That 70’s Suitcase

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Aug 15, 2017

Filed under: Column 289 comments

Last month I mentioned that I get certain hypothetical problems or situations stuck in my mind. I’m only just getting over one now. The hypothetical that’s been chasing me around for the last couple of months is one I’ll call the 70’s Suitcase Problem. Here is how it works:

What if you could send a package (let’s say suitcase-sized) to 1977? It will arrive at today’s date, minus 40 years. You can have it sent to whomever you like, but you can’t personally hang around and make sure it gets used properly. There’s nothing about this delivery that will convince the recipient that this package is from the future. There won’t be any flashing lights or vortexes or portals for them to see. All they see is the package on their doorstep, and they have no special knowledge of this experiment or your efforts. It’s up to your packaging to motivate the people of 1977 to open it and pay attention to the contents.

You also can’t enlist any large-scale help to fill this suitcase. You can’t call on NASA, or launch a “Help Save the 70s” Kickstarter. You don’t magically have access to classified data or government funding. Filling this suitcase comes down to you, your wits, and however much you’re willing to put on your credit card. (If you’re well-off then maybe limit yourself to 10k in spending, just so you’re working on the same problem as the rest of us.) For the purpose of the exercise, imagine you have a way to send the package, but there’s no way to prove this to anyone here in 2017.

What do you put in the package? What items or information will benefit them most? How will you get that information, how will you package it, and how will you entice the recipient to take it seriously?

Now, some of you might reject the entire premise of the project. Maybe you don’t want to mess with the timeline on practical grounds. We haven’t had a nuclear war (yet) and maybe you’re afraid mucking about in the Cold War era could change that. Or maybe you dislike messing with history on moral or aesthetic grounds. Maybe you feel like you don’t have the right to change the lives of basically everyone, even with the best of intentions. Or maybe you’re afraid that people, not ignorance, is the biggest problem in the World and so you don’t think that giving the same bunch of idiots a new set of information will improve life on This Here Earth. Or maybe you just don’t want the job.

That’s fine. You’re excused.

Maybe you don’t like thinking about it because messing with the timeline would cause you to not be born. For the sake of argument, let’s say this is some sort of Nu-Trek alternate timeline deal. You’ll still be here in your familiar 2017, but somewhere out there will be a new alternate history / multiverse type thing where a new timeline will fork off from ours in 1977 and go a different way, based on your intervention.

I suppose it should go without saying, but I’m proceeding under the assumption that our goal is to somehow make the world a better place. “Better” in this case is entirely up to you. Yes, you could use this opportunity to make yourself rich or powerful, or to simply perpetrate some prank on a global scale, but those sort of efforts fall outside the parameters of this exercise. That might make for an an interesting project, but it’s not this project.

For the purposes of discussion, we’ll refer to the recipient of the suitcase as Red Forman. Maybe your chosen Red Forman is a working class type, maybe they’re a scientist, or maybe they’re a politician. It’s up to you who gets it, but I’m going to call them Red.

You can use any container you like. If it’s legal dimensions for carry-on luggage, then you’re good. If you decide you want to put all your future treasure in a picnic basket, that’s your business. For the purposes of this article I’m calling it the “suitcase”.

Assuming you can buy into this premise, let’s get to work. It turns out this is a really complicated problem…

Density vs. Accessibility

Mr. President. We finally decoded those silver discs from the future. They contain references to someone named Harambe, a thousand copies of a song by some guy named Rick Astley, and forty terrabytes of pornography.
Mr. President. We finally decoded those silver discs from the future. They contain references to someone named Harambe, a thousand copies of a song by some guy named Rick Astley, and forty terrabytes of pornography.

I anticipate the most obvious and naive course of action will be to just cram a bunch of science knowledge into our suitcase. For example, maybe you want to send them the last 20+ years of scientific papers. (Stuff more than 20 years old might not be available online, or it might just be really hard to find. It depends on the field.) Annoyingly, many of these will be stuck in stupid PDF files. You can keep it in that format and leave it to the poor folks of 1977 to reverse-engineer that mess. Or you can print the files out, leaving them as paper / images. Or you can try to convert them to some other format. I’ll warn you this is probably harder than you imagine. Most papers aren’t raw text. There’s a lot of graphs, charts, photographs, diagrams, and complex math that will need to be converted. The people of 1977 don’t have any good multimedia formats so one way or another you’ve got your work cut out for you.

In fact, even if a scientific paper does happen to be all prose, it will still be hard for them to decipher. If you send them modern text files then they will be encoded in Unicode format, and most modern programmers can barely make sense of that mess. The problem is that our computers, storage formats, and data formats are all going to be alien to the people of 40-years-ago. If they want to read our modern discs then they they will need to decipher modern file systems, modern character sets, modern image conventions, modern video formats, and tons of other little details that will trip them up and confuse them.

And here we come to our first major problem, which is the trade-off between information density and information accessibility.

You can print everything out on paper and make it nice and convenient for the people of ’77 to read, but you’re not going to fit more than a few textbooks worth of information like thatProtip: Get a printer capable of two-sided printing.. That’s probably not the best use of this space. You also won’t be able to share audio or video information. On the other hand, you can burn a big stack of DVDs for our ancestors. There’s lots of room for cool stuff on those. Video files, raw scientific data, jumbo image files from NASA, and lots of other goodies. The problem is… What the heck is Red Forman supposed to do with a DVD?

Maybe you think you’re being clever by giving them a couple of working DVD drives to work from. That’s nice of you, but remember that the typical consumer-grade electronics of the day held a hilariously tiny 4k of memory. Maybe there are some government or university machines available that have 100 times that. Even so, that’s still less than a megabyte. It still leaves your recipient almost five orders of magnitude short of being able to store the contents of even one disc.

Just because they have a DVD drive doesn’t mean they have the ability to interface with one. Can their computers talk fast enough to keep up with the DVD? Can they even store a single buffer-load of data? Do they even know how to decipher the file system, much less the various audio, video, and text formats you’re using? Do they have the ability to store the information once they manage to read it?

A single DVD is 4.7 gigabytes. Back in 1980, you couldn’t buy even one gigabyte of storage. The largest commercial drives were a minuscule 26 megabytes. You’d need 180 of those suckers just to store a single DVD. At $5,000 a pop, that would run you about a million dollars. Just for the storage. Of one disc.

And we haven’t even tried to buy memory yet!

This is the <a href=''>Osborne 1</a>, a cutting-edge computer of the time period. Its 64kb of RAM means it can only store 0.001% of the data from a DVD. Heck, it wouldn't even be able to fit this picture of itself (90kb) into memory. Oh, and the Osborne 1 didn't actually come out until 1981, so it's still a bit beyond the reach of consumer hardware in 1977.
This is the Osborne 1, a cutting-edge computer of the time period. Its 64kb of RAM means it can only store 0.001% of the data from a DVD. Heck, it wouldn't even be able to fit this picture of itself (90kb) into memory. Oh, and the Osborne 1 didn't actually come out until 1981, so it's still a bit beyond the reach of consumer hardware in 1977.

Building a computer that could interface with a modern DVD player, read its files, and display its data in a user-readable way would be an enormous job for the people of 1977. It might not be quite as big as the Apollo program, but you’re definitely talking about something with a billion-dollar price tag. It would be a job for governments or very large corporations. It’s going to be tough for poor Red Forman to get either one to put up that kind of cash without being able to demonstrate some kind of worthwhile return on investment.

The more densely you pack the information, the more expensive it will be for them to obtain it. The more expensive it is, the harder it will be to persuade them to pay for the R&D to get to it.

Maybe you could help them out and drop a laptop in there. That’s nice of you, but we still have all the data “trapped” on a future machine. How will this information be shared? Will the entire scientific community make a pilgrimage to THE LAPTOP ROOM and take turns sitting in THE LAPTOP CHAIR, smacking Page Down over and over as they read through the papers related to their field? That’s going to create an incredible bottleneck. It will be years before they can get the information to the people that need it. At that rate you might as well leave a note for Red Forman to stick the package in the attic for a decade and wait for computers to advance enough that it won’t be so hard to extract data from these magical future disks. I guess that works, but it would be nice if we could give them a bit more help. It’s going to take bloody ages for everyone to digest these studies anyway, so the sooner they can get to the point of mass distribution, the better off they’ll be.

Alien Technology

In Independance Day (1996) the good guys upload a virus to an alien computer. It's the most implausible moment in a movie that already has a hilariously young Bill Pullman playing the president.
In Independance Day (1996) the good guys upload a virus to an alien computer. It's the most implausible moment in a movie that already has a hilariously young Bill Pullman playing the president.

I said before that our technology will be alien to the people of the past. So now maybe you’re thinking that we need to stop mucking about trying to print out the internet for them. Maybe what would work better is giving them a couple examples of working 2017 technology, a few specification sheets, and letting them build their own DVD players and laptops.

This is going to be harder than it sounds.

Knowing how something works doesn’t mean you know how to build it. Imagine if you dropped a 1977 car off in 1850. Sure, they could probably wrap their heads around the tech, particularly if you left an explanation on the front seat. But they don’t have the chemistry to make the fuel, the lubricant, the tires, the battery, or the plastic parts. They don’t have the metallurgy to make the specialty steel. Worst of all, they don’t have the machine technology to make parts with such precise tolerances. The people of 1850 can figure out how the 1977 car works, but they will be totally unable to build one themselves. Sure, they can substitute their own crude versions of all the tricky parts, but the resulting automobile is probably going to look an awful lot like the rudimentary cars they were already building.

The problems get to be even more extreme when you’re taking about building 2017 devices in 1977. Chip technology is greatly influenced by the size of the wafer you can grow in your lab and the size of the circuits you can make. The transistors on modern chips are only a few nanometers across. A working example of this kind of chip won’t be particularly helpful to the poor sods of 1977, who can’t make chips that big and who can’t make transistors smaller than a micronA micron is 1,000 times bigger than a nanometer..

Instead of trying to imagine things in the realm of nanometers, let’s scale this problem up to the visible realm. Imagine you’re drawing circuits on a piece of notebook paper with a quality ballpoint pen. The more lines you can fit on that sheet of paper, the faster your computer chip will go. So you pack those lines as close together as you can. Now I’m going to take away your 2017 tools. Instead of a ballpoint pen, you have to use a big knobby chunk of sidewalk chalk that makes marks the size of an American quarter dollar. And instead of a standard piece of paper, you have to draw your lines on a postcard. I can show you a chip made in ballpoint pen, but it won’t help you improve the one you’re trying to draw on a postcard with sidewalk chalk.

Essentially, the key technology in your smartphone isn’t inside the smartphone itself, it’s inside the factories and fabs where the parts are made.

Sure, you can include Wikipedia articles on modern fab technology. The problem is that a lot of the really important stuff is secret, the stuff that isn’t secret is still pretty dang hard to find, and there’s a lot of it. Making better cleanrooms requires numerous improvements to air filtration, clothing materials, building construction, cleaning apparatus, HVAC and airflow control, and a bunch of other things. The Czochralski Process is similarly a complex network of interconnected tools, processes, machines, and chemistry to produce the silicon wafers we need to make computer chips. The process was around well before 1977, but we’ve made huge strides since then and those improvements are numerous and complex. Photolithography – the sorcery we use to make integrated circuits from all those silicon wafers – is similarly a web of ever-improving techniques and tools. None of this stuff is documented on Wikipedia in enough detail to enable the people of the past to make that 40-year leap.

The modern microprocessor isn’t a single invention, it’s a hundred inventions. And even once you master the technology required to produce a chip, you’ve still got to work out how the circuits should be laid out. The people of 1977 can handle the job, sure. But it will take time to design a good chip. Maybe you can send them a map of ours, but I’m betting those designs are proprietary and not something you can easily download. You can give them an example chip to study under a microscope and reverse-engineer, but that might be less efficient than just designing their own.

The Future is Expensive

The IBM 5110, which came out in 1978. Sure, that screen seems small. But what do you expect for a lousy $18,000?
The IBM 5110, which came out in 1978. Sure, that screen seems small. But what do you expect for a lousy $18,000?

No matter how we do this, it’s going to cost them a lot of money to access anything stored on a format they don’t already use. Which is a shame, since all of their storage formats are terrible. You can stick video on VCR, audio on cassettes, and print everything else on paper, but you’ll run out of room in your suitcase really fast.

More importantly, you need to get them to spend the money in the first place. If Red Forman opens up the suitcase and sees it packed wall-to-wall with DVDs, what will motivate him to undertake the expensive and time-consuming task of unlocking all of that information treasure?

Maybe you’ll trade out some of the papers for floppy discs, since Red Forman can already read those. Or maybe you’re worried about data degradation and you’d rather not entrust such important data to fragile magnetic media. Then again, can you write a floppy in 2017 that Red can read in 1977? Operating systems and file formats are not interchangeable. From the Wikipedia article on floppy disk formats:

Floppy disk format and density refer to the logical and physical layout of data stored on a floppy disk. Since their introduction, there have been many popular and rare floppy disk types, densities, and formats used in computing, leading to much confusion over their differences.

Sure, you might be able to buy a floppy drive on Ebay and download DOS Box. Maybe you’re good buddies with someone like Clint Basinger and you can use his retro MS-DOS gear to make some floppies for the nice people of 1977. That’s cool and I envy your access to cool people with cool technology, but that’s not necessarily going to close the gap between you and Red Forman. MS-Dos didn’t arrive until 1981. If you want Red to be able to read your discs, then you need a drive that can properly write 1977 floppies, an operating system (probably CP/M) that can write in a format Red’s computer can understand, and floppy discs that are physically compatible with both.

Who is Red Forman?

mumble something-something-something FOOT UP YOUR ASS! (Laugh track plays.)
mumble something-something-something FOOT UP YOUR ASS! (Laugh track plays.)

You can pick anyone you like to receive the package. Who do you choose? Will this man or woman believe what they find? Will they be responsible with it?

Maybe they’ll start filing for patents based on the stuff you send them. Maybe they’ll share all the tech with government powers that will do some kind of Area 51 deal, and the advances won’t benefit the general public. Maybe they will share the information as you desire, but they’ll also mix in their own (fake) information to further some personal, financial, or political agenda. Maybe they’ll try to pretend they have personally invented, discovered, or devised all the secrets you’re sharing with them. Maybe they’ll be careless and end up destroying some of the information or gadgets. Maybe they will object to some of the information and quietly destroy the bits they don’t agree with. Maybe personal problems will intrude and they’ll procrastinate on this box of confusing information, which means it might languish for years. Maybe they’ll get robbed soon after announcing what they’ve found.

Maybe they’ll auction off the contents to strangers who are likely to do all of the above.

You want someone who has some sort of money, power, or influence so that they can’t be easily robbed or overpowered by financial, legal, or bureaucratic pressures. You want someone trustworthy and principled. You want someone who will share the information in a way that aligns with your vision. You want someone old enough to be wise, young enough to have all their wits, and at the right point int their life that they can afford to worry about this business. (Couples with new babies or lots of young children are probably not the best people to entrust with tons of additional responsibility.)

Before You Hit “Send”…

This completely ruins my suspension of disbelief. There's no way you could get one of those mail trucks up to 88 miles per hour.
This completely ruins my suspension of disbelief. There's no way you could get one of those mail trucks up to 88 miles per hour.

To sum up, here are the questions we’re trying to answer:

  1. Who gets the package?
  2. How will you entice this person to examine the package, take it seriously, and distribute the information according to your wishes?
  3. How will you store information in the suitcase, and what format will you use?
  4. What information will you send them?

I know you’re probably all eager to jump down to the comments and tell us all about the awesome plan you’ve got, but the point of the exercise is to take some time and think it over. I can promise you, the plan you have a week from now will be vastly superior to the half-baked scheme you cooked up while reading this article. I say this as someone who has spent months involuntarily thinking about the problem. The more time you give it, the more complete the plan will be.

Give the idea a week. Talk it over. You can’t enlist government help and funding, but you’re not forbidden from asking around. Get advice from friends. Ask the technology and science nerds on that one forum you always frequent. Get feedback and refine the plan.

Next week I’ll do another post where we can share our plans and show our work. Meanwhile, let’s use the comments this week to talk about the exercise itself. I’m sure I overlooked some challenges, so now would be a good time to point those out.



[1] Protip: Get a printer capable of two-sided printing.

[2] A micron is 1,000 times bigger than a nanometer.

From The Archives:

289 thoughts on “That 70’s Suitcase

  1. methermeneus says:

    Well, I don’t know how I’d answer most of those questions, but I can give you a general idea for how to entice Red to at least look inside: Have an iPod (small, cheaply available used) playing some music or message (precisely what depends on who Red is) on loop. Tech to put that in a suitcase existed in ’77, but it was rare and expensive, so I imagine I’d get his attention pretty well that way.

    1. Syal says:

      FRI-day, FRI-day, Getting down on FRI-day.

      Looping, forever.

      1. galacticplumber says:

        We want them to open it and peruse the contents, not drive over the case repeatedly until the torture stops.

      2. Mistwraithe says:


        You would have it looping “Never gonna give you up…”

        Of course. ;-)

    2. Echo Tango says:

      You could also just print out (on durable plastic paper if you wanted), a nice poster / eye-catching page, which clearly states the suitcase contains cool things from 40 years in the future. “Package sent back in time from 2017, filled with amazing technical documents.” would probably at least catch someone’s eye enough to open it up and see if it was a joke or not.

      1. I don’t really get the point of just sending MASSES of information. Why? What would that accomplish? Your signal to noise ratio would be ABYSMAL.

        You should zero in on some SPECIFIC thing, come up with a strategy to address that thing, and include ONLY information that pertains to that–preferably so shocking that ANYONE who finds it will spread it far and wide (since you don’t really have any way to control who will find it and how).

        Are we limited to sending ACCURATE information? Probably easiest just to make some stuff up, how the hell are they going to fact-check it, anyway?

        1. I’d probably go look up some retired CIA wonk from around that time and fabricate plans for a “terrorist attack” of gruesome magnitude that would embarrass the crap out of Saudi Arabia and/or Iran and, with any luck, cause the U.S. to assert themselves a lot more aggressively before things in the Middle East deteriorate past the point of no return.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            So, your plan is to turn the USA, via time-travel, into a world-controlling dictatorship?

          2. Viktor says:

            Yes, because clearly the problem in the Middle East is that the Cold War-era US didn’t interfere enough.

          3. tmtvl says:

            You must be new here, Shamus doesn’t really like politics on Twenty Sided, so maybe avoid that kind of stuff in the future (see what I did there)?

            1. Viktor says:

              Can that rule even apply to this post? The question is fundamentally political. “What is a better world?” is the core of most political differences, with “How do we get there?” being the rest. You can’t discuss this question without addressing the Cold War, US imperialism, the AIDS crisis, global warming, social progressiveness, net neutrality, and who gets to own technology. Those are all political questions, and they’re vital to the discussion.

              1. Shamus says:

                It’s true that you can get into politics pretty quickly. I’ve been giving people some slack. (You’ll notice there are a few political opinions here and there.)

                I didn’t EXPLICITLY lift the rule because I think people are generally more well-behaved when you’re aware they’re pushing against the rules. What I really want to avoid are deliberately inflammatory and combative posts, but one person’s “fighting words” is another person’s “What? I’m just saying your party is dumb and they totally are. I don’t see what the big deal is. If you don’t like it then don’t be so dumb.”

                People are terrible at arguing politics. Like, it’s embarrassing how shit most people are at it.

                General tip: If someone espouses a view you think is stupid, just let it slide. They’re not going to actually get a time-travelling suitcase so it’s not worth getting worked up about.

