My 70’s Suitcase

By Shamus
on Aug 22, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Last week I proposed an exercise: You can send a package back 40 years and have it delivered to one person. But sure to read the original post to get all the parameters. At the end, I posed four key questions:

  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?

My proposal is going to be very USA-centric. It’s hard for me to think globally about the pre-internet (and almost pre-consumer computing) world of my childhood, so here I’m just focusing on what I know. This creates an interesting question for people in small countries: Will you send your suitcase to your own country, or will you send it to your favorite global superpower?

Also, this post got to be really long. I’m going to answer the first three questions this week, and question #4 will be next week.

As a reminder, I’m really building this proposal under the assumption that I’d actually have to do it myself. Some people are taking a more liberal approach to the exercise by saying, “It would be best to send them gadget X and information Y,” without worrying about how they would pay for X or obtain Y. I’m not going to suggest sending things I can’t get all my my humble self. That means I’m not going to send them 100 smartphones, because I can’t afford 100 smartphones. I’m not going to send them classified information, because I don’t have access to that either.

And finally, I’ll admit that last week I did a bit of a fake-out. I presented my original assumptions from when this idea first came to me. “How can I give them a bunch of technology?” It took me a few weeks to realize that if I really wanted to help people, technology wasn’t nearly as useful as information on natural disasters, disease, war, famine, and the final installment of Mass Effect. I thought I’d make myself look clever by pointing this out here in part 2, but quite a few of you noticed this right away. Thus I am left looking not-so-clever. Such are the hazards of these sorts of thought experiments.

I suppose this shows that if you do find yourself involved in some sort of time-travel scenario, you should ask your friends for advice in case you’re overlooking something important.

Anyway. Enough preamble. Here is my proposal…

Who Will Get The Package?

Left: Bad idea. Right: Good idea.

Left: Bad idea. Right: Good idea.

I do want it to go to an engineer or scientist, and not a business mogul or politician. That’s probably my innate pro-engineer bias talking, but that’s what I’m comfortable with.

Having said that, I wouldn’t want it going to Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen, or Steve Jobs. I don’t trust any of them enough to hand them this project. Sure, Bill Gates is being pretty generous now that he’s a billionaire, but he was also fiercely competitive and cutthroat when he was young and hungry. The last thing I’d want to see is a world where everyone has to license a patent from Microsoft to build internet hardware. And I wouldn’t want the legendary Jobs ego in charge of deciding who gets to look in the suitcase.

27 year old Steve Wozniak is my top pick. He’s always been a subscriber to the hacker ethic, which is nicely summed up on his website, “Welcome to the free exchange of information, the way it always should be.” Even before he was rich he was freely sharing his learning and discoveries with anyone who might be interested. That’s exactly what I’m looking for in a Red Forman. He’s got the right outlook, the right knowledge set, and he’s a really smart guy.

On the other hand, he was a very busy guy in 1977. He was also in an uncertain financial position. I’d love for him to quit his job at the newly-formed Apple and work on this project full-time, but he wasn’t independently wealthy yet. The dude still needed to earn a living. Worse, his proximity to Steve Jobs makes him a dangerous pick. Jobs is probably tied with Bill Gates for the position of “The very last person in the world I’d want messing with the suitcase”. If Jobs asks the Woz why he’s acting so strange lately and the Woz shows his friend the suitcase, all bets are off. Jobs was a persuasive guy and I suspect he would decide he wanted to be involved.

I know I’m not the first person to observe this, but it is really strange to me that Apple was founded by such conflicting personalities. Mr. “Information wants to be free” teamed up with Mr. Everything Must Be Proprietary and created one of the most important machines in the home computing revolution.

So the Woz is my current pick, but I’m a little uneasy about him and I suspect there’s probably a less risky choice out thereAs someone pointed out last week, Carl Sagan would make for a dependable pick. His lack of technical prowess and wealth might make him vulnerable to deception on the part of bad actors, but I trust he’d try to do the right thing. And hey, maybe give Sagan a note telling him to ask Woz for advice?. Woz will be a safer bet in three years, since by then you’d be sending the suitcase to an independently wealthy Woz in 1980. Also, don’t forget to warn him about that plane crash.

How will I entice this person to examine the package and take it seriously?

Great, now I need to get a pencil to... wait, that`s audio cassettes. I have no idea how you fix this.

Great, now I need to get a pencil to... wait, that`s audio cassettes. I have no idea how you fix this.

The first thing you see when you open the suitcase is a pamphlet I’ve written specifically for Steve Wozniak. It would explain the deal with this suitcase and give him an outline of the kinds of information I’ve sent him. I’ll make some suggestions on how to handle things, but ultimately the whole thing is up to him.

To convince him this isn’t a hoax, the pamphlet would include pictures of him at different ages. The pictures would range from childhood, to his present day, to his near future, to my present day. That ought to get his attention. I’ll include a VHS tape that opens with this 1984 interview with Wozniak, followed by this one in 2014There will be a lot of tape left after the interview. I’ll fill it up with other near-future news reports featuring famous people and events that are relevant to the project.. Again, this is just to blow his mind and get him to take the rest of the package seriously. Woz probably won’t have a VCR yet, but from his point of view they were just introduced a month ago in July of 1977. I’m sure he won’t mind getting one.

That will hopefully win the Woz over, but he’s still going to need to convince other people to take him seriously. He was a notorious prankster back in the day, and if he jumps on TV talking about how he’s got a suitcase from the future people will think he’s either crazy or pulling their leg. This is bad, since I really want to avert some deadly disasters and I can’t do that if people ignore him.

To help him establish credibility, I plan to give over a bit of precious suitcase space to three or four additional VHS tapes. I hate doing this because VHS is bulky as hell, but getting people to believe him is more important than including more treasure. This is particularly important since space isn’t going to be nearly as precious as much of a problem as I made it out to be in the first post.

To this end, I’ll include some modern movies that should blow the minds of the folks in 1977. The Matrix, The AvengersI’m not attached to these first two. If the mood takes me, I might swap them out for two other big-budget FX-driven blockbusters. The Incredibles or Toy Story might be a good pick, since they’ll have no idea how those visual were created., and Top GearI never pirate stuff, but I’m fine with sending bootlegged copies of copyrighted material to 1977. There’s just no way that harms the copyright holder.. I’m not choosing this stuff based on artistic merit. I’m choosing these movies because they will be inexplicable to folks doubting the suitcase comes from the future. I’ll urge the recipient to make copies of those videotapes and give them away. People will make copies of those copies, and so on, until people start asking questions. Unencumbered by copyright, I imagine they’ll end up on TV. Even if the networks are weirded out by them, the dirt poor and content-hungry UHF stations should gobble them up and play them to the point of cultural ubiquity.

Given that the VCR is so new, it might take some time for the tapes to spread. These tapes could possibly tip things even more in favor of VHS over Betamax. Sorry SonyNot really.. That’s fine. If it takes a year for the buzz to build in this slow-moving pre-internet world, that doesn’t hurt any of the information I’ve sent.

These future blockbusters were a sensation here in our time, but in 1977? They should hit pop culture like friggin’ STAR WARS. Once word gets around, everyone will end up talking about them. The Woz won’t have to weasel his way onto the news like some crackpot and try to convince people he’s got the future in this suitcase. The media will be coming to him. (And asking where he got the tapes, and if he has more.)

The original Top Gear launched in April 1977, so the name of the show will be familiar to Brits. Although I doubt the modern show format will be.

The original Top Gear launched in April 1977, so the name of the show will be familiar to Brits. Although I doubt the modern show format will be.

Top Gear might sound like an odd choice, but hear me out. There’s an episode where they feature a race through Television Centre between a motorbike and a couple of parkour guysTop Gear Series 20, Episode 2.. That building is incredibly iconic, it was in regular use by the BBC in 1977, and the Top Gear episode gives us lots of internal and external shots of the location.

Let’s say someone in 1977 doesn’t believe in this ridiculous time-travel “hoax” they’ve been hearing about. When presented with this episode of Top Gear, how can they explain it? Where did these outlandish new cars come from? Who designed and manufactured them? How did they make such dramatic changes to the area around this iconic building (and then change everything back!) without anyone noticing? What about these clothes? This lingo? Where did this parkour idea come from? These haircuts? This unconventional style of editing a television show? This unknown music? Heck, what are these strange instruments in the musicElectronic music was still in its primordial stages, so the pumping electronic baseline they use when showing off supercars ought to sound very strange to 1977 listeners.? How did someone completely gut this famous building and drive a motorbike through it without getting arrested? How are they doing these fast-moving handheld shots with heavy-ass 1977 television cameras? How are they using so many cameras without going completely broke?

Believing this video is a fake requires you to believe in a conspiracy that would span half of Hollywood and half of London. How many creative people would it take to invent all of this new stuff? The movie stars. The new genres of music. The styles of cars, inside and out. The unexplained pop-culture references. The new car technology. This would require worldbuilding on a scale that would make Tolkien look like an amateur. It would make a faked moon landing conspiracy look like a college prank.

Director Ron Howard is the celebrity guest on this episode, and Howard was big as an actor in 1977 playing Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. That gives us a distinctive-looking celebrity that the average American can recognize and puzzle over.

Just to twist the knife, the other episode of Top Gear (one VHS should hold two episodes) would be from 2002, just after the show was rebooted. If there’s any space left on the tape, I’d throw in a clip from YouTube of Top Gear in the early 90s. This will multiply the number of alien car designs while at the same time giving everyone a view of host Jeremy Clarkson in 1991, 2002, and 2016. They can compare this to teenage Clarkson of 1977Shit, I’ll bet 17 year old Clarkson is going to LOVE this attention. Imagine how much BIGGER his ego will be in this new timeline. and and see that it’s clearly the same person. Same face, same ridiculous accent, same outsized personality, same body language. We couldn’t pull off aging effects that good using today’s technology, so it ought to be pretty baffling to the folks of 1977.

All of this is just so that Woz and the public will pay attention to the other material in the suitcase. I don’t care if they like the show or not. All I want is for them to take my various warnings and advice seriously.

I’ll let Woz know that there are more future-movies locked away on these mystery silver disks. This will hopefully get the public very eager to see what else is on them. This ought to entice a government or company to invest in deciphering the disks. Should Woz go with government support, or corporateIgnoring the fact that he’d almost have a half-decent chance of building a working CD player by himself.? Or perhaps a combination of the two? Or maybe farm it out to universities? I’d leave that sort of decision to him. Once the suitcase is in his hands, it’s his project and his responsibility. He has a better feel for the landscape of 1977 than I do. I was just six years old at the time.

How will you store information in the suitcase?

3.5 inch floppies are obviously a bad idea, since it`s a format NEITHER side can use. For maximum compatibility, I`ll send them everything on cuneiform tablets.

3.5 inch floppies are obviously a bad idea, since it`s a format NEITHER side can use. For maximum compatibility, I`ll send them everything on cuneiform tablets.

The information will come in stages. The most provocative or time-sensitive information will be on paper and VHS. Last week someone suggested using microfiche. This never occurred to me. While I saw a few microfiche machines in school, I never personally used one and and I’d actually forgotten they existed. Having said that, I’d only use microfiche if things got really tight. I’d rather use paper so the information can be read and cheaply copied with maximum convenience. The amount of information in the first stage isn’t that bulky, but it’s really important.

The next stage of information will be on compact disks. The final stage will be DVDs. There ought to be quite a bit of space left over for gadgets. DVDs can hold a lot of data and you can fit an awful lot of them inside a suitcase. In fact, if I’m working alone then I’m not sure how many DVDs I’ll be able to fill. Rounding up data takes time, and I don’t want to spend years assembling this suitcaseIt would of course be reasonable to spend years on this, but I don’t want to actually spend years thinking about it..

Each stage will be a mix of culture and science. You’ll get music, movies, music videos, and television shows to keep the public curious and provide a profit motive to keep digging. Mixed in with that will be inventions, news, scientific papers, raw data, the chemical makeup of life-saving medicationsIf I remember correctly, it’s common to show the exact chemical makeup of a medicine on its information sheet. The chemists of 1977 will still need to figure out how to synthesize it, but at least they’ll know what they’re aiming for., and so on. They’ll still need to do FDA testing on the drugs, but (assuming my Red Forman does his job) the formulas should enter the public domain instead of the patent office. I guess I should probably throw Viagra in there too. You’re welcome, 1977.

The Politics Hazard

No, YOU`RE a hypocrite!

No, YOU`RE a hypocrite!

I have a no-politics rule here on the site, and I’m actually adopting the same policy with my version of the suitcase. My no-politics approach is both moral and pragmatic.

