into the past was really possible, what marks on the internet would people from the future leave behind? Fake Wikipedia entries (there‘s plenty of those)? Forum posts? Prescient tweets?

My favourite method from the comments is look beyond the internet and focus on the stock market. Anyone who makes a lot of money in a short amount of time from unusual trades, could mean they are using future information on company performance.

That‘s probably a more reliable piece of evidence. Travellers would take action and do something, not sit posting clues to their existence online.


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