                Additional tip: You don’t have to outline all of your political schemes in explicit detail.

                Additional note: Everyone is packing the suitcase this week when I suggested they not do that. I’m calling the Timecops on the lot of you.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  So youve decided to send the suitcase to you after all,with a note “Read in august 2017:DO NOT MAKE THE SUITCASE TOPIC”

                2. Syal says:

                  Everyone is packing the suitcase this week when I suggested they not do that.

                  It’s a metaphor for the reaction in 1977.

            2. Wide And Nerdy® says:

              That’s funny* that you think Jennifer is new. You’ve been coming here for a while and she’s been coming here for many years (I was just reading through some of Shamus’s older columns and I think I saw her name in the comments of a 2010 column). So no she’s not new.

              *Not funny like I’m having a laugh at your expense, just funny that circumstances caused you not to notice her this long.

              1. FelBlood says:

                It is extra ironic, since she is one of our more controversial religious/political figures, and definitely knows she is on the edge of the line there.

          4. djw says:

            I think that the point of no return was the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after WWI.

  2. Infinitron says:

    Maybe you could help them out and drop a laptop in there. That's nice of you, but we still have all the data “trapped” on a future machine. How will this information be shared? Will the entire scientific community make a pilgrimage to THE LAPTOP ROOM and take turns sitting in THE LAPTOP CHAIR, smacking Page Down over and over as they read through the papers related to their field? That's going to create an incredible bottleneck. It will be years before they can get the information to the people that need it. At that rate you might as well leave a note for Red Forman to stick the package in the attic for a decade and wait for computers to advance enough that it won't be so hard to extract data from these magical future disks. I guess that works, but it would be nice if we could give them a bit more help. It's going to take bloody ages for everyone to digest these studies anyway, so the sooner they can get to the point of mass distribution, the better off they'll be.

    How hard would it be to develop a driver+adapter for 1977 printers?

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      But is that even a thing? Did they have printers back then that could handle the kind of output a modern computer produces? They wouldn’t be physically capable.

      The printers of that era would either be built to copy a template or generate pure text I’d think. So you’d have to do file conversions and probably still would need a special driver. I doubt if there are any modern computers that would understand how to interface with a 1977 printer.

      Now you go up even ten years and that starts being believable.

      Also, woohoo. Shamus thanks for fixing the site. I’m back.

      1. ZoeM says:

        The fun thing is, though, we have the technology to go backwards. Given a 1977 printer and a few weeks to experiment (and possibly an obscure chain of downgrading interconnected dongles) it’s not hard to imagine a laptop that can print things on a 1977 machine.

        The iPod idea, however, is worth investigating.
        iPods are small, ubiquitous, last a long time, and are designed to be easy to get to grips with. You could potentially fit thousands (of nanos) in a suitcase, or hundreds along with the chargers and plugs required to keep them running.
        So what do you fill them with? Audiobooks. Have someone (s) familiar with every modern field spend a month or ten recording audio recitals and explanations of every major paper or advance to come out of a given field in the last 30 years; then segment it by industry and label them clearly.
        Suddenly you’ve got a durable, reproducible (albeit at some expense), portable, and (crucially) comprehensible information transmission medium in the oldest of all formats: the spoken word. 30 years might not be an exceptionally long time to work with, but the beauty of this method is that you can extend the time period as far back as people have wall sockets – about a hundred years, given the right connectors.

        1. 4th Dimension says:

          Problem with audiobook approach is that science and engineering papers tend to be HEAVY on math; math and diagrams; math diagrams and graphs; math diagra… you get the idea. And these are actually really needed to get why and how something was tested (ei. how we know it works, because that’s what papers are) and how it functions. And none of those are really audio book friendly.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            The science and engineering bit would be the hardest of all matters to communicate either way. Even then, people wouldn’t really require proof that something works, just a few guidelines where to direct research. I mean, it’s not as if most engineering research papers could be reproduced these days …

            Much easier to get across via audio: History and social sciences. Again, you don’t need many proofs, just explain the results and a few experiments that people can try to verify they’re correct. The Audio format, though, would still severely limit how much ground you could cover. On the plus side, it would be very easy to multiply and distribute.

        2. Zak McKracken says:

          iPods (or any MP3 player for that matter) seem like a pretty cool idea. Of course, getting all those important and smart people together was ruled out by Shamus: It’s just you and no more than 10k$.

          …also, it’s 40 years back, not 30 :)

      2. Falcon02 says:

        I believe they would have Dot Matrix printers, though not sure how commercially accessible they were. These weren’t based on “templates” and could do more than just plain text, but still low resolution and monochrome. However I doubt modern programs would really be optimized for printing to Dot Matrix anymore given the ultra low resolution they had, vs. the moderate/high resolution expectations of modern fonts.

        I think the best way around this might be pack a modern portable printer with everything else. Of course that has a few problems.
        – How much ink will you give them? it will be hard (ie. impossible) for them to find replacement cartridges. Though you could leave instructions to refill the cartridges (ie. by syringe) but printer DRM tries to fight that…
        – That’s still a major bottleneck (not as bad as the situation Shamus describes) but you can only get it “out” as fast as a printer that’s optimized for size rather than speed can.
        – Wear and Tear, under such high demand the printer will only last so long, and it will eventually fail and need to be replaced (and none will be available)

        1. Infinitron says:

          Dot matrix? Laser printers are older than you think:

          1. Falcon02 says:

            True, but I’m somewhat doubtful it was very accessible (see Shamus’ comment about the $18,000 computer in the body). Just because it exists doesn’t mean whoever you send it to will have access to it. I mentioned Dot Matrix mainly because I know that was fairly ubiqutious by the mid/late 1980’s so it seemed more reasonable someone of somewhat modest means might be able to get a hold of a dot matrix.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      You guys are skipping ahead a week – this week is about the problem itself! :P

    3. Chris says:

      Alternatively, send a laptop and a printer! Just out of a general consumer electronics store, you could grab an ultralight laptop (I’m thinking something like a UX390 or better, anything with a 1TB+ SSD) and a tank-based printer (IE, ET-2550), then stick them in. Do the setup yourself, include a couple extra bottles of ink, print off a “how to access and print stuff” step by step guide and fill the drive with scientific info. That should get around 12000 pages ready to print out of the box, plug into the wall and you’re good to go! The laptop should be futuristic enough to catch their eye, and the printer ink should be replicable using chemistry of the time.

      It’s not super cheap – it would be around $2000 canadian after tax, at least – but it deals with the bottleneck. Heck, the laptop is thin and light enough that you could include three or four of them no problem, you’d run out of money before running out of space.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        This is a carry-on suitcase, not a big one for under the plane. You’d be able to fit one laptop or maybe two, maximum. There’s not much you can fit in something about half the size of a microwave oven. :)

        1. methermeneus says:

          RE: printers, check out Computerphile’s series on the evolution of PDF for an idea of what printers were capable of before, oh, the Apple II era? Just connecting to the printer is nowhere near the largest hurdle.
          If anyone really does figure out a printer format workaround, though, you need then to figure out how to cull your info to something manageable. I mean, you could send a tablet, a page of instructions, an AC adapter, a shoebox of batteries, and fill the rest of the case with micro SD cards, but do you actually want to send that much info at once? As someone already mentioned, pretty much no matter what’s in there, your signal-to-noise ratio will be abysmal, and you need to think about how much effort you’ll have to spend setting it all up in the first place.

          I actually like the idea someone else had of basically recording lecture series on iPod. The 70s were definitely capable of producing 120V 12A AC to 5V 1 A DC adapters, if you include a note with a few technical details, so you don’t have to worry about an adapter you send wearing out. (In this case, the outdated US power grid works in our favor: household current hasn’t changed since the Edison/Westinghouse conflict. Actually, Britain hasn’t changed since WWII at least, so they’d be good, too, albeit with different AC values. I don’t know enough about the history of mains power to say for certain if the she can be said elsewhere in the world.)

    4. Neko says:

      Regarding the problem of getting the data out: I’d include an iPad, and build an app that flips through pages of each PDF at a rate of, say, fifteen per second. The typical Hollywood effect used when people are downloading information direct to their brains, etc. Power goes on, flips through all the data and powers down. Obviously I’d include a charger and instructions about that.

      The smart people of 1977 will realise they can film this, then disseminate the reels for analysis.

      I suspect there’s also a problem of getting that iPad into the “right hands”, so perhaps it could be hidden inside the briefcase lining, with some suitable dummy data on paper that would cause Red to turn it into the government. What that data should be to prompt that response, I haven’t figured out yet… some faked intelligence report on the Russians, maybe?

    5. Mike says:

      A laptop with instructions would suffice as the method to get the information back, and in lieu of a printer one would only need to prompt the receiver with the option of photographing the pages with traditional film or micro-fiche for further distribution. Before the advent of affordable color-printers we’d take true screen-shots all the time to preserve artwork or imagery authored on our machines. I still have some of the prints, and most of the negatives going on 28+ years.

  3. Decius says:

    A laptop, a printer, minimum viable directions, and fill the rest of the available space with toner.

    1. Kamica says:

      Don’t forget to make sure that the plug matches, voltage, amps and all (Electricity standards change with time in some countries)

    2. Matt Downie says:

      Is toner an advanced techno-fluid that would have been impossible to manufacture back in 1977?

      1. Shamus says:

        Based on price, I’m pretty sure it’s albino unicorn blood.

        1. methermeneus says:

          Toner is basically a mixture of polymerized carbon and iron oxide in a superfine powder. Doable in the 70s, but expensive as hell, even compared to today. It would have been available at the time for use in lithographs, though I’m not certain if 70s lithograph toner is entirely compatible with modern printers, since that used plain carbon powder. Might still work if you reduce the resolution; I think the move to polymer-based toners was to get past something like 500 or 600 dpi? (Source: My dad was a copy machine repair tech for a while, plus I got interested in the history of lithography when I discovered lithocoal. Holy crap, that article’s from 1999? I remember when that stuff was brand new. Now I feel old.)

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            It would have all been made moot by today’s toner DRM which prevents use of 3rd-party cartridges or re-filled original ones …
            (or maybe there are still some brands which can work…?)

    3. kdansky says:

      Yeah, that’s the correct answer. This post reminded me of a bad movie where the protagonist ignores the obvious solution because it’s too boring.

      Laptop, charger (!), include either a printer or a driver to interface with an existing old printer. Add instructions.

      As for contents: Medicine. Just the raw formulas to make specific drugs. It’s patented, it can be openly accessed, it’s just a bunch of chemical formulas. List what the drugs are for. Any chemist worth their salt will be able to figure it out with so much help. Maybe it’ll take a few months for the most complex ones, but that’s still 39.5 years faster.

      No matter your political position, just having access to modern cancer treatments in the 80’s would safe millions of lives over the long run.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Im not sure how wise that is.One of the big looming problems of today are germs that are getting used to modern drugs,and much money is being spent on dealing with this problem.Introducing those drugs earlier would save millions,but has a potential to doom billions.

  4. silver Harloe says:

    For reference:
    VCRs were expensive luxuries, but recognizable in 1977.
    Cassette tapes were slightly less common than 8-tracks at the time, but also fully recognizable.
    Microfiche readers were available in libraries everywhere, and certainly to any government agencies. Microfiche can hold diagrams and black and white pictures as well as tons of text.

    Random musings (not “my solution to the problem”):

    Science isn’t the only field that can make the world better. There’s also something to be said for history (well, history to US). Also, US government secrets are only classified for like 25 years? So we can access some documents from before 1992 anyway.

    Authenticity (“this is really from the future”) can be confirmed with stock reports and sports almanacs (though with a warning about chaos and how events after 1978 are likely to be majorly affected by the contents of the case).

    Though the problem states that Red is just one person, if you choose a sufficiently dependable Red (and he doesn’t get mugged), you can have a lot of pre-addressed letters in the box and thus scatter your findings (if that’s in any way desirable – like I said, these are just musings about the problem, not part of “my solution”)

    If you can forge documents, framing the whole package as part of (someone who died in 1977)’s estate and will can be rather reliable for getting the package sent to the right person/people with a message.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      Arguably, soft/social/political information could be *more* valuable than science/technology data in the right hands – if the goal is to make the world a better place. As Shamus notes, technology information suffers from “need the tech to make the tech to make the tech to make the tech” problems – giving them 40 years of tech at once might accelerate the whole process of getting to day’s tech by a much smaller amount than you’d think – because each stage of development doesn’t just need to be done, it needs to be done more or less profitably. Maybe we get the internet 5 years earlier and smartphones 10 years earlier – so what?

      Whereas 40 years of research on climate change (and the knowledge that “climate change” plays better than “global warming”) could, in the right hands, perhaps have more real impact (but, since Shamus doesn’t want political talk on this board, I’ll leave out further examples and say we probably shouldn’t even talk about the climate change example… which undermines my whole thesis about social data being more valuable than tech data, so, er, uh. Damn)

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        I wouldn’t discount the impact of getting smartphones ten years earlier. Cellphones impacted 9/11 remember?

        Because passengers were in contact with the ground, they knew their plane had been hijacked by suicide bombers rather than your run of the mill plane hijackers, which is important because before 9/11, we’d always been told to sit and cooperate when a plane is hijacked (this was usually good advice prior to 9/11).

        If they didn’t have that information, the passengers wouldn’t have successfully retaken the 4th plane and crashed it prior to reaching its target. Which was probably the White House.

        Ten years earlier means they would have had smartphones on that same plane. Heck we might have had smartphone footage of the interior of the world trade center at the time of collision. We might have an entire archive of Tweets.

        1. Syal says:

          Wikipedia seems to suggest “airplane mode” only became a thing in 2013, so it wouldn’t help that much; people might have smartphones in 2001 but they would be expected to turn them off.

        2. Blackbird71 says:

          Ideally we would not have any such footage or archives, because I would hope that whoever sent this case back to 1977 would have had the presence of mind to include the historical information necessary to prevent 9/11 and similar events.

          Frankly, that’s where my focus on such a package would be. Forget trying to send back 30 years of science and technology; that stuff will develop just fine on its own, and as Shamus points out, the difficulties in technological development means that it won’t be providing that much of an acceleration. Instead, I’d be sending back a box of “Early Edition” -type information; how to prevent disasters and catastrophes of the future and in general prevent loss of life. Of course, there’s always the opportunity for such information to backfire, but if we’re going through with this experiment, I think it’s worth at least trying to fix some of these things.

          1. Wide And Nerdy® says:

            I’m less concerned with 9/11 itself and more just pointing out that even seemingly minor changes in technology can impact major historical events. The 4th plane was probably looking to crash into the White House but thanks to the cell phone, the behavior of the passengers changed and the plane crashed in a field instead.

            Surely the smartphone causes many important changes in behavior.

      2. Duoae says:

        Remember, most of the underpinnings of climate change were well understood and research was well underway during the 70s. It’s not the science you need to prove, it’s altering the political will…

  5. Lame Duck says:

    The things is, you don’t need to send back a vast amount of data to try to jump the technology forward by 40 years, all you need to do is get the right information to advance computer tech by a few years into the right hands to undercut and stifle the development and eventual dominance of Microsoft, thus ultimately sparing humanity from the greatest crime ever perpetrated against it: Games for Windows Live.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      But what if stopping Games For Windows Live makes Uplay become dominant?

      1. galacticplumber says:

        Lesser of two evils. I think we can all agree lots of people would prefer to START at Uplay as opposed to GFWL.

        1. Droid says:

          They’re equally terrible in my mind. What makes GFWL worse?

          1. galacticplumber says:

            Even BUGGIER. Worse support. Infects games that don’t come from ubisoft.

            1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

              At least if I try to login in Uplay, it usually works.
              And their screens are less obnoxious, and they even have the decency to show you all their games before you launch instead of some nonsense I don’t care about after i’ve already loaded up the game.

  6. Jay says:

    Address it to the chief butler of the White House. Contents:

    1) An iphone and charger. Not actually useful, but obviously futuristic. For credibility.
    2) A few paper printouts of news from the weeks and months after delivery
    3) A (book-form) history of the 2000 election, addressed to Ralph Nader (with postage)
    4) A history of the Iraq War, addressed to G.W. Bush
    5) A history of the 2016 election, addressed to Hillary Rodham.
    6) A few boxes of our best HIV 2017 HIV medicine (with accompanying literature), addressed to the Surgeon General for reverse engineering.

    Forget electronic data formats. Hardly any of them had a computer, and the ones who did have computers were mostly lab rats, not leaders.

    1. Redrock says:

      Beat me by three minutes with the HIV thing)

      1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

        Even better, throw in some samples of the polio and hepatithes vaccines (I would say small pox, but they actually invented that in 1977).

        Also add samples for improving their antibiotics. Oh, and to ensure they don’t overuse them: Include a couple of vials of those super-resistant diseases we have in the hospitals nowadays (some fairly harmless ones of course), plastered in warning labels and with a note telling them that this is what happens when you overuse antibiotics.

        Then throw in a few letters to high ranking governments officials (not elected ones like presidents, they come and go) about major political shifts and problems (like the fall of the SU, bet that will be a suprise), what people did in response, and what did or didn’t work (and why).

        And add a few notes on things like tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and whatever is relevant to the countries you send it to. Just for good measure.

        Or just go full chaos theory and try to start another worker revolution in the Soviet Union. Maybe add in as much secret information about underhanded stuff the political elite were doing at the time (bonus points if you can get it so outrage-worthy/useful as political ammunition that it will pretty much spread on it’s own, partially negating the “what if they destroy it” problem). Basically be a Snowden/Lenin combination and watch the fireworks.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          Where are you going to get that information? You’re just you.

          1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

            Declassified secret information, and things that were secret at the time, but came out later as scandals. Maybe stuff that is strongly suspected, but which is still buried.

            Of course, they need to be ongoing in 1977, but were declassified or discovered and made public later. So the options are probably pretty limited. It would also have to be information that wouldn’t be immediately supressed by a regime or powerful groups.

    2. Wide And Nerdy says:

      The thing about what you’re trying to do is that there’s actions and reactions. Political pressures get built up more without release.

      Like lets say Gore did get elected in 2000. In 2004, the Republicans would be that much more motivated, the public that much more tired of the left and that much less tired of the right. It would just be a delay in the pendulum. A few things would happen later with more pressure behind them. And with that much more pressure someone more right wing than Bush might have had a chance of winning in 2004.

      If Gore did manage to win in 2004 then by 2008, all the world’s problems would be the fault of the Democrats and you might not see another Democrat president for a long time.

      This kind of will and intent evens itself out with time. Its not at the whim of the flapping of a butterfly’s wings.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Yep. If you change one election, then all the ones afterwards will be affected anyway.

        …but! If you sent a few people who made a few crucial mistakes information about those beforehand, you would (hopefully!) not just change their reaction in that one moment but their general idea about the topic. And it would be plausible that many of the same politicians would still end up in politics. Except that they would know that in some alternate history, they did X and it turned out to have been a mistake. So, (hopefully!) they would act differently in their “new” career.

        I’ve long thought about sending information of the USSR’s demise to Russia but I excpect it would be disregarded nobody wnats to hear that they are _that_ wrong. I mean, Gorbatchov knew it, and it didn’t help him much, either. So … political information will certainly have an effect but probably often not a very predictable one.

        I wonder (for a few days now) how the cold war would have developed if you’d send our version of its history, alsong with some secret docs from oth sides to a third party who’d publish it for everyone, or maybe send one copy to each side, with a note that the other side also got one. If I know that you know (and so on…), a lot uglyness could have been avoided, but then the players might not always react to that new information in a rational way… there’s a lot of very irrational actors, especially in that part of history.