I know some people’s first instinct is to say they would use the suitcase to make sure their party wins. But look at it from the other side: If someone from the rival party was in charge of packing the suitcase, how would you want them to behave? Would you want them to tilt elections in their favor? Would you want them to expose scandals on your side, help conceal or avert them on their side, and present data that only supports their worldview? Wouldn’t that enrage you? Perhaps it might even strike you as villainous?

Moreover, what if I’m wrong? I’ve got my political opinions and I’m free to present anything I like to the folks of 1977. But if I’m wrong and I make My Party win anyway, then I’ll have done harm. More importantly, over time politics is less about elections and more about winning hearts and minds. Why win an election over a nation that doesn’t really support your ideals? That will just result in your ideals being implemented badly and halfheartedly. Over the long term, that might be worse than losing elections.

I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that you’re strongly aligned to either the left or rightAgain, remember that we’re VERY much locked in a 1970’s USA framework here.. Now let’s imagine that here in 2017 we get a suitcase from 2057. Let’s also assume that in this suitcase is data that was assembled (cherry picked) by someone from the OTHER party. Your rivals. (Those jerks.) This future person gives us 40 years of politically-charged facts and figures: Charts, graphs, think pieces by OTHER party pundits, and books from OTHER party leaders. Combined, they show that all of YOUR policies are terrible and ruinous, and all of the OTHER policies lead to prosperity and peace.

How do you feel? Are you feeling like you want to run out and change party affiliation? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing you won’t find these charts and graphs and editorials any more persuasive than the charts and graphs and editorials those idiots are putting out right now in 2017. Worse, now you’ll regard this suitcase as a tool of the OTHER side. I mean, if it was put together by someone from the OTHER party, then who knows what they’re hiding from us? How do you know this future person is telling the truth? Maybe he’s like Skynet. He’s lost the political war on all fronts and now he’s sent this suitcase full of LIES to cheat, hoping his side can win the cultural debate before it starts.

If I go back in history and make sure Red wins the fight instead of Blue, does that mean Red is actually the better fighter?

If I go back in history and make sure Red wins the fight instead of Blue, does that mean Red is actually the better fighter?

I can show the people of the past the results of their future policy decisions, but I doubt it will be any more effective than showing people TODAY the results of the policy decisions of the PAST. There’s always a rationalization.

OPPOSITION PARTY: You tried solution X and it didn’t fix the problem! Your solutions are worthless!

INCUMBENT PARTY: No, without our solution the problem would have gotten EVEN WORSE! We have charts to prove it!

OPPOSITION PARTY: No, without your meddling the problem would have gotten better on its own. We also have charts, and they support our assertions!

I don’t want the people of 1977 to think of the suitcase as “a Republican thing” or “a Democrat thing”. I want everyone to be engaged, curious, and calm. Which means no politics. The stuff I’m sending should be non-partisan, so there’s no reason to make enemies on the other side.

And yes, I sort of broached the topic of politics. But I only brought it up to explain why I wasn’t going to engage in political posturing. I encourage you to play it safe in the comments. If you can, be coy about what side you’re on. You don’t need to explicitly tell us what you’d write. We’re here to discuss That 70’s Suitcase, and not to have a stupid Red vs. Blue debate.

But Shamus, what about inherently political topics?

I’m not convinced there are that many. But if something has a risk of turning political in 1977The long-term viability of nuclear power comes to mind. then my solution is to make it as dry and boring as possible. Just send them raw data with no editorializing. Rather than injecting my own opinion into things, I’ll just present the events in dry technical detail and without comment. It’s their world. They can figure it out.

So Now We Just Need to Pack the Suitcase

That’s it for the first three questions. I know who I’m sending it to. (Please don’t let me down, Woz!) I know how I plan to get him interested. (Morpheus is going to show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.) I know how I’ll package the data. (Easy and bulky for the early crucial stuff, compact and difficult for the intermediate stuff, and tiny and technical for the later bonus stuff.)

Now all I need to do is pack the suitcase and send it off to 1977Will shipping be expensive because I’m sending it 40 years away? Of maybe it won’t be expensive because postage was really cheap back then and the currency exchange rate is way in my favor? How does this even work? Strangely enough, there’s no information regarding backwards temporal delivery on the USPS website.. Next week I’ll show you what I decided to send.

In the comments: Has your approach changed in the last week? I doubt you spent all week thinking about it. This was my obsession, not yours. But I’m still curious if you managed to refine the idea at all.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] As someone pointed out last week, Carl Sagan would make for a dependable pick. His lack of technical prowess and wealth might make him vulnerable to deception on the part of bad actors, but I trust he’d try to do the right thing. And hey, maybe give Sagan a note telling him to ask Woz for advice?

[2] There will be a lot of tape left after the interview. I’ll fill it up with other near-future news reports featuring famous people and events that are relevant to the project.

[3] I’m not attached to these first two. If the mood takes me, I might swap them out for two other big-budget FX-driven blockbusters. The Incredibles or Toy Story might be a good pick, since they’ll have no idea how those visual were created.

[4] I never pirate stuff, but I’m fine with sending bootlegged copies of copyrighted material to 1977. There’s just no way that harms the copyright holder.

[5] Not really.

[6] Top Gear Series 20, Episode 2.

[7] Electronic music was still in its primordial stages, so the pumping electronic baseline they use when showing off supercars ought to sound very strange to 1977 listeners.

[8] Shit, I’ll bet 17 year old Clarkson is going to LOVE this attention. Imagine how much BIGGER his ego will be in this new timeline.

[9] Ignoring the fact that he’d almost have a half-decent chance of building a working CD player by himself.

[10] It would of course be reasonable to spend years on this, but I don’t want to actually spend years thinking about it.

[11] If I remember correctly, it’s common to show the exact chemical makeup of a medicine on its information sheet. The chemists of 1977 will still need to figure out how to synthesize it, but at least they’ll know what they’re aiming for.

[12] Again, remember that we’re VERY much locked in a 1970’s USA framework here.

[13] The long-term viability of nuclear power comes to mind.

[14] Will shipping be expensive because I’m sending it 40 years away? Of maybe it won’t be expensive because postage was really cheap back then and the currency exchange rate is way in my favor? How does this even work? Strangely enough, there’s no information regarding backwards temporal delivery on the USPS website.


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From the Archives:

  1. Khizan says:

    The big question for me is how paradox-proof is all of this? I was born in 1983. This immediately makes me cautious of what I send back because my folks met in the military, specifically military intelligence. If I introduce a major technological breakthrough in 1977, I feel that I run a very real risk of altering the timeline in a such a way that they don’t meet and I’m not born.

    • Shamus says:

      I had an aside about this last week, but here is how I suggested handling it: Imagine you’re creating some spinoff timeline like in nu-Trek. Altering the past doesn’t alter your present, but instead creates this new alternate timeline.

      • Joshua says:

        My personal view of paradoxes are that reality isn’t sentient and doesn’t care about cause and effect.

        Think of it like Portal, where you suddenly leap out of a portal with momentum from falling in the other portal. Reality isn’t sitting here and matching up your current position and momentum and saying, “Hey, there’s no way that you could be going the speed you’re at since you weren’t there a second ago, Buster! Let’s drop you back to 0 MPH!” Likewise, if time travel existed, reality would only “care” that something mysteriously poofed into existence here right now, not how it got here or whether it would still be here if time was changed and there was no reason to go into the past.

        I view paradoxes as more as events that couldn’t have occurred in the first place without time travel, stable time loop or not. There are a number of examples in media, but you can think of it as the “I’ll invent a Time Machine in the future and travel back to the past to teach myself how to make it” issue.

        • Mephane says:

          The problem with paradoxes is that they could violate the laws of physics.

          Let’s say you have a time machine that can send an object as large and massive as a car into the past. If you can stuff more energy into that box than sending it back consumes (I am sure Doc Brown has some spare plutonium), you could create infinite energy.

          I think I mentioned it a while ago here in the comments to a completely different topic; I don’t think time travel is at all possible (I think the entire concept of time as the “4th dimension” is misguided and time is just the direction of events that emerges from non-reversible physical processes).

          But assuming it is possible, maybe the chain of events you set into motion in the past have to travel through time at the speed of time. I.e. if you cause a change in the timeline 40 years ago, this change would propagate forwards through time such that the “bow shock” of the change is always 40 years away from your present; and if you personally travelled back 40 years, the only way to return to your future would be by waiting 40 years again, but you’d be stuck in that timeline you created.

          • Joshua says:

            Supposedly, time travel can occur to the future with time dilation, but I’ll agree that I don’t think it’s possible to travel back to the past.

          • djw says:

            Time is considered to be a “4th dimension” because the quantity:

            tau^2 = (ct)^2 – x^2 – y^2 – z^2

            is the same in all reference frames (in the absence of strong gravitational fields). The negative signs in the expression do mean that the time dimension is a bit different from the other three, but aside from that the time is exactly the same as the other dimensions when it comes to determining the distance between two events in different reference frames.

            TL;DR “time is a dimension” is a precise statement of the math behind both special and general relativity.

            As an aside, note that one of the strongest pieces of evidence that it is *true* involves looking at stars behind the sun during an eclipse.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        Why should I care about some fancy new timeline where people have it better because of me? Those guys are jerks. ;)

        What am I? Trunks?

        • FelBlood says:

          While waveforms moving in timelike dimensions might not be able to intersect their own past, it might be possible for them to intersect the future of their original timeline again.

          Perhaps you could arrange for this alternate timeline to send you a suitcase in 2018 with data on the results?

          If the suitcase is full of memes, you have failed.

        • Pretty much. And it would be a largely useless effort, too, because not one of your “predictions” would come true. The further out they were, the less useful they’d be.

          Even natural events like earthquakes and hurricanes aren’t predetermined. The chaotic nature of the stresses involved means that in another timeline you wouldn’t have identical conditions. And the first time you’re wrong about when that earthquake happens, the people involved are basically back to square one.

          That’s why my approach is either:

          a.) don’t bother
          b.) might as well be a dick

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            It might be useful data. If earthquakes happen at different times in the new timeline than what was predicted, that would be useful information for science. Same with hurricanes. That would be validation of Chaos Theory.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            People prescribe too much power to the chaos theory.Yes,a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world.But such a thing takes tremendous amount of time.Our planet is a huge engine powered by an enormous nuclear explosion going on an immense distance away from us.Even the most fragile thing on this planet,the movement of air,still takes massive effort to change.Like building a skyscraper or a dam.One man will not change that in 30 years,unless they manage to convince literally an entire city to relocate.

            And this is not just guesswork.Take a look at global warming,humanitys greatest impact on the globe.It took us two centuries for an unimaginable number of people to manage to change the global weather slightly*.And that change impacted only the thinnest sheet covering this globe.To say that we can influence earthquakes is bonkers.

            *On a planetary scale.

            • Abnaxis says:

              Erm, I don’t know if this is crossing political lines, but isn’t there strong evidence we’ve been causing earthquakes with mining wastewater disposal wells? Is that just something that’s more common knowledge in America because it’s happening here?

              That only took a few years of injection mining to start happening.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                Yes,any collapse of a large amount of material causes a quake.And digging stuff from the ground can case a large amount of the earth to collapse.But,due to the origin of such an event and the amount of material that shifts,the resulting quake is of low magnitude and area.

                There are exceptions,of course.Like the chance that a dam near a fault line couldve triggered the Sichuan quake in 2008,but its more likely that it only intensified it.However,for such a thing to happen,a truly massive projects needs to be undertaken.One which can take decades.And even if you completely wipe such a project from the time line,youd mostly just delay the quake,not prevent it.So your info would still be solid.

            • This is not how chaos theory works. It’s not that the butterfly “causes” the hurricane. It’s that so many factors go in to affecting the overall system that there’s *no possible way* to predict them. Given two apparently identical systems, the same events won’t happen the same way twice.

              So sending exact information about events to an alternate timeline doesn’t do any good, because the earthquake/tsunami/whatever won’t happen exactly the same way.

          • INH5 says:

            This definitely applies to hurricanes, since weather is the classic example of a chaotic system, but earthquakes are much harder to change. Tectonic activity involves the build-up and release of such an enormous amount of energy that it would take something of a similar scale to significantly alter the timing of a major earthquake. Even underground nuclear explosions wouldn’t be enough. It would take something like a major city being built in a different area, or an aquefier being drained that wasn’t in the original timeline, and even then it would still probably take thousands of years for the divergence to be truly significant.

            The consensus on the Alternatehistory.com forum seems to be that after a few years after the Point Of Divergence you might as well just make up the weather, but earthquakes and volcanic eruptions should happen pretty much exactly as in OTL unless your timeline is either extremely long or involves explicit scifi/fantasy elements. I remember one thread where somebody asked what if the 2011 Japanese earthquake had happened on December 7, 1941, and multiple people pointed out that this would require a POD so far in the past that both Japan and the United States almost certainly wouldn’t exist in a recognizable form by 1941.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Hurricanes arent that fragile either because of where they form.Yes,the whole atmosphere of the earth is connected,and all of the oceans are connected as well,but there are still major currents of air and water that remain largely unchanged by outside influences.In order to change a storm you need to either affect the global weather(global warming)or erect a massive structure that changes the air currents.And since you cant really erect a massive structure in the middle of the ocean*,the only way to change the pattern of hurricanes is to change the global warming significantly.And you really wont be able to do that in just 40 years**.

