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 user 2005-05-09 at 9:58:00 am Views: 43
  • #9183

    Time Travelers to Meet in Not Too Distant Future

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 5 – Suppose it is the future — maybe
    a thousand years from now. There is no static cling, diapers change themselves,
    and everyone who is anyone summers on Mars.

    What’s more, it is possible to travel back in time, to any
    place, any era. Where would people go? Would they zoom to a 2005 Saturday night
    for chips and burgers in a college courtyard, eager to schmooze with computer
    science majors possessing way too many brain cells?

    Why not, say some students at the Massachusetts Institute
    of Technology, who have organized what they call the first convention for time

    Actually, they contend that theirs is the only time
    traveler convention the world needs, because people from the future can travel
    to it anytime they want.

    “I would hope they would come with the idea of showing us
    that time travel is possible,” said Amal Dorai, 22, the graduate student who
    thought up the convention, which is to be this Saturday on the M.I.T. campus.
    “Maybe they could leave something with us. It is possible they might look
    slightly different, the shape of the head, the body proportions.”

    The event is potluck and alcohol-free – present-day humans
    are bringing things like brownies. But Mr. Dorai’s Web site asks that
    future-folk bring something to prove they are really ahead of our time: “Things
    like a cure for AIDS or cancer, a solution for global poverty or a cold fusion
    reactor would be particularly convincing as well as greatly appreciated.”

    He would also welcome people from only a few days in the
    future, far enough to, say, give him a few stock market tips.

    Mr. Dorai and fellow organizers are the kind of people who
    transplant a snowblower engine into a sleeper sofa and drive the couch around
    Cambridge. (If the upholstery were bright red, it could be a midlife crisis
    convertible for couch potatoes.)

    They built a human-size hamster wheel – eight feet in
    diameter. And they concocted the “pizza button,” a plexiglass pizza slice
    mounted in their hallway; when pressed, it calls up a Web site and arranges for
    pizza delivery 30 minutes later. (For anyone wanting to try this at home, the
    contraption uses a Huffman binary code. It takes fewer keystrokes to order the
    most popular toppings, like pepperoni, more keystrokes for less popular extras,
    like onions.)

    At the convention, they plan to introduce a robot with an
    “infrared pyro-electric detector,” designed to follow anything that emits heat,
    including humans.

    “It’s supposed to be our pet,” said Adam Kraft, 22, a

    “It needs fur,” added David Nelson, 23, a graduate

    While Mr. Dorai has precisely calculated that “the odds of
    a time traveler showing up are between one in a million and one in a trillion,”
    organizers have tried to make things inviting.

    In case their august university does not exist forever,
    they have posted the latitude and longitude of the East Campus Courtyard
    (42:21:36.025 degrees north, 71:05:16.332 degrees west).

    A roped-off area, including part of an improvised
    volleyball court, will create a landing pad so materializing time-travel
    machines will not crash into trees or dormitories.

    To set the mood, organizers plan to display a DeLorean –
    the sleek but short-lived 1980′s car that was the time-traveling vehicle in the
    “Back to the Future” movies.

    At first, Mr. Dorai urged people to publicize the event
    with methods likely to last. “Write the details down on a piece of acid-free
    paper,” he directed, “and slip them into obscure books in academic

    But Mr. Dorai said the response was so overwhelming that
    the police, concerned about security, had asked that anyone who had not replied
    by Wednesday not be allowed to attend.

    No future-guests are confirmed as of yet, although one
    responder purports to be from 2026. But among the 100 likely attendees, there
    are those from another time zone – Chicago – and from New York, which at least
    likes to think of itself as light-years ahead.

    “I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” said Erik D. Demaine, an
    M.I.T. mathematician who will be one of the professors speaking.

    There will also be two bands, the Hong Kong Regulars and
    Off-White Noise, performing new, time-travel-apropos tunes.

    “If you subscribe to alternative-world theory, then time
    travel makes sense at some level,” said Professor Demaine, who would like
    future-guests to bring answers to mathematical mysteries. “The universe is
    inherently uncertain, and at various times it’s essentially flipping coins to
    make a decision. At any point, there’s the heads version of the world and the
    tails version of the world. We think that we actually live in one of them, and
    you could imagine that there’s actually many versions of the universe, including
    one where suddenly you appear from 10 years in the future.”

    If you can not imagine that, consider Erin Rhode’s view of
    time travel.

    “I kind of think if it’s going to happen, it’ll be the
    wormhole theory,” said Ms. Rhode, 23, a recent graduate, adding, “If you create
    a stable wormhole,” a hole in space, “people can go back to visit it.”

    William McGehee, 19, a freshman who helped build a
    “Saturday Night Fever”-like dance floor in his dorm, said, “It’s pretty obvious
    if time travel does occur, then it doesn’t cause the universe to explode.”

    And Sam McVeety, 18, a freshman, wondered if wearing a
    tinfoil hat would be comforting or insulting to future-people.

    Mr. Dorai has had quirky brainstorms before: proposing the
    imprisonment of Bill Watterson, the retired cartoonist, to force him to continue
    his “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip; and donning the costume of M.I.T.’s mascot,
    the beaver, while climbing the statue of John Harvard, namesake of that other
    Cambridge college. That incident went awry when some Harvard men swiped a

    But Mr. Dorai’s time travel idea seems to have legs.

    “If you can just give up a Saturday night, there’s a very
    small chance at it being the biggest event in human history,” he said.

    And if it is a flop, futuristically speaking?

    Well, Mr. Dorai reasoned, “Certainly, if no one from the
    future shows up, that won’t prove that it’s impossible.”