    3. djw says:

      If you manage to change history with 3) then 4) and 5) would be events that happen in an “alternate timeline” (eg. our history, not theirs) and probably would not be relevant to events in their time.

      I suppose that 5 is still possible, but given Nader reacts to 3 then GWB would not be president at the time of the 9/11 attacks and would not be in a position to invade Iraq.

      In any case, veering away from politics, I think that this indicates a general problem with historical data. As soon as people start using it the data for more recent (to us) times will become much less useful to the recipients.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        I think the usefulness of that type of information is more about learning that if a then b — it tells you something about humans, and the humans of a particular country etc.. It also tells you, in principle, about the kinds of problem-solving strategies that work and the ones that don’t. And because it’s a history of the near future, it’s also much more appliccable to the 1977 present than most of what everyone has in their own history books.
        Oh, and those books were written by your own people. In your suitcase, you could include not just pictures and videos, but also analysis from then-current actors, journalists, analysts, and at least for some things also from historians. And all these people could be on all sides of events, so you get a much better picture of what actually went down than what you get if your own politicians give you the interpretation of their own actions, which is then turned into your own history books.

  7. Redrock says:

    I wonder, would getting certain tech a few years earlier really help in terms if the big picture? I think you could do some good with sending medical research, like info on AIDS and some treatments and drugs that can be syntesized using seventies’ technology. But it’s not like a more rapid intriduction of the iPhone would suddenly make the world a better place. Ditto for history. I kinda think that the moral of most time-travel stories ever is the fact that changing specific events is pretty useless because people would still be people and bad stuff would still happen.

    1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

      Depends on what kind of event it is.
      Most of these things would be one action or event in a long chain of stuff that happens, or is part of a massive, glacial movement where one action more or less won’t help much.

      But if you can get the proverbial snowball that starts the avalanche, or the guy that switched the train tracks as it were, you can do a ton of things.

      What if you kill Lenin in 1915? Or Stalin in 1900? What if you save JFK? What if you stop 9/11? What if you save Archduke Ferdinand in 1914? What if you stop Churchills career in 1920? What if you sink or strand the Columbus expedition? What if you make the Americas existence public knowledge, and visa versa, to the Romand empire? Or to China in the early medieval times? What if you can end the Japanese-American war early, so the Americans don’t have to reveal their nuclear weaponry, or they can do it without a horrendous demonstration?

      Most of such events are not that hard to do. Many of them involve killing one unimportant guy who gets big later on, or stopping (or succeeding) a single assassination attempt (just send them a note to be watchful/stay inside that day, and give them the names of the assassins). Others are a bit harder, but cause massive ripple effects. And causing that effect earlier or later than happened in our timeline can make massive changes.

      The downside is that you have basically no control over things after the event, so it’s more or less a throw of the dice and hoping things turn out less awful than they did in our time.

      1. Droid says:

        You might underestimate the foolhardiness of your assassination targets. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was already the target of one fruitless assassination attempt (I think it was a bomb) when he died. After that first attempt, he argued that they already caught the perpetrators (I think they did indeed catch two of them), so there’s no harm in continuing the procession through the streets.

        The third guy involved in the assassination was then just lucky to be around when they (quite sursprisingly for him, probably) just continued driving through the streets in an open car.

        Dunno about royal pride, or just resolution to not be intimidated, but that stuff is not how you win Self-Preservation, the Game (also called Life).

        1. djw says:

          Europe in 1914 was dry kindling waiting for a match. Even if you stop all the Archduke Ferdinand assassination attempts, all that would mean is that he gets to live long enough to see the continent go up in flames due to some other minor provocation.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Quite often, politicians have a lot less actual choice than it seems. In 1914, several countries were desparately looking for a reason to start a war without triggering a meltdown. a big war would have happened either way because almost everyone was marching in that direction. A single politician could not have stopped it, and many a country’s actions in that war were dictated by treaties and alliances which would have led to war had they been broken. So it was mostly just a choice of going to war with your allies, or be attacked by them because you betrayed them (and noone’s gonna help you if you’re a traitor).

        2. TheJungerLudendorff says:

          I think they actually called off the procession, but the Archduke decided to visit the wounded in the hospital. Something about his duty I think.

          There was confusion about the route, the car had to reverse and it stalled. Right in front of Gavrilo Princep.

          Still not the most intelligent Idea, but that was the old nobility for you.

        3. Boobah says:

          It’s completely absurd just how bizarre Franz Ferdinand’s assassination played out. The eventual assassin gave up (because Ferdinand’s driver got lost, he never passed by the assassin’s designated spot on his route) and went to get a bite to eat. Then the archduke’s car basically broke down right next to that cafe.

          And, of course, Franz Ferdinand was pretty much the most powerful voice in Austria-Hungary for avoiding war. Plus, as a result of the war that started Serbia spent most of the next century as part of Yugoslavia.

      2. `Retsam says:

        It rather depends on your view of history: to take the classical dichotomy, do you believe more in the “Great Man” theory of history, where single individuals have had massive impacts on historical tides on their own merits, or do you subscribe more to the “Trends and Forces” school of thought, where the “great men” are really just by-products of bigger historical trends. (Or realistically, it’s a spectrum and the truth is somewhere between those two extremes)

        If you’re on the “Great Man” side, then, yeah, killing one of the “Great Men” might have a huge impact. But, if you’re more on the trends and forces side of the spectrum, history is a lot less chaotic and more resilient to small changes. And personally, I tend to lean towards this view.

        Maybe you save Archduke Ferdinand and that prevents WWI from happening… but probably not, I think. The whole Gordian knot of European alliances combined with an out-of-date conception of war was just a powder-keg waiting for a spark, and nothing short of a miracle could have prevented the explosion. You can’t just save the Archduke and prevent that particular spark, you’ve got to defuse the bomb, and that’s a lot harder to do.

        I don’t think killing Hilter would have stopped WWII, either, to take the classic example. I think you can make a strong case that WWII was largely inevitable based on the end of WWI: actually a French general famously called the WWI treaty a “not a peace, but a 20 year armistice” which turned out to be nearly prophetic. He didn’t predict Hitler’s particular rise to power, he simply saw the way that the trends and forces were going.

        1. djw says:

          The war in Asia would certainly have happened without Hitler, and Japan very likely would have still bombed Pearl Harbor.

          Europe I am not sure about. I think that it was probably unstable, and some sort of war might have been inevitable. However, it might have been a bunch of smallish wars (like the Spanish Civil War).

          1. `Retsam says:

            Huh, I see it the other way around, I don’t see how Pearl Harbor (and the Pacific theater in general) happens, if not for the European theater. Japan’s territory grabbing would probably lead to something, (perhaps a lot of smaller conflicts like the Russo-Japanese War) but not necessary a World War, and not necessarily with a country on the other side of the ocean. (Or maybe not; maybe in that hypothetical timeline, Japan just gets a large Pacific empire and some strongly worded memo’s from the League of Nations about not trying to take over the world)

            I’ve always thought Pearl Harbor was largely a result of the European front: America didn’t really care about all those distant Pacific Islands (except Hawaii, but I don’t think Japan would fight a war with America just to take Hawaii), but they were allied with Britain and France and so they were likely to join the war in order to help Britain and France (and were already helping Britain and France), which would mean fighting Japan. So Japan saw U.S. joining the war as inevitable (it probably was), and so they took a pre-emptive strike, to try to win the Pacific War before it began.

            But if not for the European war, I think Japan would have just continued picking up territory quietly, and wouldn’t have gone out of their way to aggro the other big power on the ocean.

            On the other hand, I’m not sure I can see “small scale conflicts” in Europe, not to be too flippant about it, but Germany was angry about the outcome of WWI and wanted a rematch. Maybe if you eliminate Hitler there’s less genocide in WWII (though, arguably that was also a trends and forces thing: anti-Semitism and Eugenics and such were huge trends that Hitler tapped into: he didn’t invent them), but I think any European War was pretty inevitably going to be a World War, at that point. (Though of course, I’m not an expert by any stretch)

            1. djw says:

              I know less about this than I would like. However, my impression was that the Japanese military was convinced that war with America was inevitable at some point, and they wanted to destroy a large enough fraction of the American navy at Pearl Harbor that they could consolidate their empire and develop an industrial base that could compete before America was ready to fight.

              Arguably, it was a grave miscalculation on their part, but I don’t see how the war in Europe makes much difference. America wasn’t involved in that at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack anyway…

              Some people alive in Japan at that time probably still remembered their glorious victory over Russia in 1905, and perhaps figured this would be the same.

              1. Mistwraithe says:

                I’m pretty confident that the Japanese military wasn’t deluded enough to think that they could ever hope to take on the potential coalition of the USA/France/Britain. The European war meant that France was largely defunct while Britain and the Commonwealth were heavily distracted with Britain’s fight for survival. This opened the door to the possibility that Japan could actually win a Pacific war.

                Even then I’ve read suggestions that some of the the Japanese military were hoping the US would back off with a bloody nose and lose the stomach for a fight, which was horribly delusional thinking of course…

                1. djw says:

                  I didn’t think about Britain after the edit time on my last comment expired. They were already at war with Japan at the time of Pearl Harbor, and they probably could have placed a lot more resources in the pacific theatre if they had not been fighting a battle of survival against Germany at the time.

              2. tmtvl says:

                For people interested in this particular topic, I highly recommend the History of Japan Podcast.

                1. `Retsam says:

                  Neat, I’ll have to take a look once I finish (or catch up on) the History of China podcast. (Which is inspired by the History of Rome podcast: which I wouldn’t call “better” per se, but certainly a lot more approachable, due to the subject matter)

                  1. djw says:

                    We get a lot more exposure to Roman history growing up in the west because it is directly linked to many of our institutions, but I do think that Chinese history is fascinating.

        2. Joe Informatico says:

          The ultimate reasons for the World Wars are this: the older Great Powers (England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States) had a good three to four hundred years of exploiting the people, resources, and land of the New World (plus the economic benefits of trans-Atlantic slavery) and, once it became feasible (the erosion of the Ottoman Empire, internal strife in China partially fomented by Western intervention, advances in medicine and communication, the invention of steamships, railroads, and the machinegun), did the same in Asia, Africa, and Oceania. The exploitation of the rest of the world’s wealth and people is what allowed the Great Powers to become great powers. But when the new Great Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) came on the scene and tried to do the same–and industrial technology let them do so at a faster pace, the old Powers generally opposed them.

          So the gameboard at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries is set:

          -Colonialist imperialism is the path to Great Power status

          -Industrialization has made it easier to impose colonialist imperialism on the rest of the globe, and make Powers believe with modern technology and organization, they can score quick victories against other Powers (because of examples like the Franco-Prussian, Spanish-American, and Russo-Japanese Wars)

          -Ethno-nationalism has become the cornerstone of national and personal identity

          -Older Powers like Austria-Hungary, Spain, and the Ottomans are in decline and their possessions are up for grabs–especially in the guise of “reuniting” ethno-nationalist populations

          -Rising new Powers with centuries-old histories and cultures that easily loan themselves to ethno-nationalist identities like Prussia/Germany, Italy, and Japan are eager to join the club of colonial imperialists

          Unless one or more of those things is drastically different, I think a major conflict among the Powers is inevitable in the 20th century. It took the World Wars to teach us that most of the above were in fact horrible things, or in the most charitable interpretation, detrimental to maximizing mutual peace and prosperity.

          1. Mistwraithe says:

            Putting aside some quibbles with your version of history, my main comment is that I think we, as in the human race, but particularly the western world, are well on our way to forgetting the lessons which the world wars taught us.

            Which will be truly regrettable if true, but because we have reached the point in technology where a third world war has the potential to completely end the human race in a multitude of exciting ways…

            1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

              It’s almost like a cycle. WW1 started roughly 100 years after the Napleonic wars, which were also considered devastating enough that “a lesson was learned” about the necessity for peace. But by the time of WW1, the leadership was far less competent, resentment and anger and pride had
              flared up again, everyone who remembered Napoleon was dead and the only wars people knew were small, overseas, with little cost to the European side.

              We seem to be coming up to an awfully similiar situation.

              1. Droid says:

                There was this notion, at least in pre-WW1 Austro-Hungary, that in our civilised world, wars had surely become a relic of the past. That diplomacy and power blocs were an effective way to deter aggressors from getting too powerful.


                1. djw says:

                  WWI and WWII were really horrible. However, even with these conflicts, a person born in the 20th century still had a lower chance of dying violently than a person born in any previous century.

                  In any case, there were a lot of wars during the time between Napolean and WWI. Naively, I planned to list them here, but when I went to check I found that the list would be really long, so here is a link instead.

                  I did not check the death toll for all of those wars, but some of them were significant. The American Civil War and the Crimean War both had a lot of causalities, for instance. It gets worse when you look at them as a fraction of people alive at the time.

                2. Zak McKracken says:

                  I think it depends on what you think you have to lose, and what you think you have to gain … right now, war between most states would be very silly because of economic dependencies. Even if you win a war, your economy would be dead, and your citizens would not like that.

                  However … once people become sufficiently fanatic, and sufficiently angry, and some political current is set to benefit from a war, the balance can shift so quick that it’s really only plausible in hindsight.

                  1. Boobah says:

                    I think it depends on what you think you have to lose, and what you think you have to gain … right now, war between most states would be very silly because of economic dependencies. Even if you win a war, your economy would be dead, and your citizens would not like that.

                    It’s worth mentioning that people were saying pretty much the exact same thing circa 1900.

              2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                What can I say,we europeans love our warring.

        3. TheJungerLudendorff says:

          I personally subscribe to a combination of the two sides.

          It is undeniable that Great Men can have a great deal of influence, and often the course of history can turn on the decisions of a few people.

          However, these men are products of their time as much as anyone else. They might try to put their own brand on it, but they ultimately have the opinions and morals fitting to their time and culture, and they need to harness existing forces in their society. Great Men are often leaders: They steer, lead, or inspire other people in the direction they want, but those people must already be inclined to follow their lead in the first place.

          It’s kind of like the captain of a ship. Yes, he gets to tell everyone what to do and steer the ship where he wants, but to do effectively so he needs a skilled crew willing to do what he says, a reliable ship (which other people build), and a wheel and tools to control the ship and read his course.
          And even with the best captain, crew and ship in the world, if the seas and the weather is bad enough, the ship and everyone on it will go down regardless. No matter how Great the Man, if the tides of history are strong enough they are as powerless as everyone else.

        4. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I don't think killing Hilter would have stopped WWII, either, to take the classic example.

          True,but depending on when you kill him you could either have germany be victorious,or prevent the rise of the nazi party and have someone less despicable be the head of germany during the war.

          1. djw says:

            You might end up with a series of small wars instead. That might not be a good thing though. With enough small wars you could actually end up with a much larger death toll.

        5. FelBlood says:

          Ah, the old, Kill Hitler to Stop WWII Gambit. It’s doomed for a lot of political and economic reasons, but it’s also easy to forget that there were plain old Nazis before Hitler joined them, and they likely would have taken over Germany without him.

          So, Hitler was not the singular cause of the Nazi genocide. It was set in motion by other evil men, before he was even born, and would have happened, in some form or another, if he’d been exposed a Wiemar spy and executed by the Nazi rebels, before ever coming to power.

          He saw the Nazi rise to power coming, and decided he wanted to turn his double cross into a triple. Did he have any real loyalty to the Nazi party, or did he just decide his chances of survival were better on the winning side? We can never truly know another man’s motives, especially a man so gifted in deceit and manipulation.

          Could he have used his, admittedly impressive, talents to mitigate the violence, rather than stoke the fires of hate? Probably, but it seems that he was more interested in gathering wealth, power and famous starlets. Men of great talent and great influence are often men of narrow vision.

      3. Redrock says:

        I’m not saying you can’t change things, I’m saying you can’t really change them for the better. You can kill Lenin, but the February revolution still happens and the Russian civil war stell happens, only with Trotsky in charge of the Reds. People still die. All of these conflicts come from a multitude of systemic factors. You kill Stalin, there is a possibilty that the purges don’t happen, although seeing as the soviet leadership had no other way to establish their legitimacy except for violence, the purges probably still happen in some other way. If we are talking about more major changes, like discovering America centuries earlier, yeah, that would change history. But it won’t make the world BETTER. It would just be a set of different conflicts and some other people would be born and would die. The point of the exercise is not just to change stuff, any sort of time travel can accomplish that. No, you are trying to make an objectively better world. And that isn’t defined by particular events but rather by human nature which you can’t really change. Wow, that came out as a bit of a downer.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But what is objectively better?Since we are talking about ww2,while it had a bunch of negative things about it,it also gave rise to a bunch of good things as well.It sped up tech in numerous fields,a bunch of humanitarian laws were adopted by many countries in order for the holocaust to never happen again,etc.Japan had two cities devastated by the nuclear bomb and ended up being dominated by the usa for a long time,but this led to a huge shift in their society leading to them being the technological powerhouse they are today.

          Every event in history had both good and bad sides to it.So how can you say that discovering america early would not lead to more good or more bad consequences?Or that having the world wars play out differently wouldnt end up being better/worse than in reality?

        2. djw says:

          I agree that it is hard to predict the outcome of a single change in history, such as murder baby Hitler, or shoot teenage Stalin, but the outcomes would be different, and some would be better than others.

          Think of it this way, we have a really bad outcome with Hitler alive (WWII and the holocaust). We don’t really know what happens without Hitler, but WWII+holocaust were really bad, so rolling up a new world sans Hitler is likely to be an improvement, even if it still won’t be a utopia.

          For instance, maybe you still get a second world war, but no holocaust. That would be an improvement over our current history, even though there would still be a great deal of death and destruction.

          Dead Stalin? Still get a cold war, but maybe millions of Ukranians don’t starve in the Holodomor .

          Of course, there is still a chance that you get something much worse, but from a gambling standpoint your odds with either of those deaths are probably pretty good.

  8. Yerushalmi says:

    I’ve thought through similar scenarios (usually involving traveling back in time myself, not sending a suitcase), and the “we haven’t had a nuclear war” concern you mention offhandedly has always been my biggest one. I’ve always reached the conclusion that, no matter what you decide to send back there, Red will almost immediately realize that the US will end up winning the Cold War as soon as its contents are even partially understood. If that information gets out, this could cause the US to act with less caution, and end up triggering a far worse outcome.

    So, since history has actually gone in a pretty good direction for most of it, there’s not much I would want to *risk* changing. Therefore my reaction has always been “keep the future information secret until 1992, and only then reveal it to the world”. Bad stuff happening after 1992 can almost certainly be prevented without too much downside.

    So the very first thing you need to do when the suitcase arrives is: 1) Establish its bona fides, 2) Establish its good intentions towards the recipient, 3) Establish the dangers involved in opening it early.

    The best way is a note attached to the outside of the suitcase. I haven’t thought it through seriously yet, but it should be along the lines of, “This suitcase is from the future. The next three Best Picture winners will be Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, and Kramer vs. Kramer. Do not open this suitcase before 1992 or you risk a nuclear war.”

    This fulfills all three goals above. It proves it came from the future, establishes good will by giving the recipient some information they can use to get rich, and if a suitcase you have been convinced came from the future tells you not to do something for fear of nuclear war you’ll listen.

    Why three predictions? The recipient won’t be likely to trust you enough to bet on the first one, and they still might harbor some doubts for the second. They can get rich on the third.