              Though you definitely could influence tornadoes and other storms over the land in that time span even by yourself,but that still would take a lot of effort.

              *Im not sure how far off coast offshore oil platforms can go,or weather they are large enough,so it remains a remote possibility.
              **Well ok,there is a third possibility of you telling people to deliberately seed the air with gases and particles that would prevent a single hurricane from forming,but whether that would impact future ones in that area is not a sure thing.

              • INH5 says:

                No offense, but everything that I’ve read on the subject indicates that you’re completely wrong.

                Just to give one example, here’s a poster on the Alternatehistory.com forum discussing how susceptible hurricanes specifically are to the butterfly effect:

                Weather is going to be insanely variable. To take the example of hurricanes, hurricanes are very dependent on the heat content of the ocean that they happen to be passing over, the presence or absence of various atmospheric phenomena, and the humidity and shear of the atmosphere they travel through. Random clouds, slightly different arrangements of winds and fronts a thousand miles away, possibly even the mass movement of large numbers of fish – all those could alter any of those, or multiple factors of those. I’d venture to say that the hurricane hunter planes that enter the storms probably change the storms’ intensity and track a week later in a totally unpredictable fashion. Even unnoticeable changes in the storm’s state will be compounded with incredible rapidity.

                Do you have any evidence that this poster is incorrect?

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  No offense, but everything that I’ve read on the subject indicates that you’re completely wrong.

                  If by everything you mean a bunch of other geeks who provided exactly as much evidence as me,then thats not much.

                  But here,three facts that you have to consider:Hurricanes are basically a product of an enormous engine fueled by earths rotation and the sun(its more complex than this,but lets not go into details).The sun creates the heat differential by heating up various places on earth differently,and the earths rotation causes layers of earth to flow at different speeds.This creates the pressure differential that ultimately creates a hurricane.

                  And while other factors like the passage of fish CAN influence this system,the chances of that are really low.An ant in the engine block CAN make it so that your car suddenly starts on its own,but that doesnt mean it will actually do that,or that it will significantly impact your fuel consumption.So why would you think that something of equal proportions would work differently on a planetary scale.

                  Second fact:While you can find numerous examples of artificially made earthquakes,discounting the global warming there are no artificially induced hurricanes(at least,I didnt find any,but its really hard to find an artificial storm not caused by global warming).

                  Third fact:Global warming is a thing that he have started significantly causing roughly with the industrial revolution,when significant amounts of chemicals started being pumped into the air.How many years of this did it take to have noticeable changes in weather,stronger storms,harsher winter/summer differentials,etc?Why would 40 years of a random person doing nothing large have more of an impact than that?

                  • Moridin says:

                    It’s not really about WHETHER the hurricane will happen. If you have x amount of excess heat in the system, you get y hurricanes(obviously it’s not THAT simple, but let’s put that aside for the moment). It’s about WHEN and WHERE the hurricane happens, and how all that excess heat is distributed between the different hurricanes. Yes, Hurricane Katrina will no doubt happen, but it might happen later, or earlier, or it might miss New Orleans entirely.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      It would still play out the same unless you do something really drastic.

                      Check out the air currents over the oceans and how they are going.And then check out every time some new huge building was erected in some city.The construction changed the flow of air around that place significantly.But all those changes dissipated before they even reached any ocean.The flow of air remained largely unchanged over the oceans.Unchanged that is if we disregard the global warming.Because that definitely influenced the whole atmosphere.

  2. niconorsk says:

    That last note made me think of this relevant video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw8sTxK6j2I

  3. lucky7 says:

    Personally, I decided not to pack a suitcase after realizing that my parents met because of Twin Peaks, and anything I do might really shake that up (I was born in 2000, which means there’s a lot that could go wrong.)

  4. Trygon says:

    I feel like you could ditch the CDs and dvds in favor of microsd cards – apparently they can be wired directly to a parallel port. At that point, you could store basically unlimited information. That suitcase could probably hold the entire internet on 512gb cards, and someone like Woz would only need a breakdown of the filesystem to get at the contents.

    • Veylon says:

      Looking at the wiring and worrying about burning something out, it makes me think that the suitcase-packer should send some SDs/DVDs just to experiment with. Neither they nor you would want to risk real, valuable information to be lost in the efforts to figure out how to get it off.

      • meltingeclipse says:

        Yeah. Just clearly label them as being for that, and tell them what’s on it so they 1)know it is okay to experiment on those because they don’t have valuable future-data on them, and 2)will know when they’ve decoded it correctly.

        As for what to put on them–I guess the content isn’t too important, though you’d probably want to make sure you cover all the file formats from the other, more important DVDs. Some old, out-of-copyright-in-1977 movies or tv episodes would do for video. Some Shakespeare would work as example text. Anything they would have easy access to normally and could therefore recognize and verify.

      • FelBlood says:

        I can buy a shitty laptop with an SD card reader at Goodwill.

        Red Foreman can just be Red Foreman and still get at your entire download of the internet.

        Are you sure you really want to give him the whole thing? I mean, 4chan? /r/? icanhaz? pornhub?

        We were still rebuilding from the upheaval of the 60s, and I don’t think the world was ready for that.

    • Rick says:

      Even with Woz knowing this is from the future as his pragmatic viewpoint etc, I wonder what his reaction would be a storage device the size of a pinky finger nail holding half a terabyte.

  5. Da Mage says:

    You mention the political angle, but not international politics. 1977, middle of the cold war, and you hand future technology to one side (the US and allies)……what is Russia’s response going to be? Once they find out about the briefcase and the power it holds they might see it as their last chance to strike before the US completely dominates them.

    Very tricky period you’re send that to.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I don’t think there’s really a non tricky period to send it to. Even in the 90’s when it was probably the safest, China and North Korea and some others would take the suitcase as a provocation.

      And in the further past (assuming you could find formats they could consume) things would probably be even more volatile.

      But if Russia discovers the contents, they’d find that they lost and everything turned out pretty okay in the long run. We didn’t nuke them. So maybe that would temper their reaction.

  6. Viktor says:

    Cheating a bit, but I’d really rather wait until the 1978 World Cup or even the 1980 Olympics. But if it must be 1977, then I’d drop 3 stone tablets between Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin(the leaders of Israel and Egypt) during their first official meeting with cameras running. Each tablet is carved with the same text, one in English, one in Russian, and one in Hindi. (I went back and forth on Hindi vs Mandarin, but that was a second communist language and I really wanted to make one of the languages a country that wasn’t a traditional “power”. Also, I work with an Indian dude who would be happy to help me translate a few lines “for my novel”.) The texts themselves would be a list of commandments with the goal of encouraging people to treat each other with kindness and respect, stop warring, and stop screwing up the world. I will hopefully have an exact text by next week.

    So, short answers:
    1) Have it appear publicly in front of cameras and the representatives of 2 major religions(who hate each other and would never work together)
    2) Have it fit the traditional signs of a message from 3 major religions’ deities, though I’d definitely use the vernacular rather than “thous”. Fake-old seems fake, and I want to seem like this is so real that God doesn’t care if you think it’s fake.
    3) Carved granite. Expensive, but this is an investment and you can’t cheap out.
    4) Instructions to stop being assholes.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Point 4 is very difficult though. Like let’s say you put in the rule to “respect the tablets” since if people don’t, they won’t follow ANY of the advice. Okay but then disagreements will form about interpretation of the tablets and people will take this to mean anyone who disagrees with their interpretation is, in fact, disrespecting the tablets. Insert civil war here.

      • Viktor says:

        I don’t have the exact text ready, but yeah, that’s a big concern. I’m going for something more specific than “Harm None”, since people already ignore that one, but I don’t want to fall into “Thou Shalt End This Dumbass Cold War” since that becomes pointless 5 years after they do it and doesn’t prevent future variants from recurring.

        I’m also under no illusions that this will create a worldwide wave of peace or anything like that, I just don’t think tech is a good idea(our tech is already advancing faster than our society can adapt), medical info only helps so much unless I devote a lot of space to explaining principles rather than the raw data(and I don’t understand it), and a list of natural disasters has limited utility. Social change is about the only thing I can try for that might actually improve things.

      • djw says:

        As an aside, the two groups in question are already both adherents of religions that date back to the same sort of alleged appearance of tablets from heaven.

    • `Retsam says:

      I think I disagree with this one both in premise and in execution.

      In premise, I don’t think the fundamental issue with the world is a shortage of credible moral advice. If everyone followed the moral principles of Gandhi, or Jesus, or Mr. Rogers, or Confucius, or Mother Theresa (or any other moral teacher), the world would be a lot better place, but the issue is getting people to actually live that way. It’s not that hardly anyone disagrees with “turn the other cheek” or “do onto others” or “love your neighbors” or “don’t forget to be awesome”, it’s just really hard to actually live that way, in practice.

      Dropping magic tablets from the sky would just add another bit of “good moral advice nobody is actually able to follow in practice” to the mix.

      And, in execution, I suspect the likely outcome is it’s dismissed as a hoax by everyone. I don’t see a couple tablets “magically” showing up on a news camera is going to be able to convert devout atheists and agnostics into religious followers en masse. They’ll inevitably find some rational explanation as to why it’s a hoax, and for that matter.

      And ditto for the major religions: the vast majority of religious believers aren’t likely to accept some news footage that undercuts their fundamental beliefs any more than the atheists and agnostics are.

      I could see a new religion springing up around the tablets, but I don’t see adding one more religion to the mix as a huge improvement to the world.

    • Yerushalmi says:

      1) Neither Sadat nor Begin are recognized as religious leaders. I don’t know about Sadat, but I do know Begin wasn’t religious in the least. In fact, Israel has never had a religious prime minister in its entire history.

      2) Saying that Sadat and Begin “hate each other and would never work together” is absurd, given that they were responsible for signing the first Israeli-Arab peace treaty. You’re working off of stereotypes about religion that aren’t true in the least.

      3) Furthermore, speaking as a religious Jew, I should tell you nothing you are describing fits the “traditional signs of a message” from the Jewish God in any way. (It doesn’t even seem reminiscent of messages from the Christian god, though not being Christian I could be wrong.)

    • Mistwraithe says:

      That is a fascinating thought experiment. Religion is a really controversial subject these days given the massive harm done it various (almost all?) religions’ name over the millennia.

      BUT, if you were able to provide what would seem like unequivocal proof that God exists in a forum and way which is very hard to dispute as any sort of hoax (and I’m not sure your original scenario is strong enough, but let’s assume you could), and you got across a message that “God” was really, really unhappy with people killing people, or letting people die through starvation, etc… what would happen?

      I think it would be fascinating and it is highly likely (although not certain) that more good would come out of it than harm. At least for a century or so.

      The big problem is that no matter how hard you try a significant proportion of the population will refuse to believe it. There are people who don’t believe the moon landings happened which would be a hoax on an incredible scale to pull off. The numbers of non-believers may well grow over time as the events become history, and potentially you end up with a massive war between the believers and non-believers at some future point.

  7. Wide And Nerdy says:

    But Shamus, what about inherently political topics?

    I’m not convinced there are that many.

    Bless you Shamus. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Bless you.

    • Ryan says:

      No kidding. For at least the past 2-3 decades, we’ve been at a point in this nation where basic facts are argued over based on political ideology. And we were clearly headed in that direction even back in ’77. I do agree with the idea of making the info-dump on many topics dry and boring, though, as that might help reduce the problem somewhat.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Yes, this is a pretty dang… uninformed view. If Shamus included data about medical advances (an AIDS drug recipe), alternative fuel systems advice, or warnings about climate change and ecological disasters to come (say a specific warning about the nuclear power plant disaster in Japan), ALL of these would be “political.”

      Because politics are how humans make society level decisions about important issues. Saying “I opt out of political discussion” is essentially saying “I don’t want a voice in any issue that affects more people than 10.”

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        The political angle comes from balancing priorities surrounding facts. I’m going to try to come up with an example that isn’t from current or past politics.

        Lets say we were debating a law to force people to stay inside during lightning storms. 51 people die of lightning strikes a year. We’d save at least half those lives most likely with such a law.

        So we should pass that law right? We have the facts. Lives are on the line man! Sure we’d be seriously impeding the lives of 300 million people but 30 lives. Those are facts.

        You need more than just facts and raw calculations to make policy. At some point you’re making value judgments. Raw data is apolitical.

