If there were time travelers out there, how would we know? It’s not like the TARDIS arrives at the airport or gets parked in municipal lots. Time travelers aren’t supposed to reveal themselves, especially to their past or future selves, because that would disrupt the space-time continuum. No one showed up to Stephen Hawking’s time traveler party. But just because we haven’t confirmed the existence of time travelers doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Two researchers from Michigan Technological University are passing their time in the Upper Peninsula in perhaps the most interesting way this Michigander has ever heard of—by searching the internet for proof of time travelers in the form of uncannily correct predictions about the future.
If you think I’m making this up, just check out the paper the duo published. People don’t write papers unless they’re serious. Even though Stephen Hawking doesn’t think time travel is actually possible, it’s at least theoretically possible, and that’s enough for these guys. The researchers went online to search for “content that should not have been known at the time it was posted.” Like sports predictions from an almanac retrieved from the future. Got it. But isn’t there arguably a ton of information online that “should not have been known?” I mean, we here at GFR make some stunning predictions about sci-fi plots and futuristic technology that have proven prescient. Maybe we ought to come clean about the time traveler on staff? You have to admit, that’s a great asset, although not one I’ve ever seen on a resume or CV.
The team found that a slew of web content seemed notably prophetic, but upon closer examination they saw how many current ads popped up on older stories, and admitted that it was pretty easy to confuse and change posting dates. They narrowed down their search to terms that were popular at a specific time, such as “Pope Francis” and “Comet ISON,” but continued to have the same problem. That’s when they focused on Twitter instead, as it’s (supposedly) impossible to back-date tweets. But that didn’t yield anything either. Apparently no one between January 2006 and September 2013 Tweeted about Francis’ papal promotion or ISON’s refusal to confirm its survival or death after its run at the sun. All this really means is that the Billy Pilgrims of the world don’t use Twitter.
The two even put out an ad for time travelers, but they had the same response as Hawking. So while they concluded their 11-page paper without having found any evidence of time travelers online, they don’t take that to mean time travelers aren’t out there. I think they should do a sequel study in which they follow up on the only tangible lead that I know of—a hand-written message left in a coffee shop. If I were a time traveler, that would be more my style, and if I spent a lot of time in the past, that might be my best option.