    Why Best Picture? Because the ripple effects stemming from the suitcase’s appearance are far less likely to affect the voting of thousands of secret Academy members than affect the air currents around a baseball stadium. (Now, the Academy Awards aren’t until April of the following year, which is a long time for your recipient to sit around and wait and even remember the suitcase existed. So you’ll probably want some other, easily verifiable, not-likely-to-be-changeable event that is close to the suitcase’s appearance in August.)

    As long as the recipient doesn’t immediately toss the suitcase as a hoax, they are probably guaranteed at this point to keep it closed until 1992. And then you can have some *real* fun thinking up the contents :)

    1. Shamus says:

      I've thought through similar scenarios (usually involving traveling back in time myself, not sending a suitcase), and the “we haven't had a nuclear war” concern you mention offhandedly has always been my biggest one. I've always reached the conclusion that, no matter what you decide to send back there, Red will almost immediately realize that the US will end up winning the Cold War as soon as its contents are even partially understood. If that information gets out, this could cause the US to act with less caution, and end up triggering a far worse outcome.

      I thought the same thing. I don’t know how to avoid it. Even if Red doesn’t figure it out, the Soviets will. For the purposes of this exercise, I’ve sort of been ignoring this uncomfortable idea. “Hm. I can stunt the spread of AIDS by alerting everyone about 8 years early, thus potentially saving millions of lives over the long term. But in doing so I’m giving history another roll of the dice with regards to nuclear war.”

      That’s like a trolley problem on a global scale, with an unknown random factor thrown in. Yuck.

      1. Rax says:

        Nothing in your original post says you have to send the suitcase to someone in the US. A country less involved in the Cold War but sufficiently industrialized to not introduce even more technology problems would probably mean a lower risk of the suitcase causing a nuclear war.

        1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

          The problem isn’t which country has it, the problem is that when you start talking about major events after the Cold War in enough detail to alter them, the knowledge, culture, and even the makers of the stuff in the suitcase will probably point to massive American influence. Which means people can (and will) deduce that America “wins” the Cold War, which can have a major impact on international diplomacy and policies of everyone involved in it.

          1. Falcon02 says:

            Not to mention even giving it to a “neutral” non-aligned party/nation would likely result in a US and USSR fight for control/influence over whoever has it , or even downright stealing it (once people started realizing advanced knowledge is starting to pop up quite unexpectedly).

      2. djw says:

        I think that most of the people who had nukes during the cold war were “rational” actors, and could probably be trusted not to use the nukes under a wide variety of circumstances.

        I suppose it is still hard to know whether the number of lives you could save from AIDs would outweigh the (small) risk of triggering a nuclear war and killing far more.

      3. `Retsam says:

        Do you have to tell the truth in the suitcase? (I assume no.) I wonder if it’s optimal for everything in the suitcase to be truthful, or if you could get a better result by including a few lies or deceptions in there.

        Cause, yeah, if you tell them that we make it through the Cold War okay, that might make them over-confident and cause it to be a self-defeating prophesy.

        But what if you lie and say something like “the Cold War lasted up until 2017, then it ended in a nuclear holocaust, here’s our technological advancements, don’t make the same mistakes we did”? If the rest of the information was truthful and prophetic enough to be trustworthy, that might be enough motivation to actually end the war. (Though maybe not; I don’t know if “lack of motivation to end the war” was ever really an issue)

        You’d have to be careful to craft the rest of your information to fit that narrative, (though if you’re focusing on technological advancements that shouldn’t be too difficult), but it might be worth attempting a bit of deception for the greater good.

        (And you can send them some Fallout 4 cutscenes as “documentary footage” /s)

        1. Falcon02 says:

          (And you can send them some Fallout 4 cutscenes as “documentary footage” /s)

          News Heading 1977 : “Canada fortifies Southern border and ends NORAD cooperation with US: evidence of a planned invasion by heavily armored Americans”

      4. Syal says:

        I've always reached the conclusion that, no matter what you decide to send back there, Red will almost immediately realize that the US will end up winning the Cold War as soon as its contents are even partially understood.

        Would they have to? If you wanted to, couldn’t you get around it by sending Russian translations of things alongside English ones?

        I guess the idea is we wouldn’t have developed this stuff if Russia was still a threat?

        1. Falcon02 says:

          I think part of comes from American and Russian engineers often had/have different approaches to problems and design.

          It may depend heavily on the technology provided, but it may be possible to notice a trend that many of the the designs/technologies follow more American standards.

          Granted it may be more stereotype than actuality but I can think of several places (at least design wise) where American trends and Russian trends differed markedly.

          Rockets :
          Russians – Many smaller rocket engines (Soyuz Stage 1 has 20 engines + smaller control engines), lattice (open air) structure inter-stages, spherical (Vostok) or rounded off cylindrical manned capsules (Soyuz)
          Americans – Fewer Larger rockets (Saturn V 5 F-1 Engines), enclosed inter-stages, conical capsules

          Aircraft and weapons (perhaps more based on “stereotypes” than rockets) :
          Russians – highly durable built to “always work” (guns that rarely jam in severe conditions and advanced aircraft that can land on grass fields)
          Americans – “Best” capabilities technology of the time can offer (Removal of Guns from fighter jets, higher tech systems with more precise requirements and components that can fail)

          I’m not sure how much of these types of changes would go into digital technologies, though as one example I do know, the USSR did invent a version of the internet, but fears of too free a flow of information handicapped it. As such, someone in 1977 might be kinda doubtful something as open as the internet could have come out of Russia, and thus likely would have come from the US.

          1. Syal says:

            So the questions are:

            A) why would it be especially suspicious for an American* time-traveller to favor American technologies?

            B) what was the pre-90’s distribution of these design choices? Which countries in the world have noticeably less Russian-design tech today than in 1977?

            C) is a change in Russian design philosophy over several decades enough by itself to be considered “losing the Cold war”?

            Like, Shamus’ statement was about AIDS. America and Russia were in the Cold War when we wiped out Smallpox; we have these interests whether Russia is a threat or not. I don’t see how it conflicts unless you’re deliberately telling people the tension ended with a winner and a loser.

            *as far as they know. They’ve got language and destination to work with.

            1. djw says:

              I think the real end of the cold war was really much closer to “Americans and Soviets got bored with each other in the 90’s and amicably agreed to see other mortal enemies.”

              1. 4th Dimension says:

                But in the end decided that nothing can really replace your first Nuclear weapons armed arch nemesis….

      5. INH5 says:

        Yeah, this is the really big danger and I don’t know if there are any good ways around it. 1977 is just 2 years before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and kicked off the tensest period of the Cold War in decades. There was a lot of room for things to go wrong, and in fact they almost did IOTL. Multiple times.

        It might be possible to ask some Cold War historians about this under the guise of writing a book, with an offer of money for services as a “historical consultant” if necessary, but I’m not sure how reliable their information would be.

    2. Zekiel says:

      I would have to say that there probably aren’t that given the proofs you’ve supplied, I can’t imagine many people who would actually obey the “don’t open until 1992” instruction. That is 15 years of sitting on a mystery box of pretty-much-guaranteed awesomeness.

      I’m kind of inclined to say you’re better off just resetting your time machine to send it 25 years into the past. Or waiting 15 years yourself before sending it!

    3. Locke says:

      I think this level of caution is wise, but I think waiting to open the suitcase at all until 1992 isn’t necessary if you can find a sufficiently dependable and level-headed Red Forman. If you can trust someone will keep the suitcase secret until 1992, then they can spend the first fifteen years laying the groundwork needed so that they’re in a good position to make use of the suitcase’s contents once the possibility of nuclear war is firmly off the table. Being able to use fifteen years to build up wealth, patents, and political influence means that you can select your Red Forman purely for their character, and know that they’ll have the raw power needed to make wise use of the suitcase when the time comes simply by virtue of being the suitcase’s recipient.

      1. Yerushalmi says:

        Being able to use fifteen years to build up wealth, patents, and political influence means that you can select your Red Forman purely for their character

        The trouble is, such things have huge ripple effects. Built up wealth buy playing the stock market well, and the SEC might start snooping around and discover the suitcase. Develop patents of advanced technologies, and you’ll change the balance of power and potentially risk the nuclear war as a indirect result of that change. Build up political influence, and that influence could directly cause the nuclear war.

        Really, nothing between 1947 and 1991 is safe to meddle with. Better to ask/convince/force Red to leave the suitcase as a time capsule.

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I've always reached the conclusion that, no matter what you decide to send back there, Red will almost immediately realize that the US will end up winning the Cold War as soon as its contents are even partially understood. If that information gets out, this could cause the US to act with less caution, and end up triggering a far worse outcome.

      Have you never seen the terminator?There its the losing side who sent the first soldier back in time in order to prevent its destruction.Why should red assume that the time travel came from a safe place and not a post apocalyptic future in order to prevent such a disaster?

      1. Yerushalmi says:

        Because there would be no way to describe the major terrorist attacks and natural disasters that need to be prevented without giving at least some hint as to the state of the geopolitical arena.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Sure,but thats a very specific bit of info youd have to send in order for that to be both believed as 100% true,and for red to realize that the cold war did not happen/the usa won.Its not a guarantee regardless of what you send back.

    5. Zak McKracken says:

      Why wait until 1992?

      I’m kinda thinking that maybe Russia could look a lot friendlier these days, and could have had a much softer landing after communism collapsed if someone in charge had known how _not_ to do it.

      1. Yerushalmi says:

        Because accidentally making the Soviet Union *not* fall would be even worse.

        The USSR dissolved in December of 1991, so if you open the suitcase less than a month later you’re already in a good position to influence things from the start. You can warn people not to trust Putin, for instance.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Because accidentally making the Soviet Union *not* fall would be even worse.

          Would it really?We dont know who the next president of russia will be,or if the same heads would be on top if it never fell.So how can you know that still having the union would be worse?

  9. BigTiki says:

    Microfiche and microfilm were pretty well known and established in the 1970s. A single page of typewritten instructions would make it clear what was contained in the durable, easily reproducible sheets of plastic. Send the last 40 years of practical medical advancements (treatment and rehabilitation), and you eliminate a lot of human misery.

    1. Shamus says:

      Okay, but how do you create microfiche here in 2017?

      This is an honest question. Is it possible to obtain the required tools without mortgaging your home?

      1. SpaceSjut says:

        a) Microfilm was literally my second idea about how to fill that suitcase, after printouts.
        b) A quick google search reveiled a significant number of companies offering the creation of microfilm. Price tags obviously vary and are not THAT cheap, but getting a significant amount of basic reasearch knowledge onto finches should be do-able.

      2. BigTiki says:

        Looks like, if you are willing to trust the process to third parties, you can get 35mm microfilm rolls generated from digital content at around US$0.04 per page.


        Microfilm would also be readily understood by intelligence agencies, who (for good or ill) would be most likely interested in the mysterious package. Alternatively, delivery to a major library would easily cross the microfilm barrier.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          How easy would the rolls be to duplicate in 1977? If it would be hard, then you’ve replaced The Laptop Room, with The Microfilm Room.

          It would be better if we had a microfilm printer small enough to fit in a suitcase. You could put it in there with a surface hybrid laptop with wikipedia on it.

          1. ThaneofFife says:

            Microfilm was invented in the 19th century, and was in widespread use as an archival material by the 1930s. It would be a well-understood technology in 1977. Source:

            1. Wide And Nerdy says:

              Right I understand that they’d know how to read it.

              But could they take a roll of microfilm/fiche that has already been produced and use that to make a duplicate roll with the same info? If so, we have our medium.

              1. Nessus says:

                Duping microfiche would be easy-peasy. It’s just a slight rejiggering of the same hardware used to make microfiche, which in turn is a slight rejiggering of the same hardware used in common film photography. A photography hobbyist could do it with only minor mods to off the shelf equipment, possibly even with entirely off the shelf equipment.

                Moreover, I’d be very, very surprised if duplicating microfiche wasn’t already an existing service available from the same companies that did microfiche document transfer/entry. Like if you wanted to distribute duplicate archives of X resource to a number of libraries, schools, police districts, etc., for example.

          2. Will says:

            Microfilm has existed in standardized forms much like or identical to ones currently in use for most of a century. Back when everything was on books, the physical volume (and weight!) of storing it all was a major concern for libraries, so microform technology was fairly well-developed. Digitization has mostly obviated it in modern times, but in the ’70s, microforms were a Big Deal.

      3. Nessus says:

        Actually, yes. Believe it or not, there’s still folks who do large format photography using film. Darkroom equipment should be easy to get cheap since it’s mostly antique shop fodder these days, but not old or rare enough to be super pricey. That plus a digital projector, and you’ve got an optical printer that can turn your PDFs into microfiche.

        It’d be expensive, but not mortgage expensive. Maybe more like used car expensive. The lions share of the cost would probably be buying enough film and development chemicals to fill a suitcase with prints, not the equipment.

        1. Nessus says:

          Ah, ninja’d by others with even better sources/methods. That’s what I get for not reloading after letting the tab languish while looking at other stuff.

        2. Falcon02 says:

          This seems like a case of our 21st century digital minds not thinking enough like a mid-late 20th century person.

          We’re so focused on how to get modern digital formats to work with their technology we seem to forget the old analog compression technologies they had in place back then. Anyone familiar with spy stories back then would have instantly thought of microfilm for document compression, but we’re more focused on pdf formats and DVDs.

          True, the data density of a suitcase full of microfilm is still not nearly as large as a suitcase full of DVDs or modern hard drives. But it’s still A LOT better than the paper format discussed and eliminates format comparability concerns. And, duplication and distribution should be straight forward to someone in 1977.

          Though I am kinda curious now… what is the comparable data density of 1 suitcase of paper vs. microfilm vs. floppy disk vs. DVDs vs. modern HD vs. [insert format here]

          1. Ted Stevko says:

            Just calculated this. So, assuming a luggage like this one, which is 21 inches by 15 inches by 6.5 inches, and assuming the standard microfiche size of 105mm by 148mm by 5 mils (.005 mm), you get 17,000 microfiches, and at 100 pages each, that’s 1.7 million pages – around 4000 books. Going with this estimation of 677K pages/gig, and assuming 1.48 Gigs per dvd (single sided for simplicity), you can get about 1 million pages per dvd.

            If the goal is to get just information, then doing enough microfiches to build a simplified computer would be best, as the storage per density for hard drives is much higher today than ever. But building a DVD player which can print out characters could easily be put in the microfiches pages, and then you’re only sending the necessary information and not extra equipment along with your data.

            Assuming DVD is 4.5″ by 4.5″ by .047 inches, you substitute a 21 inch by 4.5 inch by 4.5 inch space for dvds, you could get about 13467 microfiches, or 1,346,700 pages in microfiche form and about 9000 dvds, about 6 billion pages. A printer is almost trivial at that point — printers were around in 1977 — so that will get you the most printed word storage.

            Next, cash:

            You need money to influence people. It’s sad, but true. Money gets people’s attention. So what you want is money that you can convert to cash, and then investment information to convert the cash to large amounts of cash.

            Information on this comes from here for volume sizes for comodities, here for diamond values, and Google for stock prices.

            Dollars are too hard to use; you’d have to send back $100 dollar bills, $10K and $100K dollars were too rare and out of print. Dollars are just too large to be effective. Gold and silver prices were actually down in 1977, but were also 180/oz and 4/oz respectively. A cubic centimeter of gold is 19.3 oz, which makes it 3474/cm^3. silver is 2.7 ounces per cm^3, which puts it at, like, less than 12/cm^3. On the other hand, diamonds were not bad: 6900/carat. and 1 cm^3 is about 17.5 carats — 120,750/cm^3. So diamonds it is.

            1 cm^3 = 0.0610237 in^3, so take about 1 inch of microfiche out — about 200 — and put in
            as densely packed diamonds as you can get. by volume, you should get 24.087 in^3 of volume, so that’s about 394.715 cm^3, which is 6907.521 carats, or about 47 million dollars. Which is nuts, because if you sold all of those diamonds, you would deflate the price of diamonds, but assume 20 million from the diamonds, and you’d be OK.

            Daily stock information for 40 years, assuming each day’s is going to come out to about 20 pages/day, so that’s 292,000 pages. So, you could put a year or two’s stock quotes on the microfiche, and then put the rest on a DVD.

            January 3rd 1977, the stock market was closed at 999.75. today it closed at 21,812.09. So even assuming a very conservative person with no knowledge, and a person could only get about 20 million from the diamonds, you could invest in the stock market and end up with 420 million conservatively. As conservative an estimate I can think of, given that someone has the *daily stock info* for 40 years.

            So — rich, has tons of information on future events; whomever you send it to should be set to help the world. Picking the person, that’s the hard part.

  10. Ryan says:

    Anything I wanted to be near immediately accessible to them, and tech-barrier resistant, I would put on a whole bunch of microfiche sheets. For those of the younger set, these were notecard-sized pieces of photographic film with the content put on at ridiculously small sizes — as in, an entire month of a magazine on one sheet — and then projected with magnification onto a screen for reading. Fiche would have been well known in the 70s, and would have been more backwards compatible for rigging something together than the more proprietary microfilm (rolls of film) form that required specific machines to use (though in theory you could manually piece it apart).

    Anything else, as well as a copy of anything in fiche, I would put on a netbook or similar small laptop (possibly two, for redundancy and making it easier to mass-extract data), and several portable hard drives of high capacity. I would likely have everything possible encoded in an easy and consistent standard such as UTF-8 and JPEG (which would be more firmly laid out in the fiche stacks), and further put as a standardized but flexible flat-file like HTML, that also allows documents to be linked in meaningful ways. I would likely also include a small printer if possible, extra ink, and a paper describing a simple method for making more compatible ink and reloading the cartridge (this also necessitates using a printer that doesn’t try to lock you out of refilling), or as one other comment suggested, converter cables for existing 1970s printers.

    I would include a few pieces of some higher-end tech, such as a series of 3-4 different smartphones, a high-end camera or two, etc. (and don’t forget the chargers and cables!), but not so much that I’m not still leaving a majority of the suitcase’s space for the microfiche.

    Lastly, I would have a printed out explanation of what everything else in the suitcase is and why it’s there, as well as how it can be leveraged (and guidelines on good agencies to contact to quickly and effectively share/exploit the information), and also personal letter that would be attached to the outside of the suitcase for my recipient.

    What I would *not* try to do is put in stuff that is itself highly temporally dependent, such as far-future weather reports, stock prices, major news stories (unless a direct link could be drawn to utility in that day), or anything else that my temporal incursion has a distinct chance of heavily changing before it would be of any use.

    1. Scourge says:

      Maybe add a few “This will happen at date X, y and Z” to make it more believable.

      And if you want to add some funds to them, add something that will help them get richer down the line so they don’t have to ask others to fund them.

      1. BigTiki says:

        I would think earthquake and solar/planetary events would proceed without regard to human action, so I would add a long list of those for “provenance”. If you want to convince someone that the contents of the suitcase aren’t falsified, that’s a pretty solid method.

        1. Richard says:

          Earthquakes are a very good idea for provenance.

          The USGS publish very good historical data of earthquakes for free on the internet, they are very common, easy to detect and still unpredictable in timing and magnitude.

          That said, it is quite likely that they are chaotic and so nuclear tests, large buildings and similar probably affect later events.
          The first few years of ‘predictions’ will likely be very accurate, but how long that stays the case is a very open question.

          Planetary/solar events less so – the unpredictable ones are hard to see without very good equipment, and most of the predictable ones could (in theory) have been predicted by a 1960’s computing team.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    but those sort of efforts fall outside the parameters of this exercise.