      • Shamus says:

        Those topics are indeed “political”, but they don’t NEED to be flagged as such in the context of the suitcase. You don’t NEED to say “The Republicans/Democrats were right about X all along!” You don’t have to attach it to specific candidates. Like I said, just make the data dry.

        It’s the difference between, “Listen to Bob Scientist and do what he suggests!” and “Here is a bunch of data. You can test it for accuracy and come to your own conclusions.” (Even if those conclusions will put you in agreement with Bob Scientist.) It allows the reader / listener to change their mind on their own, rather than telling them to allow their will to be superseded based on the word of a stranger.

        It’s not an “uninformed view”, it’s an incredibly informed view, based on decades of watching people rationalize countless positions that don’t make sense and don’t actually align with their stated values, simply because of political tribalism. It’s taking into account not just the data, but human behavior as well. Like, I get how politics in in everything, but that doesn’t mean everything must be described in terms of politics.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          I would LIKE to agree with this, but watching the climate change “debate” shows the flaw in this mindset. ie, that there is a “debate” between well established scientific fact and “Our-Company-Might-Report-Slightly-Lower-Profits-If-We-Protect-The-Human-Race-From-Extinction Inc”.

          • Falcon02 says:

            I’d also point out that even the scientific community is unlikely to blindly accept data without context.

            This is one of the reasons why research papers would likely be preferable to raw data, the research papers present the methods a bit more clearly. However it doesn’t always end there…

            Let’s say we want to provide Earth Science satellite data to 1977 (say available long term rainfall data from 1977 – 2017). In order to have confidence in the data the scientists of 1977 would want to know how the instrument was designed, how it was calibrated throughout it’s life. How continuity was ensured between different missions (I’m not aware of any earth science mission still active from 1977), is a jump caused by a change in the data or the instrument recording the data?

            In the real modern world these things are being maintained independently (many have their own research papers I’m sure) that can be referenced by others trying to use the data. In 1977 the scientists would also want to see this additional information gain confidence in the data being provided.

            Of course adding papers risks the implication Shamus is concerned about of basically telling them to “listen to scientist Bob” as his papers were included and any political conclusions/implications they make.

          • Alan says:

            Sadly, just putting the data out there doesn’t work. How is a random person supposed to judge, let alone reproduce, non-trivial data? As we can’t all afford to get graduate degrees in every possible field, we need to defer to experts. And if there is money or power involved, someone will have incentive to find or create “experts” willing to manufacture alternate data.* If there isn’t money or power involved, you’re probably not really helping the past with your suitcase. Once you build up a base willing to believe the misleading data, the Backfire Effect begins to automatically reinforce it.

            *It’s an interesting coincidence that Operation Berkshire started one year earlier than our time traveling suitcase, in 1976.

            The exact dangers will depend on the exact information. Warn of an upcoming disaster? It’s a conspiracy to make America waste money to prevent something that won’t happen. A third disaster, after two successful predictions? They were just lucky, or maybe they were able to predict it, but only to put us off our guard. Provide future technology? I’m guessing a combination of “It’s too dangerous and should be banned” and “It was stolen from our top secret research, and we deserve an exclusive patent on it.”

          • djw says:

            I think that it is very hard to avoid straw manning the other side when it comes to climate change, or any other politically charged topics. That is most likely why it seems like the other side is a bunch of idiots/criminals. Its also why arguments about the topic go off the rails so quickly.

            If you really think that climate change is important then probably the best way to go about it is to make it NOT be a political football. If both sides agree then stuff might get done.

            • Arakus says:

              How would you avoid climate change becoming a ‘political football’? Even if you present the data completely objectively without mentioning politics, the people of 1977 are guaranteed to politicize it since preventing it would require international cooperation and regulation, which have been seen as political topics of debate for hundreds of years.

              • djw says:

                1) Phrase things in terms of national security (eg. no dependence on foreign oil).

                2) Provide info about technology that makes it easy to reduce dependence on oil (and coal).

                Number 2 is obviously the hard one. However, imagine if fracking technology became available in the 70’s… That is a very large reduction in coal use starting 40 years ago instead of just a few years ago. It would make a big difference.

                • djw says:

                  Incidentally, I am not going to try to argue “fracking is good because it reduces global warming”. I don’t know enough to state that it does or does not do so (according to Wikipedia there is some controversy on this point).

                  I just mentioned it as a possible means to slow down global warming. I assume that you would have to do your homework before actually putting that info in your suitcase.

                  Maybe warnings about three mile island would help more, under the assumption that more nuclear plants would be built if the public had not been scared by the meltdown. (again, I know many people don’t like nuclear, but it does at least have much less contribution to greenhouse gases).

        • methermeneus says:

          In order to avoid this confusion in the future (or maybe not, since some people just have to argue… And I oughta know, since I’m often one of them) maybe say “partisan politics” or specify that you’re speaking colloquially? I get that’s what you’re talking about, but a lot of the comments seem to assume you’re using the sociological definition for politics, which is basically any human interaction that results in a decision being made for a group of people.

      • James Bennett says:

        The AIDS epidemic is a great example of a situation where just giving people information without considering the underlying political context could actually make the problem worse, or create new problems. If you send a briefcase from the future telling people in the 1970’s, “There’s a new deadly disease that’s coming that’s transmitted via sex and sharing needles that initially infects homosexual men and intravenous drug users,” the people who open the briefcase might not respond to that information the way you would want.

        The first option is not that different from what happened in real life. They could decide that the disease is God’s punishment for people who do bad things and do nothing about it, despite having detailed instructions for how to slow the spread of the disease and recipes for various state of the art treatments.

        It’s also possible that something much worse happens. They see this and society decides that we need to out as many gay men as possible, to make sure that the disease doesn’t spread outside that community. Given the way homosexuality was viewed in the 1970s this could get a lot of people killed, most of whom never would have even contracted AIDS in the first place. You could end up with a scenario where violence against gay men kills more people than the disease itself ever did.

        Ideally what you want is for the briefcase to end up in the hands of someone who doesn’t have moral qualms about homosexuality who can discretely distribute information about the disease, and how to avoid it, among the homosexual community. They can also give information about how to treat the disease to Doctors once the first cases start showing up in hospitals. (If you give them the information sooner, they probably won’t know what to do with it).

        As I’m thinking about this, it almost makes me want to take a two tiered approach to delivering the suitcase. You choose somebody to receive the suitcase initially (call them Red Foreman 1). Their suitcase contains a note telling them about AIDS along with a packet containing all of the information relevant to the disease. You tell them to remove that packet and then send the rest of the suitcase over to Red Foreman 2 so he can do all of the crazy inventing the future stuff. Then you just have to make sure that the rest of the suitcase doesn’t contain any references to AIDS (so you can’t give them Rent, for example) and hope that Red Foreman 1 follows your directions.

        • Kathryn says:

          There is a book called No Time to Lose by Peter Piot, a doctor who was on one of the teams that identified Ebola Zaire and also on a team that identified AIDS. In addition to those experiences, he also talks about work he did with STDs and how in that time, people, especially women, with STDs often didn’t go to the doctor because they would get a lecture instead of help. He started a clinic specifically to provide help without judgement. Piot did a lot of work with Africans and eventually ended up working with the UN. Very interesting book. He would be a great pick for your AIDS info packet.

          This is all I can contribute to this discussion as, to be honest, I think that believing you would be able to avert horrific unintended consequences with this time-traveling suitcase requires Jeremy Clarkson-level arrogance (and I say that as someone who is herself quite arrogant and who likes Jeremy.) That being said, it’s interesting to see other people’s ideas. Most of you are going in directions I hadn’t thought of.

  8. Wide And Nerdy says:

    You all probably didn’t see last week because I posted it late but I ended up choosing Richard Stallman because he’s a bright guy with the same hacker ethic as Wozniak and I still think thats a better choice because, as Shamus himself pointed out, Wozniak was busy. Here’s a sample of what Stallman was doing in 1977.

    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.

    I think he’s the right sort of guy. I don’t like how the big powerful tech companies are abusing their power these days anymore than the rest of you probably do and I’d let him know he was spot on about this.

    • tmtvl says:

      Great minds think alike.

      I would personally send Stallman a Libreboot laptop running Parabola GNU/Linux with KDE Plasma 5, with all its source code included, and with as much FOSS as I can shove on its 1TB HDD.

      • FelBlood says:

        I was going to use Porteus, just because it’s small, and I ‘m not hacker enough to make most other versions play a video as soon as you boot them up.

        I would pack in source for several distros on one of my 512GB USB drives, though.

    • Chuk says:

      Yeah, as soon as I saw Woz mentioned I thought of Stallman.

  9. Lee says:

    Cool, Shamus picked my pick for who to send to. Fools seldom differ, I guess. ;)

  10. Tobias says:

    I still don’t think I would send my suitcase to someone I do not know personally. So it will go to the only person I know who politically agrees with me and is technology literate at the time.
    At the time he is working on the early computerized simulation methods of high frequency electronics.

    Because I can pull him into this project he can decide on how to convince his past self himself, I won’t have to spend to much time and space on that part.

    I would include lists of major events from the next 5ish years. So that he can earn money with bets, convince other people, or have a second chance to be convinced.

  11. Andy says:

    The Matrix is almost chronologically closer to THEN than it is to NOW. Ugh.

  12. Ryan says:

    “Also, don’t forget to warn him about that plane crash.”

    This was one of the things I specifically mentioned in my post last time (in addition to being big on microfiche): this event is temporally-dependent. The incursion itself is necessarily changing the likelihood of this event, especially if the most strongly linked person is your choice for the life-altering suitcase.

    You’d do far better to choose events that have substantially lower likelihood of being altered by human events in the different timeline: earthquakes, volcanoes, asteroids, comet sightings (or impacts like Shoemaker-Levy 9, even if that particular event isn’t until 1994). And at least with the terrestrial items, you can save a ton of lives and forestall a lot of misery.

    • Shamus says:

      I actually get into this topic next week. It’s true, by simply finding the suitcase he’s already safe from the crash.

    • Falcon02 says:

      This also brings to mind a risk (impossible to quanitfy/butterfly effect)…

      Warn him about the possible plane crash where he got seriously injured, but was okay in the long run.

      He then takes trains everywhere instead (where he would have flown) and thus gets involved in a serious fatal train accident instead.

      The real point is, even a simple “warning” can inadvertently cause a worse outcome, so it might be good to be careful what you warn about…

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I think the Cold War is closer to an earthquake type of thing where the major strokes would play out much the same. We really really really didn’t want to nuke each other. We just wanted people to think we did.

        We’ve had nukes for over 70 years now. There seems to be a strong resistance to using them no matter who is in power. Even Stalin, who has access to such weapons for four years, didn’t use them. Possibly not out of conscience but out of a desire to keep the bargaining chip on the table. Even if you aren’t a person of conscience, once you make this decision, you greatly collapse the possibility space of your future options. So far, there have always been better options.

        Apart from that, the Soviet Union had a recurring issue with food shortages that played into ending the Cold War. These are large pressures that no amount of butterfly flapping would change.

        • FelBlood says:

          Just a handful of re-productively viable GMO seeds from any one of a wide variety of strains could save tens of thousands of lives after a few short years. You just plant the seeds from the first few harvests, and it increases exponentially.

          Now, it’s illegal to grow a second generation of seeds, from most GMOs in our timeline. You have to buy new seeds every year, to make sure that you get the latest “don’t kill all humans” patch, and the manufacturer’s revenue stream is protected.

          You don’t have to tell the 70s how they were made, if you don’t want to.

          What could possibly go wrong?

  13. Dreadjaws says:

    As expected, this is making me terribly uncomfortable. I know you said this wouldn’t change our present and instead create an alternate timeline, but that makes me uncomfortable for other reasons, particularly because I can’t experience this alternate timeline, so I have no way to know if things actually did get better or (as my fear keeps telling me) I ended up making it all worse.

    What if Steve Wozniak gets a bit paranoid about that suitcase and instead of opening it himself calls the cops? Or his friend Steve? What if he opens it, understands the content but has to suddenly leave on an emergency without having the time to properly hide it and someone else comes peeking? What if he simply, out of shock, makes the wrong decision about whom to show this to?

    There are just too many uncontrollable variables. What you’re describing here is the ideal situation, and I have real trouble believing things are going to turn out so well, particularly when the smallest little detail can turn things asunder even when we’re present to help steer things correctly. “For want of a nail” and all that. Hell, him merely getting the suitcase, even if it had nothing inside, could already irrevocably change the future in unforeseen ways.

    I’m sorry, I don’t wanna sound like a party pooper. I know this is just a fun and interesting exercise, but this kind of thing always makes my mind fly to dark places, I can’t help it.

    • Shamus says:

      “I’m sorry, I don’t wanna sound like a party pooper. I know this is just a fun and interesting exercise, but this kind of thing always makes my mind fly to dark places, I can’t help it.”

