TIME TRAVELERS TO MEET IN THE FUTURE
TIME TRAVELERS TO MEET IN THE FUTURE
2005-05-09 at 10:00:00 am #9241
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,
At the convention, they plan to introduce a robot with an
“infrared pyro-electric detector,” designed to follow anything that emits heat,
“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
“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.”