    What if I think that making my past self into a dictator would benefit the world?

    But,if we are going to send stuff to red forman,then Id send 10 pairs of boots so he can put a boot into 20 different asses.

    Now that the jokes are done:
    The first answer that pops into my mind is a laptop full of useful data,some spare parts for it,a couple of chargers,and a paper manual for how to start using it.Id send all of those to someone who was dealing in computers,so that they can jumpstart the internet early.

    But also,Id modify some data in order to purge a few things from existence.Macromedia flash is top of that list,closely followed by windows and its bloated spawn.Open source and simple as much as possible.

  12. Tobias says:

    It is an interesting idea. Researching the practical implementation mainly seems to lead to checking Wikipedia for the launch date for rows and rows of technology.
    Parallel ATA hard-drives should be the most efficient data storage, include a printed ATA and FS32 spec, and they can build the rest with technology available in the 80s.

    Including a laptop is obvious, to help bootstrap the access. Just include a few USB to RS-232 teletype connectors for printing, the software is still included in most linux versions. Or an USB-fax-machine. And you can print all you want.
    You could even be really careful and include some kind of driver for a Baudot printer in case you accidentally send your coffer to 1877 instead of 1977.

  13. John says:

    My first impulse, before I read the entire post, was to send something to my parents. What I’d send them I don’t know. (Baby clothes? I was a wee little thing at the time and they probably could have used them.) And it’s doubtful that anything I did send them would make the alternate timeline a better place. More in keeping with the spirit of the exercise, I guess I’d send somebody paper copies of selected important and influential scientific papers. I think that there would need to be a fair amount of abstract math or theoretical physics stuff at the top of the stack, papers whose import the recipient could relatively easily verify on his own and that would not require him to have access to equipment that does not exist yet in order to reproduce the results. Having thus piqued his interest, the bottom half of the stack would be papers on applied science, maybe something about batteries. I figure energy-efficiency stuff should go over pretty well in 1977. I wouldn’t expect the recipient to be able to put the ideas in those papers into practice immediately, but I think that, with a clear indication of what does and doesn’t work, the alternate timeline could get to where we are now (scientifically speaking, and for an admittedly small number of fields) faster than ours did.

  14. Christopher says:

    My immediate thought was packing in a copy of Final Fantasy 13, which should be the real world equivalent of Jaws 12 or whatever from Back to the Future, but people in the 70s haven’t got a clue what Final Fantasy is.

    Rather than sciences, I also thought I’d want to send some kind of.. “OI HEADS UP, maybe be somewhere else on 9/11”, but it’s the kind of thing where I can’t imagine one person doing something about this catastrophe 30 years in the future.

    I guess I could send it to my grandpa and tell him a thing or two about what smoking does to the body.

  15. Leocruta says:

    Send it to a lawyer. Include their initial fee, information on lottery numbers, investment instructions, and orders to set up a bank account I can access in 40 years. Simple.

    1. Droid says:

      “… initial fee…”

      With bank notes that were issued after 1977? Those might be a bit hard to spend, don’t you think?

      1. Rax says:

        70s Dollar notes shouldn’t be that hard to find, a quick look at ebay shows quite a few specifically 1977 $100 bills for $120 to $140. Let’s call that $130 per $100 bill, at Shamus’ proposed maximum of $10k you’d end up with ~$7.6k in 1977 money.
        I don’t know how much a 1977 lawyer would’ve cost, but according to this site about 70s prices a new car was about 4.3k and average houshold income was around ~10k. So I assume 7k is enough to get a lawyer to spend a few hours setting up accounts.

        Obviously this might be a lot harder in other currencies, especially in countries that changed currencies in the last 40 years (hello, most of Europe).

      2. Amstrad says:

        Its widely accepted in such time-travel shenanigans that if you’re going to the past you’re not taking currency, you’re taking gold or silver or some other valuable material that can be exchanged for currency.

    2. ayegill says:

      Suppose you’re a lawyer in the ’70s, and you get a briefcase full of supposedly future lottery numbers and investment instructions, a moderate amount of cash, and instructions to place the profits from the lottery and investment schemes in a bank account that some person you’ve never heard of can access way into the future. What’s your incentive not to screw this guy over and keep the money for yourself? What’s he gonna do, sue you in 40 years for stealing information from your time traveling briefcase?

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        This is kind of against the point of the exercise, since it was mentioned we’re trying to “improve the world” rather than get rich. That aside, speaking from a purely mental exercise point of view if I were the recipient of this I’d either ignore it (in disbelief) or, after verifying it (the lottery), bring the stuff to the police or do it, screwing you over would be the one thing I wouldn’t do.

        I’d be worried it’s some kind of attempt at fraud (and I suppose technically it is though not in the way I’d imagine). Say, some employee discovered the lottery is fixed in advance and “smuggled out” the numbers but they can’t act themselves. Lottery aside the investment instructions alone could be highly suspicious. Either way, it might be reasonable to notify the authorities at the very least to be in the clear if they tell me to bugger off.

        On the other hand if I decided to go through with it I would not want to screw that person over (though the option to share the gain would be more welcome than straight up fee if we’re talking real money). First of, I have no idea who that is and what options they have, is it the mob? Is it someone with power and money, say someone with inside knowledge of the investment market? Is it even just some random schmuck who will have nothing to loose and may go the authorities and rat me out if it really is some kind of fraud or other kind of illegal operation? Basically, why would I want to risk it on two fronts?

        1. Richard says:

          It would look very much like either insider trading (short term) or a crazy joke (long term).

          I’m not sure what the laws on insider trading looked like in 1977, but I’d guess that lawyers would not want to get caught up in it and so would either pass it straight to the authorities or destroy it.

  16. AReasonWhy says:

    I don’t understand why delivering information is such a problem, today we have tiny machines, you don’t have to put in a whole laptop into the bag. Pack in between 10 and 50 smartphones/tablets, put all your data on big SD cards and you have multiple readers and a library of whatever data you wanna deliver. Print out a small handbook with the instructions on how to use these alien looking machines and voila. You spend half the article discussing this problem and you even mention smartphones and yet uh, what, they not good enough? You think they won’t figure it out if we print the instructions on them? I mean I guess you could have just forgotten about it. Just weirded me out and frustrated me.

    Now for me much more interesting is thinking of what information you’d deliver to them, and maybe the discussion as to whom we’re sending it but I feel like you spent very little talking about these points in comparison while telling us tech was really shitty back then. I think the biggest problem really poses the person you’re delivering it to since humans are easily the biggest error factor. You’ve mentioned some very straightforward things like the suitcase contents getting stolen or sold, but I think overthinking how someone will use it seems much more intricate of a puzzle. Hm, puzzle. This could make for an interesting small game.

    1. Glossing over smartphones was kinda odd yeah. But a smartphone or tablet can’t hold all the info a laptop could. See another comment of mine with more details on this.

      1. AReasonWhy says:

        While yeah laptops can hold more space on an HDD, SD cards are massive these days cheap and most importantly very small, and shamus did mention allowing us about 10k cash and we could buy some high end sd cards. I am not gonna sit down and calculate it but I am sure we can strike balance between size, quality and quantity. Again, miniSD cards are tiny, if we’re talking conventional suitcases I am sure we can pack in like 10 thousands of them in and money would rather be the limit instead of space.
        In short, while its tricky the delivery method I find to be less of a puzzle to be solved while I am much more interested as to whom you’d send it and what you’d send them.

        1. Sure you could send SD cards, but there was no readers. And no computers able to handle it anyway. In that case a HDD + laptop makes more sense anyway. Or mobile + USB HDD.

          1. Richard says:

            It is easy to get hold of tablets, smartphones and laptops that have built-in SD card readers.

            I presume you could put together a sufficiently good pictogram guide to explain how to recognise the cards, extract and replace them correctly.
            – You’d need that for any type of removable media

            Though the bigger argument for tablet or smartphone is quantity.
            I’d assume at least one device would get destroyed by accident or design – taking it apart to find out how it works, dropping it, or simply random failure.

            You’d only fit two or three laptops in such a case, and perhaps 20 smartphones/small tablets.

            SD cards are tiny, some would be lost or broken but you could make multiple copied stacks.

  17. MichaelG says:

    OK, if I can just materialize the package anywhere in the world in 1977, can I assassinate someone? Send a box of explosives on a timer to their desk?

    Microfilm is the obvious way to go, but old style magnetic tape would also work, and I’m sure you could find tape drives somewhere — lots of old data is still archived in that format.

    To gain credibility and save lives, a single printed page listing all the major earthquakes and hurricanes since then would do the job.

    What do you want to accomplish with this stunt anyway? Accelerating technology seems pointless — tech moved pretty fast over this period, after all. Could it have moved faster even with a roadmap? I don’t think we wasted much time on pointless detours developing modern tech. Maybe send them an operating system with decent security — oh wait, we don’t have one!

    As far as altering history goes, as you point on in the comments, the cold war could have ended a lot worse. I’d leave it alone.

    1. BigTiki says:

      Send Onion articles about how polyester clothing and disco combined to destroy millions in the 1980 New Years’ Doubleknit Apocalypse.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Having the “suitcase” materialise 100m above the target’s head and killing them by impact would be, in my opinion, stretching or bending the rules. I suppose sending over a bomb is within the parameters of the exercise assuming you can construct a working bomb (including obtaining all the necessary materials) but I’d rather not go all Anarchists Cookbook over this discussion plus I think it’s somewhat against the spirit if not the letter of the thing.

    3. INH5 says:

      Any information on future hurricanes or future weather in general would be useless within a few weeks of arrival due to the butterfly effect. Earthquakes, however should happen at the same time regardless of any human action, at least over the timescale we’re talking about, so including a list of the dates and places of every major earthquake from 1977 to 2017 would be an easy way to both prove that the suitcase is from the future and save millions of lives.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I was thinking in this direction (though I’d still prefer to think more about it before next week’s post), it seems like a very humane thing to do and unlikely to have nefarious applications, at worst if sent to some ahole he’d try to profit of it or something but it’s unlikely to do something like cause WW3, at least not directly. I’m not so sure about hurricanes, at least for a good while I think that data would still have major application, we have no good, reliable way to figure out the scale of changes and it really hardly matters if a hurricane strikes a day earlier or 50 miles further north. If they’re forewarned and they monitor this thing and they see “yup, this looks like that weather front that could cause the hurricane The Future Book mentioned”. Even if the changes were major and some phenomena didn’t happen or some new ones did it might help them figure out the mechanisms behind it (though you should probably include a disclaimer).

        1. INH5 says:

          I’m not a meteorologist, but the consensus on the forum seems to be that after a year after the Point of Divergence you might as well just make up the weather. So I wouldn’t expect warning about specific storms that happened after 1977 to do much good.

          That being said, warning about the engineering problems with the canal levees in New Orleans that resulted in Katrina being so destructive might be a good idea, just in case a hurricane ends up following a similar path at some point. If there are any other major tropical storms that were made significantly worse by failures of planning or engineering, including information about them also wouldn’t hurt.

          There are also some engineering disasters that you could probably prevent. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima (which was already built in 1977) are the first ones to come to mind, but I’m sure that there are others.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            I'm not a meteorologist, but the consensus on the forum seems to be that after a year after the Point of Divergence you might as well just make up the weather.

            While there is some truth in this,global weather is not that fragile.You still need massive things in order to change it drastically,like erecting a huge skyscraper or a dam,or moving thousands(millions maybe?) of animals and plants.However,that applies for stuff that happens on land.Over seas,its much harder to change the weather because its mostly just open space.Hurricanes would probably remain unchanged for decades no matter what change you introduce.Unless you manage to introduce a change that would drastically impact global warming trends.

  18. Zak McKracken says:

    What’s all this about DVDs? Give them a laptop with an SSD that holds loaaads more data than a suitcase wof DVDs! If that’s not enough data, USB drives are your friend.

    As for using the data, there are 3.5″ USB floppy drives out there. Pack a bunch of floppies and maybe two or three drives to be sure. Include whatever specs you can find on those, as well as specs of the USB bus itself … I’m sure those computer scientists back in the day were used to programming extremely close to the metal, so put some programming environment on the laptop to allow them to write something which can exfiltrate the data through USB to whatever equipment they can produce. I mean, there are solutions out there already to connect old C64 floppy drives to modern USB, so those people will be able to work that out, just give them a few USB cables to start practicing with. Oh, and there’s screen shots, too :) Nobody would sit in the laptop chair to read much, rather somebody could flick through all the pages of all the PDFs take pictures and turn them into micro-fiche, much quicker than reading on the device.

    It’ll still take ages, of course, but technology-wise, the main advantage from the suitcase will be that they have an idea where to look for solutions and where not to, rather than having to try tons of potential technical developments which we know now are inferior to the ones we have.

    In terms of what to send: I’m thinking that technical advancement is probably only a small part, and the one that is hardest to communicate. Things like medical, psychological and sociological progress should be much easier to take advantage of. Although some of it would require technological advance to replicate, and a few things would also need technology to apply them, but most of it is knowledge which applies to humans in 1977 exactly as it does now.

    Also, design! Industrial design, UI design … many of the choices there took ages to develop to something which is human-friendly (and much of it still isn’t, although technology isn’t preventing that). Some of it would be limited by technology, but if you gave engineers and designers good and bad examples from 40 years of history that they don’t know about yet, that would speed things up enormously!

    One really hot question, of course, is: What about historical and political stuff? We have information now to let people make better political choices than back then because they could actually know the outcomes of the choices they would have made without the package.
    …however, is that going to help the world, or would whichever country happened to get the data just use it to get themselves more power, everyone else be damned? I’m genuinely uncertain. I suppose that would come down to the choice of who (and where) the suitcase would go to, and exactly what information is on it, how it is framed, etc…

    …and I think I would absolutely have to find some silly prank than needs to go in there. No idea yet what it’d be, but it must exist.

    1. MichaelG says:

      As many multi-terabyte drives as will fit, a tablet/laptop to control everything, and some kind of adapter that takes data off the drives and sends it down some cable. Software controls the speed. Let them figure out how to attach to it.

      As for pranks, any number of idiotic movies should scare the hell out of them.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Silly movy seems a nice idea. Maybe Batman vs. Superman, see how well they can relate to that :)

        Or, you know, falsify some history to give them a reason to go visit me (maybe a bit later than 1977, so I am alive and old enough to appreciate it), and maybe help me out some? Or, just, you know, fix the whole VHS vs. Betamax debacle or something like that. Or pick whatever your least favourite food is and drop some newsreports in the data which proclaim that it causes cancer or somesuch, so nobody ever needs to eat that again.

  19. MichaelG says:

    Oh, and I’ve actually used the IBM 5110. If I remember correctly, you could program it in either APL or Basic. A 32K workspace? Saved to magnetic tape cartridges. An amazing machine for its time.

  20. Allen says:

    My first include would be an envelope marked “READ ME FIRST” with a very simple and easy-to-verify “prediction” in it. Probably some vague assurances that

    My second include would be a custom-printed daytimer/diary (custom because I need to put a *lot* of years in this thing, but on-demand printing is pretty affordable these days). That gets filled up with stock tips and the occasional set of lottery numbers and all the other time-sensitive information I’m trying to pass on.

    Beyond that, I’m sticking with good ol’ paper. A suitcase isn’t *that* small, and the amount of stuff you can realistically “discover” feels pretty small. Just need to decide what the one thing is gonna be – early thought is modern battery design.

  21. kikito says:

    Everyone is talking about *what* to send (knowledge compressed in some sort of way), but almost no one is talking about *who* to send it to.

    I would choose Carl Sagan. He would quite quickly realize what is inside the package and its importance. He’s advocated again and again about “helping humanity get out of its cradle”, as well as “avoiding killing ourselves first”; I doubt he’d be using it for his own profit. He was also an incredibly talented teacher, and more importantly, he’d have access to a network of scientific colleagues and editors, which in turn would have access to printers. He was also very talented at teaching, which I guess it is important.

    My first instinct would be sending instructions for accelerating scientific discovery while avoiding natural disasters (earthquakes, illnesses, etc). But I would include some clause along the lines of “However, I am not an expert in this matters. You are more qualified than I am to know what to do with all this future knowledge. Do what you will with it”.

    1. Shamus says:

      Drat. I think your answer (Carl Sagan) is better than mine. Still, I’m sorta running on the honor system here so I’m not going to change mine. (Plus I’m too lazy to re-write it.)

      1. Falcon02 says:

        Carl Sagan was my first instinct as well for candidate, could even send him a printed/modified copy of his golden record as a wink and a nod to help him know what’s up.

        Also make sure we include a copy of the new Cosmos series.

        Another candidate I didn’t think of til now…

        Richard Feynman, if nothing else he’d be acutely aware of any Cold War risks and would likely be mindful of potential impacts the data released might have.

        1. Chris Robertson says:

          My selection for “who” (no mentioned above) would include (in no particular order:

          Jane Goodall
          James Randi
          Isaac Asimov
          Buzz Aldrin and/or Neil Armstrong

        2. meltingeclipse says:

          Also make sure we include a copy of the new Cosmos series.

          Oh, nice touch–but I’d say also include the original series (along with the note “please still make this”). It was produced in 1978/1979, so you would be giving him recordings–starring himself, barely any older, talking about his area of expertise–of a show that he hasn’t made yet but may be thinking of. Imagine seeing yourself, hearing your voice, recognizing your own writing and ideas–what could be more convincing proof than that? What would get your attention more quickly?

          I mean, I’d still include other proof in the form of dates of unpredictable astrological events and natural disasters, but I think that has more immediate “wow” factor.

          Plus, sending him the suitcase would certainly change his personal history and could easily mean he’s now too busy with suitcase-related things to make the show, which would be a shame. Sending it means you have a chance to either 1)convince him to make it anyway, or 2)at least publish it anyway, if you’re smart about the format. (You can’t just send dvds and a laptop, or the only way to copy it will be to aim a video camera at the screen. Not ideal!)

          1. “you would be giving him recordings”“starring himself, barely any older, talking about his area of expertise”“of a show that he hasn't made yet”

            That is pretty clever. But VHS did not become fully available to the public until 1977 in the US. He may or may not be able to play a VHS tape

          2. Mephane says:

            Ah, this invokes one of the classic paradoxes of time travel. If you sent Carl Sagan a copy of his Cosmos series, he watches it is only through this inspired to create it, whose idea was it in the first place? Or what if he just releases the very thing you sent him, who made it? :D

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Closed loops are not paradoxes.Asking “which came first” in such a case is like asking “which point on the circle is its beginning”.

              1. “which point on the circle is its beginning”

                Wherever you choose to point your finger, so is the end.

            2. meltingeclipse says:

              “Who made it?” Why, the Carl Sagan from your timeline! In this case the information came from a different universe, but not from nowhere.

        3. Zak McKracken says:

          Feynman and Sagan are both excellent choices — haven’t managed to come up with anyone similarly qualified.

    2. Wide And Nerdy says:

      Personally I’d go for Richard Stallman.

      When MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) installed a password control system in 1977, Stallman found a way to decrypt the passwords and sent users messages containing their decoded password, with a suggestion to change it to the empty string (that is, no password) instead, to re-enable anonymous access to the systems. Around 20% of the users followed his advice at the time, although passwords ultimately prevailed. Stallman boasted of the success of his campaign for many years afterward.

      That is the kind of man I want to have this information.