      That’s totally fair. In fact, if you think about this long enough that’s pretty much were it all goes. Once you take into account chaos theory, the Cold War, terrorism, and a few other factors (I’ll talk about them next week) you can easily wind up concluding that the suitcase is a bad idea. Or if not inherently bad, incredibly dangerous and not worth the potential payoff. Eventually you wind up with a Trolley Problem on a global scale.

      • MichaelG says:

        I forget which SF novel it is, but time travel is invented (the kind that splits off a new universe), and aliens appear to lecture the inventors. You see, if you create a new timeline with a discovery that saves the lives of a million people, you’ve still also created a new timeline where millions of people die in the usual run of disasters. And you know this is going to happen. The aliens regard that as grossly immoral and so have a strict “no time travel” rule.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          But the mere act of giving birth guarantees yet one more death (at least if you ignore Aubrey De Grey). This would be no different.

        • Matt Downie says:

          Just by posting that comment, you created a ripple effect that will spread outwards across the world, killing thousands of people (but saving thousands of others).

        • Jake says:

          I thought that was an Ed story from qntm.org. Found it: Hotel Infinity

          [A]ttempting to travel backwards in time is illegal…

          [B]ackward travel does not undo the past. Rather, it causes the past to repeat. If you go back in time with the intention of undoing some cataclysmic event – say, a genocide – then you have failed – everything which happens stays happened. What you have done, rather, is give everybody involved in that genocide a chance to die again. If ten million people died, and you go back and make it so only one million people died, you haven’t saved nine million lives. You’ve killed a million people.

          “For these reasons, it is as difficult for a typical Andromedan citizen to travel backwards in time as it is for a Human to, say, obtain a kilogram of weapons-grade plutonium. Nobody is allowed to go back, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the catastrophe they are hoping to undo.

      • CoyoteSans says:

        My biggest problem with this exercise is the year, 1977. I don’t consider a mere 40 years far enough back to make speeding up technological or even sociological or philosophical progress really worth it, considering the risks involved. As many problems as we may have, we’re still objectively better off than we were 40 years ago, by your own admission. The 20th century is just too full of landmines and flashpoints that messing with any of it in hindsight strikes me as playing with a bomb. I’m sorry, but even if I myself will never see or experience this alternate world, I’m not willing to gamble with the lives of billions of people, both born and unborn, just for the slim chance of making things flow marginally better.

        Honestly, the whole thought problem reminds me of Zero Time Dilemma, where after three games of doing basically what you describe, the author ultimately concludes that even if you could rely on Many Worlds Interpretation and timey-wimey magic to make the one best possible timeline, you shouldn’t, because doing so would simply create an infinity of timelines of suffering and death for the people who can’t escape them. Live to work to make the timeline you do live in the best possible one now, not worry about the myriad paths not taken before.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          I’m not sure it would stop me but one thing this post makes me think of is this.

          Do we want to speed up technological progress? We’re struggling to keep up with the ethical implications of new technologies as it is. Progress has been accelerating for a while and we find ourselves tripping over new ethical dilemmas all the time.

          If we jumped people 40 years ahead on tech, that could be another almost 40 years of ethical mistakes made by people who haven’t had the time to think about what they SHOULD be doing with technology.

          Its worth considering anyway.

          • Viktor says:

            That’s why I’m going with social alteration for this question. Because seriously, tech is so far beyond what the laws say at this point that it’s silly. Adding 30ish years to that advancement is a recipe for disaster.

          • Abnaxis says:

            It’s not a 40 year jump in technology, though, it’s a 40 year jump in knowledge. The technology will take decades of manufacturing, education, and infrastructure upgrades before the jump in technology makes its way through the pipeline.

            I actually think this is much better than they way it works for those of us bound to the continuum–we struggle to keep up with the ethical implications because the technology is already built before we can wrestle with the issues/unintended consequences, and we don’t have any data on the state of the world after technology was deployed because we live here and now.

            Handing off the technology for (say) the internet to someone in 1977, along with knowledge of our intended and unintended consequences due to its proliferation, is doing the people of 1977 a great service because it will be at least decade before they would even be able to build the internet, giving them plenty of time to consider the ramifications before they do.

            Knowledge exists whether you want it to or not, the 1977 people are going to discover the internet whether you help them to or not. At least if you help them it comes with the benefits of wisdom we’ve never been able to enjoy ourselves.

            • CoyoteSans says:

              Like I said, I don’t dispute the notion that technology earlier could lead to greater prosperity and save lives, I just question whether a shortcut a mere 40 years ago is really worth the possible trade-off of indirectly kicking off global thermonuclear war for. I mean, if you really believe the internet should be got going as soon as possible, why not make plans to send such information back to the relatively stable turn of the century instead, before the World Wars have the chance to shuffle up the geopolitical musical chairs and bring about the specter of nuclear armageddon?

              I mean, last week, I touched on the idea of sending back Gutenberg printing press plans back to Ancient Rome, Greece, or the Bronze Age civilizations. Maybe also throw in manual typewriter schematics as well to make the scribes jobs easier. I think giving ancient peoples the ability to mass produce their most important knowledge millennia before it would naturally be developed would lead to a much more favorable snowball effect of overall improvement quality and absolute number of human life than giving Jimmy Carter CDs and the possibility of triggering a nuclear standoff that might otherwise have been avoided.

              Honestly, if I were allowed to lay down time travel rules, I’d declare the entirety of the 20th century off-limits. It’s just way too existentially dicey a time period to play around with.

          • Mistwraithe says:

            I totally agree. In my opinion, humanity and human society are not sophisticated enough to make sensible decisions about many of the inventions we have already made, and I believe it is going to get much worse.

            In particular strong or sentient AI has genuine potential to lead to the end of the human race. Possibly in a good, or at least acceptable, way where most of humanity gets to migrate into machines, but most likely in an everyone dies way (most likely because the major powers replace their armies with robotic forces in order to keep up with/out match each other, but you can pick your own path to destruction).

            I fear that we would need multiple orders of magnitude better international cooperation across the whole world than we currently have in order to navigate the advent of sentient AI reasonably safely. Similar problems are likely to arise with genetic engineering (imaging if GE gets easy enough that only moderate resources are required to modify viruses?), nano machines, etc.

            So I would be trying to encourage international cooperation and building a more unified global government with less propensity towards factionalism (probably a futile hope, but if the alternative is extinction…), rather than trying to advance technology faster.

        • Mephane says:

          My biggest problem with this exercise is the year, 1977. I don’t consider a mere 40 years far enough back to make speeding up technological or even sociological or philosophical progress really worth it, considering the risks involved.

          True, but there are things that would benefit greatly from something being done about 40 or 30 years ago already. I am thinking specifically of climate change here: imagine if you could make all the leaders of the world have been convinced* 30 years ago that this is a huge problem that needs tackling ASAP (accounting for a 10 year period between the suitcase’s arrival and them starting to act about the issue).

          *I am totally improvising here with the uses of grammatical tense as I have no idea what would be the correct form in this sentence.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            I am thinking specifically of climate change here: imagine if you could make all the leaders of the world have been convinced* 30 years ago that this is a huge problem that needs tackling ASAP

            Convincing them isnt really the problem.The problem is (still) a lack of viable alternative*.Even those countries that work as much as they can to reduce their dangerous emissions still cant do that much.At best youll be able to buy us an extra decade.Two if you manage to convince the entire world to put in as much effort as they can.

            *I dont mean that the alternative doesnt exist,I mean that replacing all the old technology is ridiculously expensive.

      • Radiosity says:

        I’m guessing you’re not into anime at all, but even so, I’d highly recommend you try out Steins;Gate. It covers this very thing, with the world being split into an unlimited number of timelines, with each one being slightly different depending on decisions made. And you get to see the catastrophic effects of attempting to change even the smallest of details of a single timeline.

        The idea is that certain changes cause a new timeline to be created to deal with the change (similar to the new timeline dealie in New Trek), and the main character, an eccentric mad scientist (who accidentally invents a time machine using a microwave lol), has the ability to traverse these different timelines in an attempt to stop something awful from happening… resulting in him erasing a lot of positive changes in the process.

        Even if you dislike anime under normal circumstances, this is one of those shows that just works even for non-anime fans, because its subject matter is handled incredibly well. Or you could try the visual novel on Vita instead, but the anime is more easily digested in a reasonable time frame ;)

    • Droid says:

      This! Just this! Even if you were to sort out all the rules and ramifications of time travel, etc., there are just so many things that are unaccountable simply because we cannot with certainty assume anything about our receiver. What if the exact spot you send it to in the past is currently occupied by Mr Innocent, getting half his body displaced and dying of the consequences of having a suitcase suddenly and inexplicably appear within him?

      • Matt Downie says:

        I suppose it depends to some extent on how much of an optimist you are about our own timeline. If you think we’re spiralling towards our doom, then any change, even random and unpredictable change, will give us more of a chance. If you think we’re going to make it, then meddling in the cold war and possibly causing World War 3 in a parallel universe is an unacceptable risk.

    • Joshua says:

      Well, if you think of the fact that any particular person is a combination of their mother’s egg and one specific sperm from their father, and that even changing events by a matter of seconds could result in a completely different fertilization, a minor change in the timeline could result in hundreds (in the near future, and then exponentially more as it snowballs) of people could cease to exist and new people be brought into existence in their place because the timeline was changed.

    • Neko says:

      What I’m speculating about is this: Aside from sending the alternate timeline 1977 a buttload of data on future tech, you’re also sending them the certainty that time travel is possible.

      Maybe their research will lean heavily into this, and if we are indeed on a ‘branching’ time travel model, they could find some way to cross over and influence this timeline.

  14. Mintskittle says:

    Can I just borrow a bit of space in your sitcase to send a dvd containing all the Symphony of Science I can get on it? That’s all I want.

  15. Paul Spooner says:

    The idea of putting the S20E2 Top Gear episode in is brilliant, and the timing on the VHS is too convenient to ignore. Other than an introductory letter and index in paper, I’d probably do the rest in three redundant copies of microfiche.

    I’d send it to my Dad. He’s already an engineer and hacker in the late seventies, and I know him well enough to make the payload meaningful without bloating it with proof. Furthermore, his first wife dies of leukemia just a few years later in our timeline, so maybe the knowledge of how to treat leukemia would provide sound evidence to the medical community of the importance of the suitcases contents. If it works, he never marries my mom, and I’m never born in that timeline, but then again the butterfly effects from the suitcase probably mean that none of us are who we would be in this other world.

    Oh, and if I can send a suitcase across timelines, I’d include return postage, so they can send us back a suitcase from 80 years in their future. It should arrive shortly after we send this one. I can’t wait to see what’s inside!

    • Matt Downie says:

      Sorry, these timelines exist for the express purpose of preventing possible paradoxes. You can’t interfere with your own timeline, even indirectly. That means that if you can send something back in time to a different timeline, they can’t send anything back to your timeline in response, or you’d basically just be able to send things back to your past self, with all that entailed. There must be an ‘up’ and ‘down’ direction along the dimensional axis, and you can only send things to timelines ‘down’ of you.

  16. djw says:

    Another argument against “loading the dice” for a political party is that it would only be a temporary victory.

    The parties are clusters of ideas and ideologies that are constantly changing. The democratic party of 1860 was different from the democratic party of 1936, and both are quite different from the party of 2017. If you were to read descriptions of the party in those three time periods with the name of the party removed you might find it difficult to believe that it was the same party.

    If you send information that gives one party a “big win” then it would inevitably change the coalitions that form both parties. The winning party would benefit one of its internal coalitions more so than others, because that is human nature, and the losers would likely defect. If the revelation was so big that it caused the other party to be destroyed then the defections would happen much more rapidly (see Whig Party ) as the defectors splinter off to form a brand new party.

    The end result would be two new parties (possibly with the same name as the old parties) that include different constituencies and incorporate different ideologies, with some basic lip service to the old format.

    My point here is that using the suitcase JUST to get your party a win would be an epic waste of time. A few elections later we’d be back to a two party system with at least one party that you would really hate, even if you hate it for different reasons than the party you hate now.

    Apologies if this crossed the politics line. I tried to keep it neutral (I used democrats as an example because their history goes back further and there are thus more changes in ideology).

  17. Matt Downie says:

    I don’t see the most of the things here as a difficult problem.

    1 How to make my target take me seriously?
    Answer: Put in a iPad or other tablet computer. You could put The Avengers on the iPad, since that would be hard to pull off as a hoax, but it hardly seems necessary, given that an iPad would itself be impossible with 1977 technology. Plus, they won’t be able to appreciate The Avengers properly if they didn’t first see Iron Man and Captain America.

