CAMBRIDGE, Mass.–Suppose it is the future–maybe a thousand years from now. There is no static cling, diapers change themselves, and everyone who is anyone summers on Mars.
What’s more, it is possible to travel back in time, to any place, any era. Where would people go? Would they zoom to a 2005 Saturday night for chips and burgers in a college courtyard, eager to schmooze with computer science majors possessing way too many brain cells?
Why not, say some students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have organized what they call the first convention for time travelers.
Actually, they contend that theirs is the only time traveler convention the world needs, because people from the future can travel to it anytime they want.
“I would hope they would come with the idea of showing us that time travel is possible,” said Amal Dorai, 22, the graduate student who thought up the convention, which is to be this Saturday on the MIT campus. “Maybe they could leave something with us. It is possible they might look slightly different, the shape of the head, the body proportions.”
The event is potluck and alcohol-free–present-day humans are bringing things like brownies. But Dorai’s Web site asks that future-folk bring something to prove they are really ahead of our time: “Things like a cure for AIDS or cancer, a solution for global poverty or a cold fusion reactor would be particularly convincing as well as greatly appreciated.”
He would also welcome people from only a few days in the future, far enough to, say, give him a few stock market tips.
Dorai and fellow organizers are the kind of people who transplant a snowblower engine into a sleeper sofa and drive the couch around Cambridge. (If the upholstery were bright red, it could be a midlife crisis convertible for couch potatoes.)
They built a human-size hamster wheel–eight feet in diameter. And they concocted the “pizza button,” a plexiglass pizza slice mounted in their hallway; when pressed, it calls up a Web site and arranges for pizza delivery 30 minutes later. (For anyone wanting to try this at home, the contraption uses a Huffman binary code. It takes fewer keystrokes to order the most popular toppings, like pepperoni, more keystrokes for less popular extras, like onions.)
At the convention, they plan to introduce a robot with an “infrared pyro-electric detector,” designed to follow anything that emits heat, including humans.
“It’s supposed to be our pet,” said Adam Kraft, 22, a senior.
“It needs fur,” added David Nelson, 23, a graduate student.
While Dorai has precisely calculated that “the odds of a time traveler showing up are between one in a million and one in a trillion,” organizers have tried to make things inviting.
In case their august university does not exist forever, they have posted the latitude and longitude of the East Campus Courtyard (42:21:36.025 degrees north, 71:05:16.332 degrees west).
By Pam Belluck