  22. el_b says:

    id fill it full of investment instructions and advice for the next 40 years, with some simple tech that they could patent with my only request to be they give me a percentage of the investment from this date as to not cause a paradox…unless i can just send it to my mum and dad in the past and grow up in a mansion lol. id probably send it to family but if i couldnt i would probably look up a scientist or engineer, someone practical who can understand what im sending them and how to use it.
    you could also put in fashionable designs and schematics for weapons and stuff if your okay with the morality of it. im sure if you could send the workings of a modern m4 or even vector kriss to colt not that far from the m16a1 mess they would throw gold bars at you.

  23. Lee says:

    My biggest question is who to send it to. In ’77, I was alive, but not old enough to deal with this thing. People who I can trust that were in a position to use and/or understand anything I send back are essentially non-existant. My father was out of the military, and financially stable, but not well off. I honestly can’t predict what he’d do with the suitcase though, which bothers me. As for public figures, the best I can come up with are Carl Sagan or Steve Wozniak. I don’t know enough about Sagan really, but he always struck me as a good guy. Steve was just starting Apple with Jobs in ’77, but he is both technically capable and really good hearted from all accounts.

    The other issue is that whatever you do amounts to either suicide or a particularly frivolous hobby. Either you’re changing the world so much that the person you are today will cease to exist, or time doesn’t work that way, and nothing you send back will change anything. I’m not really happy with either option.

    I prefer to think of these things in terms of the year 2000. My youngest child was born in late 1999, and I don’t want to mess that up. My life up to that point wasn’t the greatest, but there’s plenty of room to improve the last 15 years without almost guaranteeing that I lose someone I love. And the best parts of the following years could be sped up or improved with only a little information sent to 2000.

    1. “My youngest child was born in late 1999, and I don't want to mess that up”

      Regardless you’d end up with creating a new timeline.

      Either changing the past of the current one or causing it to split (two most common theories).

      I did ponder sending the suitcase to myself, but I was born in 1974. For me to properly exploit this I’d have to ensure I got it/had it when I was 19-20 years old which would be in 1993, I was a tad late to computers, but maybe I might have made use of it when I was 15 in 1989.

      Shamus picked a good decade for this “dilemma” there is tech but not advanced enough, even with the knowledge they’d still need a decade to handle it and advance their tech to fully take advantage of it.

      The end of the 80s start of the 90s was they height of the Amiga, anyone experienced with computers at that time would be able to make good use of such a suitcase. Myself I was programming on the Amiga by then for example.

  24. Droid says:

    1977, huh? Didn’t people still use CFCs and leaded petroleum back then? Heck, even asbestos was still around in harmful products. Soft PVC, too. The problem is that no one would believe the stuff in that suitcase, even if you added some “proof”.

    1. el_b says:

      thats why you put the sports almanac in :P

      1. Droid says:

        I cannot really argue the point I wanted to make without veering into politics. Suffice to say there are enough people already who just outright ignore hard evidence for all sorts of things they don’t want to believe. There is just no way people would not discredit this as a trick, pure luck, or manipulation of the events in question. And this time, they would even be right in doing so: At least 2000 years have gone by in which evidence of time travel would have been hard to overlook if there had existed one, whereas each and every one of the claims made of time travel happening were debunked.

        If you expect a truly rational person to overcome their scepticism that this is really from the future, then you’d have to include a prediction of such laughably low odds that it might become difficult to cram all the predictions into both the suitcase and the maybe one or two years worth of events that you want to waste trying to convince Red.

        And as far as I see it, including this caveat in the premise (saying that the population at large is more inclined to believe in time travel) seems to contradict what Shamus was building up to.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          And there are people who believe those same things with no hard evidence because it confirms their preexisting worldview. This is most people.

          It switches back and forth issue by issue. If science confirms something about your worldview, you like science. If science doesn’t confirm something about your worldview, you don’t like science. Every ideology and political position is guilty of this.

          Here is an example.

  25. Matt` says:

    For my initial half-baked effort: Send a few slabs of granite engraved with several carefully chosen commandments, set to materialise out of thin air in a flash of light, to a position above the President’s desk during a live broadcast, so that they land with a nice dramatic thud.

    I feel like that takes care of “Getting the message noticed”, just need to invest more thought into what they should say.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “Be excellent to each other”

      1. lucky7 says:

        “Party on, dudes!”

    2. Viktor says:

      …huh. I’d been thinking that the most important elements of advancement in the last 40 years were as much social as technological, but I couldn’t think of a way to encourage those. That would work, as long as you were damn careful about what you said.

      Though I’d drop them during a Super Bowl. Many more people watching and less likely to be taken as a comment on the immediate politics.

  26. Dreadjaws says:

    1 – Who gets the package?
    Twentieth Century Fox’s CEO at the time.
    2 – How will you entice this person to examine the package, take it seriously, and distribute the information according to your wishes?
    A few samples of current day Star Wars merchandise and lots of pictures of fans using it. A note that says “Follow the advice inside and this will go on making money forever”
    3 – How will you store information in the suitcase, and what format will you use?
    A DVD, a portable DVD player and instructions on how to use it watch the film and the documentary on its filming included in the extras.
    4 – What information will you send them?
    The DVD will be of The Phantom Menace. A note will say “This is what happens when you let George Lucas do as he pleases without control. Never let that happen.”

    BOOM! World instantly improved.

    Joking aside, your blurb at the beginning makes this kind of exercise really uncomfortable to me. This very premise mixes two of my primary fears, the irrational one (believing I will make some change involving time travel that will erase me from existence or otherwise change the world into one I’m not comfortable with), and the rational one (believing that any small change I do to try to improve things will end up making them worse).

    The latter one is a major personal issue for me. I have lots of experience trying to fix things on my own only to end up breaking them even more. I realize it’s an issue that needs solving, but, well, you know… I don’t wanna end up making it worse. Not a joke. It’s not a constant problem, mind you, many times I just work on improving things without even noticing, but when it pops up it drives me crazy.

    1. Olivier Faure says:

      Dam, you beat me to the cheap Georges Lucas joke. (you could add DVDs of The Clone Wars (the 3D cartoon) and tell them “This is what you’re aiming for with the prequels”)

    2. “This very premise mixes two of my primary fears” then you probably should not play SOMA.

  27. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So I was searching a bit about notable people and events of 1977 and………..Well,now I cant participate in this because a political thing has occupied my mind.If you are curious,and dont mind opting out as well,just search for 1977 and marriage.You have been warned.

    1. Steve C says:

      Looked. Didn’t see anything. Nothing of interest to me at least. /shrug.

  28. Commento says:

    Imagine if you dropped a 1977 car off in 1850. Sure, they could probably wrap their heads around the tech, particularly if you left an explanation on the front seat. But they don't have the chemistry to make the fuel, the lubricant, the tires, the battery, or the plastic parts. They don't have the metallurgy to make the specialty steel. Worst of all, they don't have the machine technology to make parts with such precise tolerances. The people of 1850 can figure out how the 1977 car works, but they will be totally unable to build one themselves. Sure, they can substitute their own crude versions of all the tricky parts, but the resulting automobile is probably going to look an awful lot like the rudimentary cars they were already building.

    Thats very true but I can’t imagine they’d just make one stab at recreating it, fail and then bury it in a ditch to never be mentioned again. Our 1850s engineers might not be able to recreate the 1977 car because they don’t have the right metallurgy and chemistry, but seeing the possibility of them could inspire their discovery a bit quicker, and maybe their 1900s successors will get there.

  29. Cybron says:

    If you can find someone you judge sufficiently altruistic, you can send back finacial information and create a philanthropic trust fund that dwarfs any existing today, I suppose.

    Alternatively, you can send back technology sufficiently advanced to prove it is future tech, then add a fake water world apocalypse warning and instructions on how to curb global warming. Send it to the president or something.

    Send back instructions on how to set up the Internet. Warn them that social media will cause WWIII and it’s vital that they enshrine both anonymity and neutrality of the Internet.

    1. TSi says:

      Trully great ideas. Act like it’s going to be a living hell if they don’t do something for the greater good is simple and seems effective.
      Now, someone be the devils advocate here please ?

  30. stratigo says:

    Laptop with detailed instructions on how to use laptops and downloads of everything I’d want to send.

    Yeah, no they won’t be able to digitally pull everything from it. But you know what people can do? And in fact what some people specialize in? Scribing. So, all the info packed in gets copied by hand.

    I’m not trying to give peope a consumer electronic that can be in every household, just text (and maybe diagrams). People have been rather speedily copying things down for millenia. 1977 people would manage.

  31. I don’t really have any interest in trying to fix the world if I’m not going to experience any benefit from it, because it all takes place in an alternate timeline. I think I’d just research scandals that broke within a few years of that time, fill the suitcase with embarrassing information (photos and paper files) about people I don’t like, and drop it at a major news outlet. Make it look like some lawyer’s briefcase or something so they think they’ve “scooped” all this information.

  32. guy says:

    I’d honestly mostly give technical information a miss; we’re not reaching that far back and probably couldn’t expedite it by much given the nested requirements; it’s not like they didn’t understand that making transistors smaller was a good idea. It might be a good idea to alter the internet protocol landscape to use more secure protocols from the start, but I don’t think we can get much mileage out of overall acceleration (beyond the global warming thing, and drug formulae and suchlike).

  33. Misamoto says:

    You’re really overthinking the medium. Laptop and a crapton of flash drives will fit nicely into a suitcase. Make it 2 laptops, one for reverse-engineering. Instructions on paper will compliment it well enough. Useful information doesn’t take much space that way, you can spend a year collecting and organizing any and all information you come across. You don’t need proprietory files, the concepts of how it all works are out there, they’re enough.
    The receiver is a more interesting topic, but I would stop with some IT-inventor, to increase the chance of them understanding it. Maybe NASA. I seriously doubt they won’t try to press the buttons noted in instructions, and after that it would be self-evident it’s not a scam. I’m too lazy to search for a concrete IT forefather, but I believe there are enough to choose from.
    To prevent the nuclear war an option to send it to both sides would be nice. It’s the equilibrium of forces that stopped cold war going hot after all.

    1. “To prevent the nuclear war an option to send it to both sides ”
      Shamus only said one suitcase didn’t he?

      1. Misamoto says:

        He also said to forget about that prpblem at all ;) Didn’t stop anyone

  34. Paul Spooner says:

    I think the trick here is sending things that are hard to figure out, but easy to execute and verify. It’s a cryptology problem. Sending raw scientific studies isn’t a good idea, as you outlined, but what about the practical results of such studies? The composition and performance of various alloys is available now. Oh, and how to make graphine with graphite and tape. There’s got to be a bunch of other “one neat trick” kind of things that would make a big difference to the folks from the late seventies.

    I was going to suggest one of these but you can’t buy one yet. Anyway, the microfilm suggested above seems like a better idea.

    Also, I don’t know how this excercise is going to stay away from banned topics. As has been pointed out, a lot of the best density comes from soft political or religious info, not hard science.

  35. Dev Null says:

    Red is obviously me, in 1977. Establish credibility by including specific information about my own life from 1977, which I shall omit here, but which includes the fact that my family will acquire an IBM PC in 1983. Include enough 5.25″ floppy disks designed to be read on the IBM PC to jumpstart the rest of the technology tree.

    Now, go out and buy an IBM PC. You can still find them out there, believe it or not. Engineer a way to make a DVD player that works on the PC; this is not, as you point out, trivial, but I don’t think that it’s unsolvable. Build 2, and put them in the suitcase, along with enough technical docs on DVD’s to jumpstart computer tech to the point where it can read USB drives, and enough history information (stock market data or whatever; try to make as much money as possible quietly, since the moment you start having world-changing effects you may alter the timeline enough for your data to be useless) to become obscenely rich, so that money becomes a non-issue for the rest of Red’s plan. Fill the rest of the suitcase with USB drives full of science and technical specs to jumpstart everything else. By his 20’s, Red-me should have enough technical data to change the world, and enough money to leverage the tech into products and use them. He could patent every major medical advance from the last 40 years and distribute them at cost (or less, funded through other projects.) I’ll trust him to do the right thing with it all, because he’s essentially me; he’ll diverge from me eventually, but he’s a pretty good kid. I’ll send him some reading suggestions too, to keep his head on straight.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I would send it to myself in 1977 as well, but I’m too much of a baby for that to work. Maybe send it to my Dad?

      1. Dev Null says:

        It’s kind of a cheat really, since one of the big issues is “How can I trust whoever I send it to”. In 77 I was only 8, so it’d take a couple of years before Red-me could really take advantage of it, but I figured it was worthwhile for the trust factor.

        1. Richard says:

          Though can you really trust past-you?

          I am pretty sure my 8-year-old self would think it was a prank. Not sure what they’d do with the case though.

          I’d probably find it in the attic just after sending it back…

  36. Xapi says:

    How many Kindles can you fit in a suitcase? The Laptop Room problem is real but not really unavoidable. Whatever info you decide to send can be put into SD cards, cuadruplicated, and sent with a number of e-readers (quite durable and low battery consumption) that would allow, at least, for there to be quite a number of Laptop Rooms.

    You can probably send two or three chargers, although I suspect one should do the trick since they should be pretty well replaceable.

  37. Poster Boy says:

    Having 1977 people read the data directly off of the screen of The One Laptop is essentially perfect. Nearly infinite storage, no wonky interfacing between current and old tech, easy to acquire for the 2017 person.
    The only problem is the bottleneck.
    Alleviate the bottleneck by sending 100 Kindles, it’s not perfect but with 100 people at a time tapping “page down” and snapping a photograph, you can transcribe vast quantities of image and text information very quickly.

    1. If you have room for that many kindles then you have room for that many Notepads or smart phones.

      Charging is an issue but a single charger, a bunch of usb plugs with exposed +/- wires and info on paper as to what current those plugs should be converted to would allow them to make their own chargers. (chargers do’t really charge the phones these days, they just power the phones internal charger).

      1. Richard says:

        5VDC @ 2A is easily made with 1977 kit.

        However, it would take a lot of convincing that you could power anything from such a low voltage and current, so they absolutely would destroy at least one.

  38. Syal says:

    My immediate reaction is to send Bill Murray VHS tapes of the new Garfields and Ghostbusters remake, with the note “You can stop it”.

    Otherwise, there’s a lot of natural or other disasters we know about now that might be preventable. Three-Mile Island, New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Names of serial killers and when they were convicted.

    Or medical information. Yul Brynner telling people he’s dying from cigarettes, six years before he found out he was dying from cigarettes. Whichever nutrition charts we’re using these days. Proper tooth-brushing. The dangers of not drinking enough caffeine.

    Mostly staying out of politics, but I would send Supreme Court decisions overruling previous decisions to the courts being overruled.

    Also “History of the Soviet Union arranged to the melody of Tetris” (and a gameboy with Tetris for context). Plus some cat memes.

    1. Droid says:

      “The dangers of not drinking enough caffeine.”

      I see what you did there!

      1. djw says:

        On that note, I need to log out and go buy more coffee.

    2. djw says:

      So, if you send a list of names of serial killers to some law enforcement official, what could they do with it?

      Its not legal to lock somebody up who hasn’t committed a crime. If you could provide convincing evidence of the killers who were active in 1977 then *that* would be actionable.

      But I don’t think Jeffry Dahmer had killed anybody yet. (Just checked Wikipedia, it looks like he started in ’78, so that’s pretty damn close). Could they arrest him on basis of info from the future? Or do they have to wait until he kills somebody? How ethical is that?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        So, if you send a list of names of serial killers to some law enforcement official, what could they do with it?

        Observe the first victim and get the killer for assault and attempted murder when they make their move.

        1. djw says:

          If the killer observes the police and gets nervous what then? They might go somewhere else and kill people not on the list. The police might think that the list is a hoax and give up.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            And if the person you send the thing to gets too caught up with time travel to do something useful with the item?And if they get too distracted and get hit by a bus?Etc,etc.All those ifs defeat the purpose of sending the item back in the first place.You have to have some expectations that the person you contact in the past will act at least somewhat competently with what you send to them.If you assume otherwise,there really is no point in doing this in the first place.

      2. Syal says:

        They could focus their search on the listed suspect. If they were arrested and convicted it means there was evidence somewhere, you can maybe get them after one murder instead of ninety.

        (I don’t want to get into the ethics question, there’s a whole lot of branches beyond the when.)

        1. djw says:

          On a related note if you infodump historical records on “Red” then it is likely that they will contain info on serial killers. If Red goes public with that information then some data diving vigilante might decide to go preemptively murder all the serial killers.

          1. Syal says:

            That’s one of those “beyond the when” ethical branches, along with Red adding names of people he doesn’t like, copycats killing listed victims because they think the other guy will get the blame, etc. Don’t want to have a long debate on all the branches, suffice to say it’s worth the risks.

            1. djw says:

              I wasn’t actually trying to start an ethics debate. I have a fairly low opinion of most “professional ethicists” that I have read in any case. Mostly I was just pointing out what might happen.

              1. djw says:

                Probably the best thing to do would be to get the data in the hands of the known victims, and let them proceed as they see fit.

  39. djw says:

    This might provide an opportunity to study the inevitability of history.

    1) Send them a history of our world from 1977 to 2017 in as much detail as can be reasonably fit into the suitcase.

    2) Send them some instructions on how to make the suitcase, so they can do it again when they reach 2017 (except THEY include both their history and ours).

    3) continue ad nauseam

    The problem is getting feedback on this experiment to our original timeline. Of course, the whole magic suitcase thing hasn’t been explained in much detail so possibly we can invoke some nonsense about right handed neutrino’s or some other Star Trek style gibberish to allow us to get information back.

    Some interesting questions to resolve:

    1) With two years of warning could the recession of 1979 be avoided? If so then what sort of interventions work? How long ahead of time do you need to know about a recession to be able to deploy effective countermeasures.

    2) How long do the timelines tend to remain similar? (eg. does Reagan get elected in all of them? How about Clinton? What about Gorbachev and Yeltsin? Do wars that are between countries with no direct relation to Red still happen?)

    3) How unlucky did we get on 9/11? (eg. are other groups able to pull off similar attacks within the same time frame). Is there anything we can learn from this to prevent similar situations in the future?

    If its possible to change the target date then I am also curious about what happens to North America in various alternative timelines without the American Civil War (or with a war that happens sooner or later). Could slavery have been ended peacefully if Henry Clay were elected president in 1840?

    I suppose you could extend the idea to other interesting and pivotal moments in history as well. Could Song China have had an industrial revolution if Gengis Khan had been murdered as a child?

    1. Hmm! Recursive and iterative knowledge timetravel? That is certainly a challenge for a sci-fi author (you up for it Shamus? :P)

      At first it would be slow, but it would speed up for each iteration and it would happen earlier. At some point you’ll have romans (or earlier) with smartphones.

      Who knows, maybe a meteorite did not wipe out the dinosaurs, what if it was a reaction to a singularity instead?

      1. djw says:

        Well, my point about Song China is that they already had a society that was ready for an industrial revolution, but instead they had to fight a losing multigenerational war against the Mongols. I wasn’t wondering what happens if you sent modern tech to China in 1180, I was just wondering what happens if they don’t have to fight for existence against the most efficient war machine humans had seen up to that point.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Well, as you know, the empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. This is as it has always been.

  40. zookeeper says:

    One vaguely similar hypothetical that I’ve found interesting is what would I do if I was transported back in time, specifically without being able to prepare for it. Let’s say I suddenly find myself inhabiting the body of my younger self 30 years ago, or I simply teleport as-is back to the 80’s. After I get over the initial shock, what can I actually do to improve the world?