    2 How do I put a large amount of information in the suitcase?
    Answer: Put in a iPad or other tablet computer. (Or a whole bunch of them, plus period-appropriate charger cables.) There’s the problem of how they can get the information off the tablets, given their lack of USB technology, but there’s a simple answer: cameras. They can flip through the information I provide, while filming the screen with a movie camera, then make copies of the film to distribute to their expert analysts.

  18. Cordance says:

    When you mentioned money I suddenly realized one important thing. All of your money would be considered counterfeit. It would have duplicate serial numbers at best (unheard of security features at worse). Sending back money from the future would be a sure fire way to get the secret service involved (which could be a powerfully useful thing as a backup if no one will believe you call them and show them the notes). Thinking on this for a moment made me think one of the best ways to “self” fund the venture would be to “witness” a few unsolved crimes that had big rewards and collect on the rewards offered for catching said people. A few $10 000 rewards from back in the day will go a long way to helping your cause of freedom of information claims taking root assuming you do it in a way that doesnt make your witness a suspect.

    With the idea of your witness becoming a suspect/target makes me think you should give up half your space to duplicates of everything you send. With clear instructions to take half and secret it away in case of government or criminal interference.

  19. zookeeper says:

    Maybe you’ll cover this in the next one, but I don’t see how the Woz is supposed to stay safe and in possession of the suitcase from the future after word spreads that he has one. That suitcase is pretty much the most important and valuable item in the world, so it’s not like all the governments, intelligence agencies and common thugs are just going to let him keep it.

    On one hand, the idea seems to be to have the Woz make the information in the suitcase free and to have it spread far and wide, eliminating the possibility that the Woz and his suitcase would simply mysteriously disappear as soon as the word gets out (well, they still might, but it wouldn’t make a big difference at that point). Which is smart. On the other hand, the suitcase does include CD’s and DVD’s that can’t yet be duplicated, so how is that going to work? How wouldn’t the suitcase be taken from him?

    Also, how will the world know which bits and pieces of future knowledge actually come from The One Suitcase? Right now we have things easy; you see a document claiming to information from the future, you dismiss it as a hoax. But if the people of ’77 have seen the movies or other proof and know that they are now, unimaginably to us, living in a world containing messages from the future, what will happen? Manufacturing plausible-looking information claiming to be from a future suitcase would seem to become a pretty attractive form of misinformation. I think your plan is for The One Suitcase to mostly only contain information that’s verifiable and not easily misused, but it cannot contain proof that there aren’t other suitcases nor proof that plausible-looking piece of future knowledge X wasn’t in it.

    P.S. I find it very surprising that your plan includes exposing the whole world to some modern CGI-heavy movies. The cultural impact that would have would be massive and unpredictable. I’m not one much for the “messing with the past always makes things worse”, and I’m guessing the contents of the suitcase deal with way more important things than film culture and trenchcoat fashion, but still…

  20. Geoff says:

    Sending patented and copyrighted works into the past as Public Domain? Those modern-day patent lawyers are going to have a field day with you when they find out what you did!

  21. evilmrhenry says:

    Who gets the package?
    NASA. Figure out who’s a highly-placed engineer at NASA back then, and tell him to hand it off to NASA. Carl Sagan is also a good bet, with the same instruction.

    How will you entice this person to examine the package, take it seriously, and distribute the information according to your wishes?
    Tape a recent $20 bill to the outside next to my note. Everyone likes money, that’s enough money that nobody is going to ignore it, but it’s different enough to be obviously screwy. (I thought about using a $100 instead, but I think that’s a bit too weird.) Inside I include a keychain LED flashlight and a gameboy. Both can be examined via fiddling with no need to plug anything in, and are both obviously from the future.

    How will you store information in the suitcase, and what format will you use?
    Small laptop, external drive with terabyte+ capacity, and a switch. The laptop has been set up to act as an ftp server for the data on the external drive. All extra space is taken up by samples of technology that are reasonably cheap and small. As I pointed out last time, ethernet and ftp have already been invented by this time. Initial investigation can use the laptop as-is, but they can also connect extra computers via the switch, or add more switches.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Neat idea about ftp, though Wikipedia disagrees on your dates. Unless there was some widespread protocol that predates ethernet. Counting on a modern laptop to last 6 years for the introduction of commercially available hardware without any hardware failures seems like asking a lot.

      • evilmrhenry says:

        Ug. Was just looking at the invention date.

        Well, they still have the laptop for initial research, and the technology exists. I’m sure they can get something together within a few months.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Protocols are just bits on a chip. It’s hard, but you can still find old hardware these days if you feeling like implementing a past-deployable ftp client to talk to your machine.

        The trick is the wiring in between–that requires manufacturing and infrastructure that needs to be in place already in 1977. That’s why I suggested using good ol’ fashioned RS232 below–it’s terribly slow by today’s standards (think 56k modem except much worse), but on the bright side that means if you pack your suitcase with the most space-efficient panel board you can devise, you could talk to as many 1977 computers as can fill a decent sized house in parallel with just one modern Ethernet connection and a tunnel to change protocols.

        • evilmrhenry says:

          I was thinking about RS232, but wasn’t aware it could be multiplexed like that. Only problem I see is that I have no idea how to do that. Looking online, I see USBRS232 converters, but nothing for Ethernet.

          Still, I think I could manage a USB hub and a bunch of USBRS232 converters, as well as the software needed to act as a file server over them.

          • Abnaxis says:

            This is what I’ve used in my own work to get it done. It’s actually pretty cool–you can install their Com Port Redirector, which will do some driver vodoo to make your computer think it’s talking directly to a COM port, when actually it’s creating a TCP tunnel through to a specific port on the EDS, so when you’re working with old software that expects to see a COM port (e.g. Hyperterminal) it plugs along happily. The server I have (talking to an energy monitoring system that I think was discontinued in the 80s? I’m blanking out on the name of it so I can’t look it up) has 150 “COM ports” installed on it that it can talk to in parallel (not like “parallel” parallel, but “talking to 150 15 kBaud connections with a 10 MBaud trunk” kind of parallel) over a VPN

            The downsides are that those things are both pretty expensive and (relatively) bulky to cram into a suitcase en masse. I’d probably either buy one and disassemble it to see if I could shrink the size down or see if there’s a more compact solution somewhere, and it’d be pushing the $10k self-imposed limit pretty hard unless I found an alternative.

            • Abnaxis says:

              Actually, I just remembered the name of the energy monitoring ststem, but when I try to look it up, the only Google results are a news report from when my company installed it for our customer (late 80s), and when the company got bought by a bigger energy monitoring equipment company (early 90s). It’s like they only existed to install products for this ONE job, it’s weird…

              Not posting the name of the company here, because that’s practically handing out my RL info at that point.

  22. evilmrhenry touched on an issue you glossed over Shamus, and everybody else forgot.

    What format do you store the data in?
    You say CDs, but they did not have the CD standards back then, so you’d have to instruct them on how to read a CD.
    And what is on the CD? Audio (Reedbok)? or data (yellow book)?
    Is is zipped? Zip did not exist back thn so you would need to inform then on how to decompress that.
    Images, PNG? They don’t know that format. At least text can be ASCII 7bit and should be fine.
    What about audio? MP3/Vorbis/AAC/Opus did not exist. And video? AVI/MP4/MKV did not exist, and that’s just the video formats not the actual codecs.

    And even if you did include papers describing how to decompresss/decode data on the CD-ROM, their computers might need an hour to decode a single video frame.

    The issue back then wasn’t technology, it was information density and computing power. Things that we take mostly for granted today.

    A zip file may seem trivial today. But the compression table used by deflate is 32KB and that’s all the memory of a normal PC computer then.

  23. Abnaxis says:

    I feel like I have kind of an unfair advantage here. For about the last eight years, I’ve almost entirely dedicated my career to getting modern computers to talk to old, old hardware, some of which is more than forty years old. The most memorable was a system where I had to shine an ultraviolet light on the EEPROM to clear it before reprogramming it.

    From that perspective, here are my answers:

    1) I don’t know people or politics all that well to pick a good person to send it to. I didn’t think of Woz, but he sounds like a good target.

    2) To me, enticing people to believe in the suitcase means giving them information you could only have if you were from the future. Also, I’m assuming I know what day the package will arrive. The next thing, then is to choose some information that is both incorruptible in the timeline and impossible to know with a great degree of certainty.

    Essentially, I would make Woz the perfect weather man for X months (depends on how effeciently I can cram the statistics on the ink and paper they’re written on). He will know how high the temperature will get–exactly–how many inches of precipitation–exactly–and so on and so forth. Forget “50% chance of rain in the afternoon,” it’s time for “it will rain with 100% certainty between 3:17 and 4:45 today.”

    The best part about this is, the data I’m drawing from is the same data recorded in 1977 so it’s not like I’m using a different measurement method than what was used at the time. I’m just writing the weather reports before they’ve been written. This should be enough to prove to anyone–Woz or otherwise–that the case is actually from the future.

    3) This is kind of where I get a funny look on my face and wonder what the thought process is behind this question. VHS? CDs? Why?

    All you need to display something on an era 1977 television set is a coaxial cable. Like, I probably even have a converter for it in my basement somewhere. Even if I don’t, a quick Google search tells me I can get one for, like, $20.

    I think you’re grossly overestimate how hard it is to get 2017 stuff to transfer data to 1977 stuff. RS232 was invented in 1969. It’s horridly, horridly slow (one of the systems I work with uses dial-up modems through RS232, and it takes over 3 minutes to download a 193kilobyte file) but it’s easy to set up on both ends of the time-gap. What I’m going to do then, is order a few Arduinos along with some custom PCBs, and write some code to pull data off an SSD and parse it out to as many 1977 trash-can computers as it possibly can in parallel. I’ll can tell you from experience that it’s completely possible to tunnel through well over a hundred RS232 data streams with one TCP/IP connection.

    That just leaves writing the software for the other end, which is probably the one thing I will store on any sort of old media that isn’t ink and paper. Again, I probably have an unfair advantage here, because I know many, many people that still have those 70s machines sitting on a shelf somewhere–along with the tools required to code them–so they can provide service to customers who still have those systems installed because they built computer like tanks back then, and customers want want to get every last bit of use out of their $200,000 system they got installed decades ago.

    So that’ my solution–store info on OUR media because theirs SUCKS at information density, and build hardware/software that can talk to their hardware instead. If I need video to express something, they can plug my hardware into a VCR or television set. If I need sound, my system will have plenty of audio jacks. Basically, my suitcase will be filled with hard drives and PCBs with as many jacks as possible to connect as many ancient machines as possible, and I’ll leave it up to the past to plug into it.

    4) While I think natural disasters are tragic things, I don’t think the death toll from random disasters is remotely near what’s been racked up by our own ignorance. It’s a bit too late to do anything about leaded paint or leaded gasoline, but they’re still cramming asbestos in buildings everywhere. Hell, they still think margarine is healthy because it’s made out of vegetable oil.

    So first and foremost among the information I send, will be “this is bad for you, don’t do it,” and “this is how you make safe things (cars, medicines, machinery).” Because we have lost a lot of people learning those things. Next, will probably be the medical stuff–chemical compositions, medical research (hey, who knew repeated blows to the head are bad for you in the long term?), and especially treatment profiles which don’t actually require new manufacturing to do (this is actually where a lot of new research is making breakthroughs these days).

    Then it will be the technology, in chronological order of development, mainly textbooks that I will shamelessly pirate and/or hack my way to get hold of. Then information on natural disasters people might want to avoid. Then finally after that I will consider sharing media or art, mainly because those things in particular are MASSIVE in storage terms (think of how much bigger a movie is than a textbook) and they’re much less pragmatic.

    • Abnaxis says:

      I just realized I said RS232 was invented in 1969, but it was actually standardized then. Basically, it was a mature technology by ’77, and you can still talk to it today.

    • Shamus says:

      Shit. I should just my answer to “I’m going to email Abnaxis for help.”

      • Abnaxis says:

        Like I said, it’s kind of an unfair question to me. My old job was to do exactly what’s needed in this scenario. Basically 90% of my job boiled down to “here’s a $20M system installed thirty years ago, with a front-end that’s never been replaced. We’re replacing this $50k piece of it, and you need to get our 2017 tech to send data to the 1985 hardware, without interfering with the $1M piece they replaced 5 years ago, the $100k piece they replaced ten years ago, or the $200k piece they replaced 15 years ago.”

        40 years is a bit older than most of what I’ve worked with, but at that point we had at least produced rudimentary computers, dot matrix printers and some form of networking. Go back another decade or two and I’d be at a severe disadvantage.

    • Liam O'Hagan says:

      That would be an EPROM. EEPROM is Electronically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory.

      I last used UV erasable EPROMs in my work around 13 years ago, so it hasn’t been gone that long.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Huh. The only time I ran into it was on a job with REALLY REALLY old hardware, so I kind of assumed it had faded out earlier than that. Back when I was in grade school (90s) I remember reading about the differences between EPROM and EEPROM from some tech book, and I vaguely remember it saying that EPROM was obsolete but you could still run into it sometimes.

        Also, I’ve totally gotten into the habit of calling everything EEPROM. I mean, even with the UV chips, you’re still using electromagnetic waves to erase them, RIGHT? *nudge nudge*

    • Colin Smith says:

      Abnaxis pretty much knocked it outta the park, right here.

      Other options for recipients that have crossed my mind with the bona fides to get things done with the information, and perhaps dispense it without causing catastrophic damage (and who all might easier to convince my excerpting their own unpublished papers of the era, include Stephen Hawking (recent Professor and chair at Cambridge), Robert W. Bussard (who was Ast. Director of the AEC), or Benoit Mandlebrot (At IBM but often off at Harvard at the time).
      If I was looking for a family connection, for some damn reason, I’d go with Dad’s friend at Lockheed, Dean Ing, who went on to become a Hugo and Nebula nominee in ’79, because he’s also quite a survivalist, which might be handy, not to mention his connections.

      My main point would be providing the information to prevent most preventable man made disasters, especially the ones that distracted our species away from the future and back towards the individual profit motive. Giving a complete list of the next 40 years worth of preventable man made disasters would both be practical, can be given in painful detail, and even with the butterfly effect will allow the species to avoid a lot of unpleasant things like the Challenger, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl, if nothing else by being told in advance how everything can and will fail, so new failure states will have to come about. Essentially advance institutional knowledge in as many important fields as possible by the extra 40 years representing the rise of the Information Age.
      With the addition of socio-political information, in depth, relating to the changes the world is and will undergo. In the fairly short term, if revolution can be prevented in Iran, and the teeth pulled from the Ba’athists in Iraq, and the USSR can be convinced to stay the heck outta Afganistan… Then the ’79 collapse mostly doesn’t happen. With warning to the right people, and no recession to power fear, hopefully trickle-down economics and union busting and the AIDS epidemic could all be largely headed off at the pass, in the 80’s, and if this info was also helping the USSR, it’s entirely possible that The Gorbachev/ Glasnost political block mighta come into their own slightly earlier, and with WAY more capital, and ushered in an era of East-West collaboration for the resources of space QUITE a bit earlier than we had in our timeline.
      Sci-Fi authors in the late 70’s and early 80’s were already speculating that was the future that was likely, they just missed the rise of militant Islam and the economic collapse of the USSR.

  24. Nick says:

    I disagree that sending a lot of data about past events in human history is useful, beyond a few years of the suitcase. Once the existence of the suitcase is verified and the knowledge starts spreading the butterfly effect is going to make history very, very different from the one we knew.

    Of course at the DVD level it might be easy to send a broad-level set of information back anyway, out of interest if nothing else.

    Natural disaster history would be a good plan though, for earthquakes especially. Hurricanes and the like could potentially be effected by changes in the atmosphere, but throw those in too.

    EDIT: Oh, and writing TOBACCO CAUSES CANCER somewhere near the top should be a priority

    • djw says:

      There is an episode of the Three Stooges where they buy (or sell, I forget) “coffin nail cigarettes”.

      The implication is that everybody already knew damn well that tobacco causes cancer long before 1977…

      Upon googling coffin nail cigarettes this popped up, which states that there were people claiming it caused cancer in the 1800’s.

  25. MarsLineman says:

    I’m not much for nitty-gritty details in hypothetical situations, so I’ll defer to you in all the details of the delivery (Woz, etc). But on a philosophical level, the biggest problem facing our species (and really life itself) is energy production. So, beyond some initial proof that this suitcase is legit (maybe some headlines from newspapers 1,2,3,4 days ahead of the suitcase delivery), I would send nothing but schematics and technical details of the most advanced/ efficient current energy production methods (solar, wind, hydrogen cell, etc), with as much context as needed to help guide this knowledge into immediate production.

  26. Tizzy says:

    Copyright-free looped airing of the Matrix on UHF? In 1977? Gee, why don’t you go ahead and strangle Star Wars in the cradle while you’re at it! Thanks, Shamus!

  27. What you’re saying is inherently political! Saying you don’t want information to be in the hands of a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs monopolist, with big business concerns and excessive IP enforcement, but rather in the hands of an open-source “hacker-ethos” type is just the sort of philosophical argument about communal and private life that politics is made off.

  28. INH5 says:

    I would be sending the suitcase to President Jimmy Carter. First, because he seems like a decent guy for a politician and he’s obviously in a position to do something about the information received, but mainly because I have some international political goals that I want to achieve, and he’s really the only person who might be able to act to achieve them. And yes, I have taken the risk of starting a nuclear war into account.

    I’ll go into more detail on this next week, but try to be as non-flamebaity as possible. For the record, I don’t have any goals that involve domestic US politics, as even if Carter doesn’t win reelection, I’m sure that he’ll make arrangements to pass the information on to the next President. But if you guys think this is still too much, I can leave this part out of my post next week.

    In keeping with the spirit of the hypothetical, I’m going to assume that the suitcase arrives in the mail room of the White House. In order to make sure it gets noticed ASAP, I’ll include an Ipod and a small speaker and press play before I close the suitcase and send it back. The music will immediately draw the attention of the mail room staff.

    At this point, there’s a very good chance that the suitcase will be taken by security to make sure that it doesn’t contain a bomb. This was, after all, just 6 years after the Weather Underground bombed the US Capitol building. But regardless of who it ends up with, someone will soon open it to find:

    – A letter for President Carter.
    – A VHS tape.
    – Folders containing paper.
    – Several rolls of microfilm/fiche (before I decide on what format to use, I’ll be sure to talk with the staff at a large library about “a science fiction novel that I’m writing” to get their opinion on the best format to use).
    – A small laptop that has an internal CD drive, as well as peripherals like power cords, a mouse, and so on.
    – Multiple binders like this that contain CDs.

    In my note to President Carter, I’ll be sure to mention information that at the time only someone with a very high security clearance would know, to make sure that it will be quickly brought to his attention. The VHS tape will have a personally edited video message, with footage from the future that should serve as additional evidence (IE interviews with Carter from later in his life). I’ll give more details next week.

    The papers will contain, among other things, predictions that will act as evidence that the suitcase really is from the future. Such as:

    – Scans of the front pages of various newspapers from the day after arrival. Some things might be changed by the butterfly effect, but unless Carter does something drastic and public in response to the suitcase they should end up mostly the same, and certainly far more accurate than some kind of prankster could be.
    – Daily weather reports for various US cities for the next month. Over time, predictions of weather will become increasingly less useful due to butterflies (indeed, the butterfly effect was originally named for a computer weather simulation that diverged radically in a matter of months due to a small rounding error), but over this timescale they should be pretty accurate.
    – Records of times, locations, and magnitudes of seismic events, both major and minor, in the US for the next year. Seismic events are far less sensitive to butterflies than weather, so I’m confident that these will all be very accurate, and very hard to explain away.

    The papers would also have indexes of what is on each microfilm roll and CD, as well as instructions on how to use the laptop.

    The laptop won’t have much on its hard drive besides the programs and files that it had in the store. Its primary purpose would be to demonstrate that the CDs do, in fact, contain the information that the index says that they do. If I can obtain one, I’ll include a cable that will allow the laptop to hook up to 1970s computers/tape drives/printers, but I think my plan should still work if I can’t get one.

    Here are my reasons for using CDs as a medium for digital information: The biggest problem I see with sending, say, state-of-the-art portable hard drives back is a vulnerability to Murphy’s Law. If something goes wrong and a hard drive end up broken, then they may not be able to fix it or recover the data for decades, if ever, in which case you might as well have sent them a paperweight. I want to leave as little to chance as possible, so I want to use a medium that 1977 technology can read and copy on its own.

    In 1977, modern CDs hadn’t been fully developed, but they were very close. According to Wikipedia, in 1978 Sony and Phillips made prototypes very similar to modern audio CDs. In 1980 they standardized the modern audio CD format. In 1982, the first commercial audio CD was released. In 1985, the first CD-ROMs were commercially released. Based on this timeline, I’m very confident that in 1977 engineers at Phillips and Sony could build machines capable of reading and copying modern CDs in a fairly short time if they were given enough information. As such, the note will include instructions to contact Sony and Phillips and get their help, while the microfilm will contain (among other things) all of the information that I can fit about the early development of the CD, the certifications, and the formats of all of the files on those CDs.

    The CDs themselves will be CD-Rs, not CD-RWs. I’ve read online that while CD-RWs often won’t work on older CD players, burned audio CD-Rs will usually play even on CD players from the early 1980s. I will be using gold-based archival grade CD-Rs. These are expensive (~$1.15 a disc), but they are very durable: scratch-resistant and estimated to last longer than a century without degrading.

    Based on the prices of this website, I could buy enough CDs to fill up one of those aforementioned 208 disc CD/DVD binders for about $240+shipping. That binder would contain roughly 145 gigabytes of data, which is about 12 times as much data as the entire article text of Wikipedia requires. And I could, of course, easily fit multiple binders in a suitcase and still have plenty of room for the other stuff. Like Shamus, I won’t bother trying to figure out how much data I’ll need and I’ll simply assume that I’ll have enough.

    It probably will take the engineers a little longer to program computers to read the data on the CDs, but the important thing is that they should be able to make copies of them within a short time, greatly reducing the risk of data loss due to accident or theft or any number of unforeseen events. I’ll also make sure to use the simplest, oldest file formats I can find. While the engineers are working on the problem, the President and his men can use the laptop to read important data, and anything really important will also be backed up on microfilm/fiche, as space permits.

    • Shamus says:

      I love how much thought you put into this. Sending to the White House is indeed a lot more complicated than just addressing it to “The President”, and I love how you’ve thought through all the possibilities.

      Also, I didn’t know about CD-RWs. That’s interesting. (And a detail I would have overlooked.)

      • Radiosity says:

        I had issues back in the day with getting audio CDs to play if I used RW instead of R, so yeah, they definitely had problems. Amazing how many things you need to think about, and how easy it is to miss something like this if you just don’t happen to know about it.

      • Chris Davies says:

        Did you consider the possibility that by making knowledge of the future widespread, you might accidentally create a divergent timeline in which all the media you send to the past become out of place artefacts that none of the equivalent mass market technologies can read?

        Like, you can’t read a double density floppy disk in a single density only drive. It’s possible that you might accidentally inspire innovation such that no commercial drive ever exists to read your optical disks, and that equivalent storage technology goes an entirely different direction (example, the futuristic computers on display inspire early experiments in extremely small transistor fabrication and the world skips optical media entirely and starts using flash mass storage.)

        Even if technological progress follows roughly the same line, the file systems they use are ultimately the product of a very few minds who won’t now necessarily be the people involved in their creation. It seems almost guaranteed that the software component of the altered timeline’s storage will be entirely different.

        Basically, reading the media you send would probably have to be an experimental one-off job and optical media (especially writable optical media) degrade fairly swiftly even in ideal conditions. I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to ensure that any data you sent back could be read with current technology, even if additional interpretation software needs to be written to decode it. For example using audio tape but with modern encoding techniques that could be documented on paper.

        • INH5 says:

          I’m not sure if you’re replying to Shamus or me, but I’ll respond anyway.

          I’ve taken all of that into account, which is why I’ll include all of the information that I can on CD specifications, early CD players, and so on on the microfilm rolls. The engineers who will build a machine that can read the discs won’t be flying blind. And by this point Sony and Phillips had been working on digital optical discs for more than 3 years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them already had machines that could read modern CDs with some reprogramming.

          The lifespan issue is why I’ll be using gold-based archival grade CD-Rs. This website claims that they could last for more than 300 years without losing data, so I’m confident that somebody will be able to copy the data off of the discs before they start to significantly degrade.

  29. Daemian Lucifer says:

    That means I’m not going to send them 100 smartphones, because I can’t afford 100 smartphones.

    Sure you can.Not top of the line ones,but older ones and used ones you can totally buy 100 of within your $10000 budget.A friend of mine likes risking with online auctions,and he got a workable smartphone for 20€,which means you can buy about 250 of them within your budget.

  30. Misamoto says:

    You did give me an idea about contents right now. It might be worse it to manipulate the facts to show that the Earth is dead from nuclear war when we send the case, so the leaders will have incentive to get rid of weapons of mass destruction sooner and more completely. The current situation is kinda unnerving.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      1: if you’re lying and they find it out, they won’t take you serious
      2: Loads of people had no way of reacting to the threat anyway, so you might replace the current “unnerving” situation with a worldwide panic. That might in itself trigger the collapse of quite a lot of civilisation.