    When I try to imagine that situation, it feels like realistically speaking, I could barely do anything at all. I know of some natural disasters, but I have no idea of even which year they happened, let alone exact dates, areas affected, and so on. I know of political developments I’d like to help or prevent, but there’s nothing I can do about those unless I can convince people that I really am from the future, which I can’t do if I can’t prove it by accurate prediction of events, and I can’t do that because I simply do not remember enough details.

    Possibly, at least in the case of people like me with an abysmal recollection of history, the most utilitarianistically efficient course of action could be to try to get rich on stock and prediction markets with the knowledge I do have, and then to simply use that money in traditionally altruistic ways instead of trying to change history as such.

    Losing your mind in one way or another still seems like one of the more likely end results of such a scenario, though.

    1. “Let's say I suddenly find myself inhabiting the body of my younger self 30 years ago, or I simply teleport as-is back to the 80's.”
      Quantum Leap and that Hotub Timetravel movie comes to mind

  41. Alex says:

    The “make everything available in 1977” approach vastly underestimates how exponentiality / Moore’s Law work. If you can include enough info to get to (actual) 1979 transistor density in (alternative) 1978 you will have created A Lot of acceleration over the course of 30 years. Gordon Moore practically suggests himself as the person to get this info to.

    This can, in principle, be used to increase storage density. Include the delta between 1977 and 1978 readable with 77 tech. The delta between 1978 and 1979 needs to be readable with 1978 tech etc. Wikipedia is surprisingly unclear, about when optical disks became a thing, but it’s pretty clear that once you get to the 1987 tech-level you are golden. [Note: that I have no opinion on if you can fit enough to bootstrap 1977 to 1987 and a bunch of CD-ROMs into a suitcase, but it sure is a hell of an easier problem than fitting enough to bootstrap 1977 to 2017 into a suitcase.]

    Of course all of this assumes all sorts of other things being equal. As do every sports almanac suggestions. So in the end, I suspect it’s impossible to judge the most clever idea without going into a discussion of what we assume how that alternative universe will unfold.

    1. Droid says:

      Actually, you are overestimating exponential growth here. If you could push 1977 computers to 1978 levels, you would get a one-year advance that would stay constant (as in, constantly one year ahead of the curve) all the way up to now. We would have 2018 tech, then. Not that impressive, to be honest.

      But nowadays, Moore’s law does not hold anymore. The reason I think is that transistors per unit square are not really exponentially distributed, but logistically. That looks very much like an exponential growth rate at first, until you start seeing the curve grow more and more shallow because you got near the saturation level (with 100% saturation being the absolute maximum possible).

      The difference can be seen in this image. (with saturation level being called carrying capacity)

      The reason I think it is logistically distributed is the following: not only does our current technological state impact how many transistors we can pack onto the next generation of chips (change is proportional to value, just like with exponential growth), but so does how far away we are from the upper bound (which has to exist unless we can manufacture a quantum-tunneling barrier smaller than, say, an electron). Assuming new production techniques and materials are discovered at a constant rate (taking testing, funding, etc. into account), this would point to transistors per square unit being logistically distributed.

      1. Alex says:

        Yeah, you are right. I guess the only point we disagree on is how much difference it makes to constantly be one year ahead of the microprocessor curve. Because that of course has side effects unrelated to computers.

        1. Droid says:

          I don’t really see how it would be that revolutionary. Things would be sped up by one year, meaning stuff that was only possible in 19XY would be possible in 19XY-1. It can’t have made more of a difference than actually giving everyone (not only the technology sector) one year more time.

          1. Alex says:

            First, I think that “2018 computers in 2017” gives a totally wrong impression. Like you said yourself, Moore’s Law stagnates. For example I’m currently running an Ivy Bridge CPU and a Kepler GPU (both 2012) and it kindof runs modern games. Ten years ago that five years would have been the difference between a Pentium 4 and some Core 2 Multicore (maybe still not that impressive, but a paradigm shift) or a GeForce4 and a GeForce8 (very impressive, depending on how you look on it). Data Point: Wikipedia claims, 2007’s Modern Warfare wants at least a GeForce 6. Twenty years ago, that’s the difference between a 486 with 33MHz and a Pentium Pro with 300MHz (very impressive if you ask me) and “what’s a gpu?” and the Riva128 (also very impressive). Data Point: 1997s Quake 2 simply won’t run on that 486.

            From what I remember, if you magically had been able to get your hands on a 2001 Computer in 2000 that would have at least made you king of the playground. In 2017, not so much, I grant you that.

            Second, but this is based on assumptions, I think that microprocessor progress drove progress in a lot of other fields. Let’s say medicine because it’s illustrative. The additional people you save/heal in 1978 with 1979 tech (however few): they are just free people. They are not people from 1979 you save one year earlier, you get to save the people of 1979 in 1979 anyway. Those additional people get to contribute to the economy, make inventions etc. I think these are effects that accumulate.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              and it kindof runs modern games.

              How much of that is hardware stagnation and how much is software stagnation?10 years ago whenever a new graphics cards was made,everyone would make a game to use ALL OF THE THINGS that card had to offer.But during the last console generation,while the developers were making games with those restrictions in mind,computers progressed a lot.So much that you could run a game in resolution twice as big than on the consoles,with twice the frame rate,while at the same time recording the footage from that game AND upload it to the web.If there were no advances in processors during that time,that would require you to link a bunch of machines together instead of doing it all on a single one.

              1. Alex says:

                I think that depends on where we look:

                Introducing a computer to virtually every desk (workplace) changed the world a lot, but I would argue that the marginal return of updating these computers to the latest iCore whatever is diminishing.

                Sheer number crunching for select applications (science, big data) also changed the world a lot and in this department more computing power obviously is better.

                But I think when Droid said that a 2018 computer (tech?) in 2017 is not impressive, they meant for applications of the former type.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        Why are you assuming that you only get a one-year advance? If you can speed up the improvements made between 1977-1979 down to only one year from 1977-1978, why can’t you also do the same thing constantly every year? You haven’t provided anything to back that up. If we double our computer tech every year instead of every two for forty years, we get to modern-day tech in twenty years instead of forty. That’s not amazing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than only gaining one year total.

        1. djw says:

          It might be enough to get a science win in Civilization.

          1. djw says:

            Hmm, I wonder if “ancient ruins” in Civ V contained suitcases full of stuff from the future.

        2. Alex says:

          In Droid’s defense that was my assumption not theirs: That even if you could only squeeze out that one year with suitcase tech, it would make a huge difference.

  42. Five Inspiron 15 3000s, $379 each. Only include one power adapter, they use DC barrel jacks, so the people on the other end can make more. All the data ports are ultra-high-speed serial, magic by 1977 standards– except for the 3.5mm audio out. Include copies of Minimodem on all the laptops (Can emulate the Bell 103, released 1962)

    Each laptop comes with a 1TB hard drive, which we throw in the trash. We install 5TB 2.5″ laptop hard drives, then add copies of Wikipedia and Sci-hub Wikipedia article source text is UTF-8 plain text (mostly ASCII, except for the extended characters, which will print as gibberish, oh well) plain text with wikimarkup cruft. V6 Unix from 1975 had lpr, so it should be easy enough to print wikipedia articles. Printing PDFs is left as an exercise for the receiver.

    For a “future artifact” to convince the opener that they’ve got something weird, I’d throw in a 3500mW blue laser pointer: (Room temp laser diodes didn’t exist in 1977) You could include a Metatrino (made from selective metal sintering, impossible to manufacture with a milling machine) but that would take up a chunk from room that could be used for 500 micro SD cards.

    Mail it to Larry Niven or Jerry Pournelle.

  43. Fade2Gray says:

    Ehh. I like to take the path of least resistance. I’d go find some place that still sells dead tree encyclopedias and cram as many of them as I could into a suitcase. Then, to prove their veracity, I’d print out the final scores for a few sportsball games from latter in ’77 and stick them on top so they’d be the first thing Red sees. (Thank you BTTF2)

    Who would give this (incredibly heavy) suitcase to? I dunno. Maybe a journalist.

  44. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    I find the unintended consequences of this thing more interesting than the question. Like, sure nuclear war, but how about this. If you defeat say, AIDS early (not that we’ve fully defeated AIDS), do you accidentally create a super AIDS from the strain resistant to what you were doing against it? And do you do that at a time when the medical community is much less prepared than it would be now?

    And if you leave an iPhone, does that mean all cell phones develop around iPhone lines and the idea of completely different models for smart phones are strangled in their cribs? I have to assume the devices in Korea and Japan are not all that similar to the iPhone and, from what I understand, they’re way better in a lot of ways. Did you mess that up by rushing things to the iPhone? Kind of the idea of rejecting the Mass Effect relays or Reaper upgrades and trying your own development path, without the mass genocide.

  45. Hollywood says:

    A few hundred sheets of A4 with helpful advice. Like “Maybe giving the Mujahideen a whole bunch of Stingers isn’t the best idea in the long run”, “Get the CIA to make George Lucas deathly afraid of CGI” and “If you let Fox cancel Firefly, the Russians will have won”

  46. Robert Conley says:

    Microfilm is definitely one of the ways to go for packing in information. I found this website that explains how one can make it.

  47. ehlijen says:

    I believe microform is the answer if we want information density. All it takes is a light source and a magnifying lense to read it, and the people of 1977 would quickly figure that out.

    According to wikipedia, it was even still the dominant form of blueprint preservation in 1977, i think.

    At the quoted compression rate of 0.25%, that would be 400 suitcases of books. Nothing compared to a TB harddisk, but still a lot and guaranteed to be readable in the past, especially if you include an appropriate magnifying glass.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I agree. Except including the magnifying glass. That seems like an insult to the recipient.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Possibly, but I believe that minor risk is worth it to safeguard against the recipient not bothering to investigate the contents due to an unwillingness to acquire their own magnifying device.

  48. evilmrhenry says:

    Thankfully, Ethernet and ftp have already been invented. Therefore, just send back a file server (double-check that it’s compatible with the 1977 specification), include the proper setup instructions, and you can include all the text documents you want without worrying about bottlenecks on the 1977 side.

    Pictures are a little tricky, as none of the common formats exist yet. I suggest including a specification for one format, (that’s easy to write a parser for) and just converting everything to that format. I don’t see the need for video, so we will not be running out of space. This lets us use bmp if we have to. (Also, you can assume the monitors are monochrome, so the bmps can be as well. Maybe keep the originals around somewhere, though.)

    What information to send back is a different question, this is just looking at it from a technical standpoint.

    1. zlib and PNG would be most practical and if you wrote the encoder then you control how it’s encoded and could provide a very slimmed down decoder (written on paper).

  49. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    Why not send like 100 smartphones with all the text on it, with instructions on how to access the files and some chargers. That way you could have 100 people transcribing the information on each smartphone pretty easily.

    Also I’m sure you can get harddrives that interface with smartphones so throw in a couple of them as well and bam, you’ve sent a ton of information to the 70s

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      You can afford to buy a hundred smartphones?

      1. Echo Tango says:

        If you buy the moderately-priced ones for $100-$200, you can afford more 50-100 of them with your $10k spending limit.

    2. Cheap smartphones with a charger, and charge plugs (with instructions on wiring them up) and USB drives are probably the best way yeah.

      A lot of others suggest kindle or eink. but it’s not like there is a lack of electricity in 1977.

  50. MadTinkerer says:

    At the Vintage Computing Festival, there are dozens of projects every year that demonstrate new ways to interface old and new technology. It turns out that creating ways for 1970s/80s computers to access gigabytes of information is just a matter of bank switching, custom dongles, reading the right manuals, and 40 years of spare time already spent solving the problem.

    The Vintage Computing Federation homepage.

    As for exactly what to put on the drive with all that info: we already know what happened: Amiga corporation built a computer a decade ahead of it’s time, but then ran out of money and was purchased by Commodore. Then Commodore went bankrupt less than a decade after that.

    So this time around, Shamus, after you’ve gotten the Commodore PET Compatible Amiga Creation Kit from the VCF guys, make sure to also include some dang business textbooks in the suitcase! Only then we will finally have the perfect timeline where those silly IBM machines never stood a chance of taking the home market from Commodore and Atari.

    (Or, alternately, just let IBM know exactly how their personal computer is going to be legally cloned, so IBM can create a PC that can’t be legally cloned, thus erasing all PC Compatible computers from existence and preventing IBM and Atari from being driven out of the market by Microsoft. You’ll still need to give Amiga corp. the plans for their Future Computer, but if you can use the time machine at least twice, drop a note to an IBM executive while you’re at it.)

  51. Anonymous says:

    Darn it, you’ve accidentally gotten me fantasizing about murdering my grandfather and his Cold War military science buddies at the petty cost of a potential self-erasing paradox! I thought’d come so far with my baggage, only to find myself sniffling through the rest of the workday… >_____>

    A simple letter in a simple envelope.
    Attn: Sgt. Donald Roy Gleason

    Dear Dr. Gleason,
    Your research is a blight on the universe and so are you. Nothing you have ever done, or would do if you lived several more decades, will ever benefit anyone, including you, your family, your country, and your ideology. We both know that when the USSR collapses under her own weight, it won’t have anything to do with what you and your Paperclip pals have inflicted on innocent Americans. I think we also both know–perhaps deep down, in your case–that no matter how long or briefly you live, you will never be happy because as a sociopath you don’t understand the meaning of happiness.
    I was given one chance to make the world a better place. The logistics didn’t allow me to assassinate Hitler, but you were the next person who came to mind. I only wish I could have done this when your children were much younger so that they could have been spared the trainwreck of mental health problems you’ve already bestowed on them. They deserve so much better! If you have any doubts about the whole apotheosis of man through enlightenment thing, please finalize your bet quickly, before the anthrax is finished scrubbing you out of this planet’s wounds.
    Polemically sent,
    Your Moon Child, one of the many monsters you made

    I’m so sorry for breaking all of your lovely forum rules, Mr. Young! I just really had to get that out. Please erase this transgression at your first opportunity; I don’t want to upset your darling friends.

  52. Drathnoxis says:

    I don’t really see the point. It’s only 50 years, they’ll get here quick enough as it is. It’s not like you’re sending it back to the dark ages or anything, 70s people are not some intellectually destitute group, starving for our modern knowledge. Not worth the effort.

    I’d just send whatever I need to make myself rich while causing as few ripples as possible and call it a day.

    1. “It's not like you're sending it back to the dark ages or anything”

      That would have been interesting. You’d have to include a laptop, and it’s power brick (unless i’ts one of those with a build in one) then instructions on what all this is and how to use it plus instructions on how to build a power source source for it using that days technology.

      Would Leonardo DaVinci be smart enough to do that? Or would he be dumb enough to break the laptop trying to figure out how it works?

      One might have more luck sending it to some ancient egyptian scientist, he’d think it was sent by the gods (at first) but would not dare fiddle with it too much until he understood it properly.

      One issue here though is language. Sending modern info back only makes sense as long as the recipient can read modern english.

      1. CoyoteSans says:

        I’ve always wondered what would happened if you were to, say, send back technical schematics of the Gutenberg printing press much earlier than it was actually invented. That’s a case where the recipients have both the materials (wood, metal, some form of parchment or paper, and ink) and the technical understanding to replicate it, they’d just need to work on getting the supporting industries for mass book printing set up.

        Could you prevent the destruction of precious ancient knowledge if they had the ability to mass copy their information? Do the Romans manage to preserve their recipe for concrete for the following generations? Does the burning of the Library of Alexandria not sting so much if there are duplicate documents spread throughout? Does the Bronze Age Collapse not be a mystery anymore if they can save even some of their records from the catastrophe?

        1. A printing press in the age of the Library of Alexandria would have been awesome.

  53. mewse says:

    I just want to mention the idea of “time-release” information.

    For example, assume we decided we wanted to send information in video form. VHS tapes were brand new, 40 years ago. So we could send VHS tapes to be viewed immediately, to explain the rest of the stuff in the suitcase. To prove that we were legit; that this was truly from the future, we could send supplementary information on a Laserdisc, which could hold more data/higher-quality video, and which was developed in 1978, just one year after the suitcase would be received. So the suitcase doesn’t even need to be held onto for very long, for the recipient to be convinced of its authenticity.

    CD-ROM drives appear in the 1990s. You can fit a *lot* more data-per-volume on CD-ROM drive than on VHS tape, so if we want to push a lot of data into the past, this is probably the best trade-off between “how early can they read it” and “how much data can we send”. So a sensible approach might be to intrigue the recipient using a VHS tape (or similar), enclose a laserdisc to prove authenticity and induce the recipient to take it seriously and hold on to the suitcase, and then stuff the rest of the suitcase with CD-ROMs containing the actual data we want to send, which will be able to be decoded in the early 1990s.

    If the data we’re sending isn’t technological in nature (and so isn’t going to cause Earth-2’s technological development to diverge from ours), and if we have a *lot* of data that isn’t needed quite so early, then we could enclose a second data drop on DVDs, which again hold more data per volume, but won’t be playable until the late 1990s.

    1. USB appeared in um 1996 at which point you can more or less provide a USB drive with “ALL” the data.
      So two decades headstart at most, relative to today (which probably wont break the world).

    2. INH5 says:

      The first CD-ROMs were actually released in 1985, according to Wikipedia. Also, audio CDs were being developed in 1977 (the final prototypes were made in 1978, the format was standardized in 1980, and the first commercial CD album was released in 1982), so if you sent back any CDs I imagine they would only get developed faster in the ATL. Unless Red Foreman is really good at keeping things secret, at some point someone at Philips or Sony is going to look at pictures and think, “hey, those shiny silver discs are almost exactly like the optical-disc replacement for vinyl records that we’ve been working on.”

      Since, as previously mentioned, they were only a year away from creating the final prototypes, it should only take them a few months at most to build a machine that can read the CDs. At that point, the only hurdle left would be figuring how to decode the binary data.

      Similar things would probably apply to any attempt to send things on a medium that can’t be read until a certain year. Once people realize that the suitcase is from the future, a lot of money is going to be thrown at decoding anything in there that they can’t read at the time of arrival.

  54. Sorry for being off topic but, freebies from GOG are usually good.

  55. I like the laptop idea.

    And I know one person that would have been a good recipient of a suitcase from the future, Tim Berners Lee.

    I’d mark it Property of Tim Berners Lee and have it delivered to him. Around that time he’d be at MIT, but later he’d move on to CERN.

    He’d quickly figure out instructions for Internet TCP/IP and especially HTTP (he helped designed that part after all). And putting all the RFCs on the laptop.

    I’d also put a letter and a soda and a chocolate in the suit case (should be room for that) as it would be a long night going through the stuff on the laptop.

    I’d also add a power adaptor that the power cable/brick from the laptop would plug into. The adaptor would have a “normal” plug in on end and on the other two terminals that you can screw/wire directly into (with writing on what power it expects).

    I’d also supply a mouse with the laptop.

    Depending on budget it’s possible to get a laptop with a GPU at the level of a GTX 1080 or Radeon 580, that would be a very powerful laptop.

    Now assuming the laptop boots without issue, the first thing he’d see is a popup window (program) with non-editable text appearing at boot time with the key important instructions on how to use the laptop and software on it a labeled close window button is available obviously.

    Images and easy to start slideshows would be on the laptop.
    The schematics to build things would be present but more importantly how these evolved (depending on the tech of the time they may need to use a older design first before they can make more “modern” tech).

    Technological leaps would be stunted though. Not sure by how much. But with all that info on the laptop they could maybe compress 3-6 years of tech advancements into a single year.
    It would take them at least a decade to “catch up” to todays tech levels.

    The rest of the space in the suitcase I’d pack full with cheap smartphones and chargers, maybe ditching the soda and chocolate if room is really right.

    What would I write on the letter? Some of the same info as shown when booting the laptop (or one of the smartphones) including some lottery and sports numbers and investment tips as the person who gets the suitcase will need a lot of funding to actually take advantage of this info.

    I’d also probably print out some paper with the deflate/Inflate algorithm (aka zlib) which should help speed some things up.

    Interestingly enough at first we’d have a “old” Sci-Fi situation. Where everything looks “old” in general (cars, clothes etc) but the computers are super advanced.

    “The more expensive it is, the harder it will be to persuade them to pay for the R&D to get to it.”
    I don’t know. If they see the entirety of wikipedia and all the RFCs, source code for Linux and whatnot and all that music and all those videos (in low quality to us probably but amazing quality for them) I think data storage would become a key focus (to get all that data out of the laptop).

    Oh yeah. Heard of OLPC? The project to get a good laptop cheaply and easily made for Developing countries? Something similar should be possible to get geeks in the 70s to create simple desktop PCs.

    One key thing to do would be to find info on chip manufacturing (not just wikipedia level stuff), some of the older tech stuff is now probably floating around and not industry secrets any more. And to the 70s they’d look like amazing plans. The point here is to provide info to enable “hobby” productions at first of various tech.

    Getting info from that 1 laptop to a few “new” 70s machine, then a few dozen, then later hundreds would be need. And none of this would count as mass manufacturing by todays standards. Think back to early Commodore Amiga or Apple stuff (films/photos showing that can be found on the net).
    With the right instructions you could jump start the “hobby” / hand made “mass manufacturing” by 15 years. Now scalewise these “desktop PC” would end up 2-5 times larger than a current PC “tower” case. But it would be doable.

    Why not a suitcase of smartphones or tablets? even todays phones and tablets can’t hold as much info as a laptop. I’d rather throw in cheaper smartphones with long battery life, someone in the 70s will gladly put up with a few seconds waiting time to open a large document. Sure you could put a large storage USB drive in the suitcase. But a laptop would ave that internally and also has a keyboard that is very familiar.

  56. kanodin says:

    I would send Jimmy Carter two laptops and a printer if it’ll fit. I think Carter is a good choice on purely apolitical grounds. 1. He was president at the time and if you can get him to believe in the suitcase he is in the best position to immediately use the information. 2. Jimmy Carter has spent the last 40 years dedicating his life to humanitarian goals, he’s a person in a position of power who actually seems to have a good character.

    Now my third reason for picking Carter is the information I want to send. Just dumping 40 years of future tech doesn’t seem that great to me. They can’t use a lot of it and you’re centralizing too much power in one person. I would argue there’s a risk of stifling progress, if all technology becomes copying notes off the magic laptop then once they’re finished catching up no one will understand how the solutions came about. I would focus on one topic and it would be Climate Change. Climate Change is a global threat that if it were adressed earlier would be significantly mitigated. I would send all the information I could get showing climate change is happening and renewable energy sources to mitigate it. 1977 is during the energy crisis, it is a perfect time for a president to sell the public on a focus on renewable energy and free America from dependence on oil.

    1. djw says:

      People were still complaining about the high gas prices during the Carter years when I was in college 12 years later. American’s were NOT in a receptive frame of mind for that sort of information back then.

      Note that Carter lost the ’80 election in a landslide in part because of those high gas prices. It wasn’t fair, but presidential politics rarely are. Reagan removed the solar panels that Carter installed on the White House after he was elected

      If you could provide him with actionable intelligence to avoid the recession of ’79 (in part caused by oil prices) and avoid the Iran hostage crisis then he *might* have been able to hold on in ’80 and actually do something useful regarding climate change. It would not have been easy even with data from the future though.

      To be clear, I like Jimmy Carter, I’m just not convinced that he would have been able to overcome the bad hand he was dealt at the end of his term and get anything done.

      1. Michael Brazier says:

        Actionable intelligence? That’s easy. Send Carter a detailed history of the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath (1978, one year after the suitcase arrives) with a strong plea not to allow the Islamic Republic to take power. If Carter can manage that, the oil shock of 1979 and the hostage crisis don’t happen, the Middle East is generally friendlier to America, and Muslim terrorism drops to lower levels because the groups Iran backed in OTL don’t get any support.

        Also, Carter has a snowball’s chance of being reelected in 1980, but that’s a risk we have to take.

  57. J Greely says:

    I like the idea of sending it to Richard Feynman, because he had the connections to guarantee that whatever else you sent got to the people best able to use it. To prove you’re legit, include a copy of his book QED (based on his 1979 lectures) and a copy of the Rogers Commission report on the Challenger disaster.

    A high-dpi laptop that can be laid flat will allow documents/videos to be duplicated using a standard copy stand and distributed widely, allowing them to bootstrap to compatible file transfer and printing (“hello, Bell Labs, SRI, and Xerox PARC”), giving them full access to whatever terabytes of data you provide. Xerox had a 2 page/second 300-dpi laser printer in 1977, controlled by a PDP-11/34, so the Unix guys at Bell Labs will come in handy (C and UUCP won’t be released until v7 in 1979, but given their own source code to work with…).

    Send two of everything, including surge protectors and USB-Serial adapters.

    Now that I think about it, it wouldn’t take much work to rig up a USB hub and a bunch of serial adapters to make a time-sharing system. The terminfo DB on a Mac knows how to drive all the commonly-available serial terminals from that era, including the common VT52 and the upcoming VT100, so you could easily have 8 people working with source code and documentation while someone was photographing/filming the color screen.


    1. “A high-dpi laptop that can be laid flat will allow documents/videos to be duplicated using a standard copy stand”

      Do you mean a photographic rig? Because a normal copy(xerox)machine works by shining light ON what is copied capturing the reflected light. A laptop screen emits light. A photograph would be better quality too and could be scaled up to wall poster size if needed.

      But other than that, a pretty smart idea, but you could also include a 10+ inch tablet too (or more).

      1. J Greely says:

        Yes, I meant a copy stand; I’ve used my Kaiser to scan Japanese paperbacks for OCR.


  58. Now for the “send it to myself” scheme.

    In the early to mid 90s I created a computer encryption called Dextor for the Amiga.

    Funny thing is I could encrypt info, mark it as being encrypted using Dextor and send it to me in such a way that I’d receive it not long after I invented it.

    It should be possible to have a suitcase delivered to a lawyer (or similar) and have the hold it and present it to a individual when they reach “age blabla”, hiding it’s nature as timed inheritance (as somebody else in the comments mentioned).

    What would the encrypted stuff be? Well first of all several pieces of paper with lottery numbers and investment tips (Google, Microsoft, facebook, etc).

    I could throw in a USB drive although that won’t be usable until 1996.
    I released Dextor on june 23rd 1997 so a USB drive could have worked as a data medium, the encrypted info on the paper (a bit of a pain to type in manually sure, but it’s lotto numbers)
    Maybe I could provide both a IDE drive and even more stuff on the USB drive and get the suitcase to myself sooner than 1997.
    To be extra safe I could have written out modern code for encryption (much stronger than Dextor) and nobody would be able to make a copy and crack that. I could simply write the program on the Amiga back the to decrypt the info on paper, and later read files from the USB drive and decrypt them.

    I’d probably be able to push/advance myself forward by two decades and enough money to actually achieve various of my ideas/plans.
    MicroSoft and Apple and AMD and Nvida and Intel may be large today, but my company would have dwarfed them today in this case. *laughs*

    In short, the key (pun intended) is to make sure that the one receiving this is able to make use of/understand the info and get the funds to do things with it while also making sure nobody else can do so in the meantime.

    1. Syal says:

      Well first of all several pieces of paper with lottery numbers

      Now I’m imagining a time-travel setting where Lottery Enforcers travel to the past to ensure people from the future aren’t cheating.

      1. Star Trek have toyed with the idea of such “time keepers”.
        And then there is the movie Timecop with Van Damme (his best grossing film it seems too).

  59. Ivan says:

    I dunno who to send it to, really. Some Scientician, I guess. But I can give a suggestion on what to send. Take all that scientific knowlege stuff, and put each single page as a frame in a roll of film. Hell, you could probably fit many pages onto a single frame, easily, with how that scales.

    Then, have the suitcase be filled with those rolls of film. I dunno how many frames take up how much space, but I imagine the information density would be a lot higher than printing stuff on paper.

  60. MaxEd says:

    I’m not sure about details, but I think a lot of bootstrapping should be involved. Like, put in writing details of tech to read 5” floppies. 720Kb of memory is a huge amount by 70’s standard, but not unimaginable, if you work for government, or big business. But it might be easier to use some kind of tape drive.

    Those floppies of tapes should contain further information on building better computers and reading the next media format (encoded in some easy text format that is in use in 70’s; further complicated by my need to send the briefcase to USSR (see below), where some very weird encodings were probably used, and little information about them survived). By better computers I don’t mean, of course, Pentiums with GeForce GPU, but something like 8086 Intel CPU (which was already going to be released in 1978), and then 286. Soviet scientist actually successfully copied 8086 a few years after its initial release, so the tech is mostly there, but I want them to get ahead in that game, so I’m sending them everything currently available on that CPU so they can start manufacturing it quicker.

    As for the end goal – since I won’t live in the new timeline, I’m going to experiment with it, and try to prevent the fall of USSR, because not only it introduced chaos in Russia in 90’s, but it also deprived USA of an important competitor and enemy, forcing America first into complacency, and then into useless (for the purposes of scientific progress and general advancement of the mankind) war on terrorism.

  61. Stormcaller says:

    Agree with a lot of what everyone else has said, but need to include the full research block on the 7up alive project (

    Any other similar large timescale cohort data projects that started before the date in question would be a bonus.

    This way there is a proper reference point to model divergences for the locals of the alternative stream.

  62. Lars says:

    Didn’t you learn of the Krogan Conflict? Sending advanced technology to people, not ready for it, backfires. So don’t send everything. Specialize. Less information to some unique topics. And with less information, you can pull it of with paper.
    For example: Prevent the assassination of Schah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi via Ajatollah Chomeini. If the white revolution continues the whole religious mess in this region could vanish.
    Little effort, huge impact, even to our future.

    1. djw says:

      I’m not sure Mass Effect is really a very good guideline for sensible long term plans.

  63. Zaxares says:

    I’ll be honest. I would TOTALLY use this information to enrich my future self by addressing it TO my younger self. (Or failing that, to my parents, since I wasn’t born until 1980, but I would still be alive to make the most use of this information for most of my life.) Still working on a proper plan, but it wouldn’t be anything too complex.

  64. Jack V says:

    My instinct is to lead with a list of lottery numbers for the following several weeks, plus some scattered further in advance. That’s good proof, since the person only has to be convinced enough to check if the first one comes through, and then they’ll be paying attention to the others. And then investment tips: you can increase money really rapidly in the right carefully chosen stock, and investing in a random successful company is not too suspicious for a lottery winner. Presumably they’re smart enough not to win more than one or two lotteries.

    Then for the payload, I’m not sure, but nowadays I’m thinking of lots of patents for solar panels. I think that’s a technology which *could* have been invented earlier if people had invested in it. And the earlier it surpasses oil, the better chance we have of surviving global warming. And they’re fairly publicly available AIUI.

    And fill the rest with DVDs of medical patents, and of wikipedia and suchlike. Once the recipient is fairly well off and active in research investment, cracking DVD encoding should be a fairly straightforward topic of research. I would probably use HTML encoding if I can, that’s designed to be understood by looking at it. I would need to convert the images to png, probably, and accept some stuff won’t be readable.

    I’m not sure about who. Someone intelligent, organised, and whimsical enough to get intrigued, and dedicated enough to see the fate of the planet.

    My current life is fairly good, so I’m not sure it’s worth trying to mess with it specifically.

    Unless the randomness of the briefcase appearing changes the (incredibly random) lottery numbers. That’s a problem, and there’s no good way to test it. Maybe look for sporting events where the outcome is more likely a foregone conclusion, even if the people of the time had no way of knowing which. One high-profile case to grab attention (so the recipient notices when it hits the headlines later) and then a selection of plausible upset wins afterwards for them to bet on.

  65. wswordsmen says:

    First, admit that you are probably being too ambitious with what you want to happen. Best case scenario is that you get a few industries a few years ahead of where they are normally going to be.

    Second once you have a reasonable goal you can be a lot more specific in what you should be including. Patents from now are useless for all the reasons Shamus described, but putting in novelties developed in 1980 is probably doable, especially if it is solving a problem that existed in 1977.

    Third include information specific enough, but innocuous enough that the suitcase will be able to be determined it is from the future but not so conspicuous that anyone not paying attention will be able to tell. Results of a series of sporting events, with scores and notable plays should be sufficient. That way it can be easily verified by the recipient preferably without even trying.

    Fourth make sure that the information used the way you want it used will make the person money. Greed is a great way to get people to do something.

    1. INH5 says:

      There’s a high probability that data about sporting events would be unreliable due to butterfly effects, even if the recipient never actually interacted directly with the games. Chaos theory says that global weather patterns will change radically within days or weeks, which will have all kinds of knock-on effects, and that’s not even considering quantum uncertainty…

      I think the best “proof that this is from the future” data to send back would be about seismic events. As far as I know, those aren’t impacted much by butterflies.

  66. INH5 says:

    Initial thoughts:

    Like other people have said, some kind of microform media would be by far the best information storage medium to send back. A quick chat with the staff at a nearby library about “a science fiction story that I’m writing” would be enough to find out the best type of microform to send to someone in 1977, and you could fit a pretty huge amount of information in a suitcase that way.

    I’d be very reluctant about sending back any kind of modern digital media. The big problem I see is that if, say, a laptop gets damaged, then they won’t be able to fix it or recover the data for decades and you’ll just end up wasting space that could have been used to fit more microfilm/fiche. I would only consider this if I could get someone to make some kinds of adapters that would allow a modern laptop to connect to 1977 tape drives and printers, and if those adapters were small enough to fit in the suitcase without taking up much space. I’m sure that I could find an electronic hobbyist or 2 willing to work on this for a couple hundred bucks, the only question is whether it would actually work.

    If the adapters could be made, then I would include a laptop, a few power cords, the adapters, and a sheet of paper with instructions on how to copy the laptop’s data onto magnetic tape and/or paper. But any really important information would be recorded on microform, since even with that setup there is still a high probability of something going wrong.

    1. INH5 says:

      On second thought, digital media might be less risky than I thought. Specifically, digital Compact Discs seem like that might be not be a bad medium to use. The first prototype digital CDs were developed in 1978, so they actually weren’t that far off in 1977. I’ll have to do some more research to confirm this, but my initial impression is that putting data on CDs and including some instructions on how to build a computer that can read them might actually work.

  67. Rick says:

    I’ve often thought about crowd sourced plans… Eg create a scenario and then people decide (via debates) what happens at each step or in response to certain events. It could even be forked multiple paths had enough support.

    This would be a great example… There would be dedicated discussions around what data to include, who to send it to, how to best ensure it gets used well, plus contingencies to prevent misuse.

    Or a zombie apocalypse… Options for in a skyscraper as well as suburbia.

    Almost like a rabbit hole of a show-chart where each step is a carefully handled wiki page.

  68. Duoae says:

    Flippant answer:

    I’d send back the equivalent of the voynich manuscript – only it would be on paper that could be carbon dated to the future.

  69. Deoxy says:

    1 This is hard – who gets it? BEATS FREAKIN ME. That part is hard. And honestly, it’s the most important. Simply giving a few winning lottery numbers and awesome stock tips to the right person (that is, making the right person extremely wealthy) could do amazing things for the world. Helping the right politician could be awesome (try to reimagine the Cold War without Reagan to end it, for instance). Heck, making the payload be a bomb and simply killing the right person could make an enormous difference… picking the right person (and how to help/hinder them) is easily the most important and most difficult part of the exercise.

    2. How to convince them? Easy – seal the whole thing (inside the out wrapper/container) in opaque plastic (non-clear cling-wrap, perhaps), and put a letter on the outside with some fairly mild claims as to what’s inside, but ask that they let you prove it’s from the future by waiting six months and seeing that the following things come true: blah, blah, blah. Names, dates, etc. A list of winning lottery numbers might build some good will, too.

    3. Also easy. Instant storage solution that is much better than anything you mentioned: microfiche. Readers available everywhere (well, back then – rare now). Density is less than any digital format, but much much MUCH MUCH better than simply printing on paper.

    4. To make the world a truly better place? So many choices…

    a. Technology. Meh… that mostly takes care of itself, for the reasons you pointed out. A few pointers might be nice, some theoretical knowledge (formulas and such) along with which experiments can be used to verify them for instance. Some suggestions on stuff to avoid, perhaps, though I think most of the really bad stuff was already done at this point (what was that one that caused the HORRENDOUS birth defects when taken by pregnant women?).

    b. Non-technological knowledge seems like a decent place to go. The true history (up to our point in history) of socialism in general, communism in particular, and who in the US are communist spies/agents (and the disinformation campaigns they are waging, the results of which are still harming us today), along with the reality of what was happening in the USSR at the time. That alone, if actually convincing to the general public, could be amazing (just preventing the current Venezuela mess would be a big win). Where to look for archeological finds, where to bury massive amounts of explosives to be set off on certain dates to solve certain geo-political problems with massively lower body counts, which charismatic industrial/political types are genuine and which are shysters, that kind of thing. Admittedly, this area gets messy, with your “maybe you make things worse” idea (particularly in the Middle East).

  70. The emulator community actually has some interesting things to provide here. They’ve done machine emulation, transistor by transistor, of some old arcade boards. Maybe do a similar thing, send them whatever PDF you can find, etc.

    My biggest argument would be that instructions for everything will help a lot. Obviously there’s no way you can impart information rapidly enough, the single suitcase has by its very nature only so much of an impact it can have on the past, but if you write what each thing means that helps a lot. Documentation, documentation, documentation.

    I’d include a brief description of information available to us now that we didn’t know then: “The USSR is a lot less stable than it looks, Gorbachev’s not a terrible guy, careful about North Korea and Iran”, etc. etc. I won’t go much further to try to avoid politics, but at least some of the information about stuff we’ve learned might prevent a September 11th, let people prepare for some earthquakes and tsunamis we know about, etc. It is almost certainly worth it to publish a list of what Wikipedia today considers to be important events.

  71. Packbat says:

    Much-belated contribution, and note that I’ve not spent any time thinking about it: what about thermal paper printers? Thermal paper was already a thing in the late 1960s, so it should be feasible to get replacement rolls, and a Brother PocketJet 7 PJ723 is around $250-300, extremely compact, and got good reviews. Three netbooks, three printers, and a stack of USB sticks could get you a lot of data and the capability to print out large amounts of it in a reasonable timeframe within the volume of your suitcase.

    Edit: Come to think of it, there’s no reason you need to go one-to-one on printers to netbooks – even if Red can’t figure out how to run two printers at once (which should be possible), they can at least have spares.

  72. 1977. The year the Apple ][ came out.

    So sure we can do some microfiche payloads as a backup. But the real meat? We fill up SSDs with data. And we build some devices – using as much 197x-level tech as possible – that will let you plug these SSDs into an Apple ][ and pretend to be the biggest floppy disc ever known to man. Multiple redundant copies of both the SSD and the interface, schematics for the interface as well.

  73. Simon says:

    Can’t I just send some cash to my young self? Young me sure could use some, and with 40 years of inflation between us an amount that would be quite affordable for me now would make a world of difference for that teenager.
    It wouldn’t get him an iPad, but it would get him into a good college and he would be able to take a good looking girl out for a night on the town.

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