  31. Zak McKracken says:

    So, you’re trying to make all the information widely known. I guess that makes sense for a large number of things.
    Your small copyright infirngements, though, are going to have huuuuge consequences, because I don’t think e.g. the Wachoskies will still be able to make the Matrix anymore, now. This is the one case where a single unauthorized copy can actually rob the creators of all the rewards for making the thing. By the time they’re old enough to make anything, the whole matrix theme will be so chewed through that even parodies of parodies of that movie will be old news. And the rest of hollywood will have a super hard time keeping up with all the flashy things from the suitcase. You’ll make a lot of actors, directors and film crews superfluous.

    Also, Misamoto’s comment gave me a rather chilling idea:
    How do you avoid the formation of some sort of religous cult around the magic suitcase from the future? People will interpret the information, re-interpret it, twist it to their own world view … start killing each other over their interpretation of the contents…

  32. Zak McKracken says:

    Still going with DVDs?

    I still think that a few laptops plus SSDs would be the better choice. Possibly also a bunch of Raspberry Pi’s:
    The laptops have all the USB specifications and a bunch of programming guides on how to to anything to it, and the Raspis can execute the same code — so you can develop on the laptops but then use a fleet of Raspis to exfiltrate all the data to 1977 computers, in parallel, because a single port will be slooow. But you can increase the speed over the years, as interface technology improves — which it will, much quicker than in our time line, because there will be huge interest in all this data from the suitcase.

  33. This Israeli Dude says:

    [Please forgive any mistakes and cumbersome wordings. English is not my first language.]

    There is at least one fundamental problem with your answer: Steve Wozniak. Specifically, the assumption that picking him is not political. First, he has political positions (i.e, “exchange of information should be free”, as you’ve noted yourself), which probably relate to many issues beyond code. Second, the very choice of an American citizen is a political one. Any person you choose lives in a particular political system, and giving them the suitcase means giving its power to that political system. The US is not a magical equilibrium point where politics is neutral. No offense, but the assumption that the American lifestyle is non-political looks to many of us, non-Americans, as very American. And very political.

    So to me, your experiment is inherently political. And this leads me to radically different conclusions.

    1. Storing the information
    Let’s break it down to three questions: data format, firmware & software.
    Format: to date, the most compact way of delivering information is text. This is why scientific magazines are that, magazines, and not TV channels. So most if not all the information I’ll provide will be e-books and e-documents.
    As for the firmware, I’d pick the laptop with the best weight vs capacity on the market. The information will be stored on SSD, which is, to my knowledge, the most compact technology.
    As for software, your budget limitations leave me with epub and pdfs. In both cases, I’d use the “display multiple pages” option, and write a simple code to run the pages at a frame rate of 24 fps. I’ll instruct the receiver to shoot the screen with a movie camera. Let them work out the sync and how to transfer the data from film to printed format. They’re totally up to it.

    2. The Information Itself
    We must understand that any information we send to the past will change the course of history. If we send overly specific information (events like 9/11, stock markets data), it will quickly become irrelevant.
    Therefore, we must choose a broader angle, and show these people processes that are already underway, and which they can not yet see for themselves. Understanding processes (instead of focusing on events, individuals or companies) will enable them to navigate their future in an intelligent manner that will bring maximum well-being to a maximum number of people.
    From where we stand today, we can recognize three revolutionary processes that have taken place in recent decades, and that people had little understanding of at 1977: Economic processes, primarily the growing inequality and the social unrest it creates; Technological processes, first and foremost the creation of the Internet and a movement towards AI; and Ecological processes, primarily climate change. On these three fronts, I would describe developments that occurred in our timeline, that our recipients can expect to see variations of in their own timeline. What they do with the insights we provide them with is entirely up to them. They can decide, for example, to identify revolutionary Internet companies early on in their lifecycle, acquire a significant share of, and use that share for steer those companies to the benefit of the public.
    Along with this information, I would also include chemical drug formulas. Introducing new antibiotics too soon is dangerous, as some commentators pointed out. Advanced medical technologies requires supporting technologies and is therefore impractical. But chemical drugs can be effective, applicable and non-destructive.

    3. Who Gets The Package
    You’re focusing on a specific character. I would go for a group of people, for two reasons: first, a group will have more experience, which will enable a better assessment of the information and its possible uses. Second, the group is more likely to use the information in a restrained fashion. Third, the diversity of opinions in the group makes it less politically-distinct than picking a single individual.
    The ideal group for me is the Swedish Academy of Sciences. It consists of experts who will understand the information in depth. And as a body, it has experience in identifying historical processes. Also, it (aims to) work for the benefit of all mankind. Lastly, it has the resources and influence to turn the information into action items.

    4. Enticing them to take it seriously
    “This package contains valuable information from 2017, delivered to you in great effort and expense, Attached please find copies of the front pages of a hundred major newspapers in the world. When they turn out to be precise, you’ll know you have the future in your hands. Good Luck”. It’s that easy.

    • CoyoteSans says:

      There is at least one fundamental problem with your answer: Steve Wozniak. Specifically, the assumption that picking him is not political. First, he has political positions (i.e, “exchange of information should be free”, as you’ve noted yourself), which probably relate to many issues beyond code. Second, the very choice of an American citizen is a political one. Any person you choose lives in a particular political system, and giving them the suitcase means giving its power to that political system. The US is not a magical equilibrium point where politics is neutral. No offense, but the assumption that the American lifestyle is non-political looks to many of us, non-Americans, as very American. And very political.

      This is another good point I was thinking about. Obviously, as an American born just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I consider the ultimate outcome of the Cold War mostly positive on the global-level, and would want that outcome to be changed as little as possible.

      But, if I were, say, Russian, I might have a very different opinion. I might want to send my suitcase with information and to a person for the express goal of making sure Russia doesn’t “lose” the Cold War, or at the very least not end nearly as disastrously for her. After all, I might legitimately believe a healthier Russia would be better for the world at large than a healthy US, and thus fulfill the exercise condition of “make things better for humanity.”

      Of course, this kind of hypothetical can open the Pandora’s Box to all sorts of wacky places, like what if you asked a Ted Kaczynski-type to send the suitcase back? *shudder*

  34. byter says:

    When you raised the idea last time, my initial idea would be to give it to a prominent financial figure of the time, rather than a scientist or engineer.

    If this venture is going to have a big impact on the macro scale then society needs to min/max quite heavily to get this exceptional growth we are hoping for. As such, I thought that an engineer might be too small scale for them to remain relevant/effective if this suitcase became a big thing. That they’d soon loose much of their power over the situation as they hand out research material and they hand fiscal power over to a businessman anyways.

    If I had to throw this suitcase together in a hurry (an additional little rule I set myself), I might just print out the US stock exchange numbers over time, along with any periodic summaries or the like I could find. If I could get this into the hands of a good business person they’d have a cheat sheet to the future of the economy, with this they could play the markets, minimising and maximising the flow of money to the right sectors and basically turbo charging the growth of society.

    It’s not perfect, however I imagined that any plan I would come up with is based on heaps of assumptions, that it’s likely to fall apart quickly if I make it too specific. Advanced scientific knoledge is no use if it can’t be made use of or if you can’t convince people it’s right. Money on the other hand is very convincing and it’s what’s needed to supercharge societal growth anyhow.

    I also assumed that however this plays out (if it’s not thrown in the bin) it’s almost inevitable that there are going to be some big winners, like there always has been in history, particularly in recent history. As such, sending this briefcase is a gamble to create a historical business figure who will make Bill Gates look like small fry.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Weeell… if you give a cheat sheet to a person who probably chose their profession due to a love of all things money … great, you’ve just made one person very rich.
      You’ve also created an incentive for that person to change history as little as possible, in an effort to preserve the validity of that cheat sheet.

      There’s also an above-average probability that this person will not use the other information bestowed to them to benefit humankind, but may just attempt to gain even more wealth, and thus power. Granted, there are certainly businesspeople who are more (or less) selfish than others, but unless your primary goal was to help that person (maybe you own parents/grandparents…?) make it big, what’s the advantage of having a single even more wealthy and even more powerful person? If that person’s character is not what you hoped it was, things can go wrong in very drastic ways.

      I think Wozniak is a better idea than most businesspeople, but actually I’d agree with “This Israeli Dude” that an organisation which is devoted to a good cause would be the best, because they are much less likely to simply use the information to their own exclusive advantage.

      • byter says:

        It’s an interesting question as to how useful this cheat sheet will be in the long term, if the person becomes super rich and powerful then they are going to make their own cheat sheet less and less accurate due to the effects they will have on the system.

        As for the other information I’m not sure what you are referring to. I did mention that I might also try to include periodic market summaries as well. This means that you don’t just see that Apples’ shares went up, you can read the summary and see that it was because of the success of their new phone or whatever. I saw this as another piece of information to help compliment the cheat sheet, even if the numbers are changed the path to progress would still have some useful hints.

        As to the usefulness to mankind whilst one person might very well make tons of money, that doesn’t mean that doing so will have no beneficial impact. A lot of new businesses and industries will have to be built, a lot of money and time has to be invested in the right places to achieve what we want to achieve. One way or another capitalism has to come into play. Luckily capitalism does often lead to benefits to mankind.

        I am not hoping that my recipient will remain ethical and charitable despite all the odds. I am hoping that my capitalist scumbag will become the biggest capitalist scumbag there has ever lived. The model is fairly simple, this person just has to do what they did even more to succeed, they will be motivated by their same self interest and their success will easily move money and resources to where it’s needed. :)

  35. Vorkuta says:

    As a recipient, I think I’d pick Isaac Asimov.

    There’s a number of reasons here. He was an SF author, so more likely to be open-minded about the suitcase’s provenance than almost anyone else around. He was politically moderate, moral, and well-off enough that he wasn’t going to flog off the suitcase’s contents to the highest bidder. He was connected to a wide network of influential, intelligent people who would take him seriously. He wrote a couple of autobiographies, meaning that I can find deeply personal information to convince him of the suitcase’s veracity quite easily. And of course, he was a genius and more deeply knowledgeable across more areas of science and the arts than almost anyone, before or since.

    Of course, a fair number of these advantages are shared with other SF authors, but most have other flaws – Heinlein too militaristic (and I can’t see him being keen on sharing information), Clarke being based in Sri Lanka, and many others not well enough known to be influential.

    Incidentally, the wisdom of Shamus’s injunction against politics was made clear to me when this post was linked to by Metafilter. Mefi slants pretty hard in one direction politically, and a few users there were clearly furious that anyone could even think of doing something other than send back dirt on their political enemies. So much for just having fun with the idea.

  36. Zak McKracken says:

    I think it might be a good idea to step back a bit and think about whether you’d want the information sent back to go public or not, or what circles it should be circulated in.

    Shamus is obviously going for broad publication. And that makes sense. If you want to change the world, at least a world with democratic states in it, you can make most changes by changing the minds and horizons of people, rather than just the governments. That’s why the Enlightenment was so important, and why it was the precondition of democracy.

    On the other hand: This means you need to consider whether any of the information might trigger mass panic, or some popular movement which might lead to problems: Maybe some part of the world thinks they deserve more access to the suitcase’s contents than they have? Maybe the person/organisation you sent it to favours one country, and another country declares war on them to get to the contents? Maybe people start comparing 1977 to 2017 and thinking how bad they have it in comparison, then start believing that all the fancy technology in the suitcase will sort that out, so they themselves can stop trying now? Maybe some groups have problems fitting the information into their ideological frame of mind and starts making trouble? Maybe you put in some warning words about any of these scenarios, but 1977 doesn’t quite understand it the way you intended (because, you know, some words meant different things back then, and to different people), and your warning against X backfires and they run headlong into Y?

    On the other hand, sending it to some party which you assume will keep it secret means that people can work on the contents relatively undisturbed and with less public pressure, but it also may mean that this party which you considered to be well-meaning develops some ambitions which may not be beneficial for the rest of the world. After all, they suddenly have the ability to do amazing things, and either sell them to the rest of the world or otherwise dominate in many a global competition. And how wisely will they use that power? Democracy is built on diffusing power — on trying to avoid large accumulations of it. This suitcase has the potential to undermine that.

    Without having a concrete adressee for the suitcase, I’d think it should not go to either superpower (because they’d be tempted to use to achieve world domination), but it should go to some party too small to strong-arm anyone into anything but well-respected enough to be listened to. Ideally one which enjoys respect from both sides of the iron curtain, and will not be intimidated by either.

    Actually, if I could, I’d probably send two suitcases, one to either side, though not the US or USSR directly, (and a third one to the UN? The swedish academy of sciences?), with identical contents, and a note informing them about the other recipients. I-know-that-you-know scenarios are still the most stable ones. If I only get one suitcase, I’d put everything in twice, then find some person/organisation which I would trust to distribute the two identical laptops plus storage media to the different addresses. No idea who that would be …

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