Any problems with this sci fi time travel scenario?

OK, a while ago I thought of something that I think would be really awesome if it were possible, and except possible weapons problems, I don’t really see a downside.

OK, let me first say that things wouldn’t progress like this, but for simplicity’s sake I’m using linear numbers.

In 2111 a time machine is built. Scientists and educators go back to now (2011) and increase our technology by 100 years.

2111 now has 2211 levels of technology. They come back and increase our technology by 200 years.

2111 now is 300 years ahead in technology, so they come back and… I think you get the point. This hopefully either goes on forever, or until a plateau is reached.

So, if time travel were possible, would you want to see something like this happen, or is there anything about it that would worry you?

I have this picture of an infinite number of time travelers announcing they’re from Scotland Yard and clasping their predecessor on the shoulder.

OK, that’s pretty funny.

What does “increase their technology” mean? For example, what would we be able to do to increase the technology of people in 1911 by 100 years? Do you mean everything that is technological would suddenly be the equivalent of 2011 technology? How the heck could you make that happen?

Humans today have to study for years to use our technology. Wouldn’t the same be true of 1911 humans, only more so?

Just because I could jump back to 1900 with complete designs for a pentium processor and all the machines needed to manufacture one doesn’t mean there would be anywhere I could go that could actually build the machines to make them. There would still have to be 20 generations of equipment built to get to that point.

Sure, having everything laid out would avoid dead ends and years of R&D, but then we wouldn’t have the knowledge gained from those dead ends and all the unrelated miscellaneous stuff we picked up during the years of R&D that may come in handy on another project.

My favorite example for this is that you’re not going to make a micrometer caliper with a hammer, tongs, & anvil.

I mean people from 100 years from now would come back with:
[li]Blueprints, manuals, and design specs for electronics and mechanical devices that exist 100 years from now.[/li][li]Scientific knowledge and progress over the next 100 years.[/li][li]News and reports of discoveries over the next 100 years.[/li][/ul]
And so on.

Oh, and they would help us with with the construction.

Why not just go 20,000 years into the future in the first place and grab their technology?

That is a good point. I think in this case progress would only be slowed down, but we would still make some.

20,000 years in the future would be so completely alien. I doubt that any of the current languages would exist, or exist as we know it, or as people in 100 years from now would know it. Also, bringing info back in time, people would know places to go where they could go safely back. Going into the future, you could phase into a wall or another person, or anything and die instantly. There are lots of other reasons why it would be risky to go into the future, especially that far.

Also, Contrapuntal and Projammer make good points, and while I think that 100 years advances from today might be doable (but I could be wrong), 20,000 year advances from today, or even 100 years from now don’t seem doable (again, I could be wrong though).

Pretty much what Projammer said. If you went back to 1900 it would be difficult to give them a design for a modern internal combustion engine. You’d have to start with a much simpler design that could be built from the then current materials and logistically supported with the chemistry available then to make fuel for it. While you might get something marginally better than what they actually had, it would still be constrained by the materials processes and availability they had then, so it would be only incrementally better…not generationally better.

So, if 100 years from now they have the ability to build quantum computers or fusion power plants and you brought the designs back, you’d still need to build the tools to build the tools to build the tools to build what you wanted to build. Same with the materials needed…and the chemistry. And everything else.


As time goes on technological advances happen at a faster rate. So the rate of advance from 2010 to 2111 should be (theoretically) faster than advances from 1910 to 2010. So because we should be able to advance more quickly in a shorter amount of time, I think we could create future technology now.

However, I have realized a couple of flaws in my scenario. First, assuming we could produce 2111 levels of technology, it would take a few years to get everything in place. It wouldn’t happen overnight. So, let’s say it takes 10 to 25 years go upgrade existing plants and factories, and make new ones, to produce the technology that will be available in 100 years. So in 2111 technology would have only advanced 90 years, or 75, or some other number. Not the full 100 years between then and now.

Also, my other flaw is that, while I am optimistic that we might be able to advance 100 years in only 10 or 25 years, it would be much harder to advance 200 years, or 300 years, or so on, in 10 to 25 years. So I guess that would be a bottle neck as well.

Oh well, it was a fun, geeky dream while it lasted. :smiley:

In various alternate-history scenerios, I’ve wondered just how far back in time blueprints and plans for improved tech would be useful. To take the example of WW2, the Grumman F8F Bearcat was arguably among the best piston-engined fighters ever designed, but it didn’t become available until the very end of the war. If you could take the completely specs back in time to 1938, and convince some aircraft manufacturer that this was a proven winning design, could they build it? Or was the state of the art of industrial fabrication up to the job? Could someone produce the Bearcat in 1930? 1920? At what point would you have to “invent” not just the design but the production facilities to build it, or the very materials to build it out of?

To use the earlier example of vehicles. While most, if not all, of the electronics integrated into today’s cars would have been inaccessable to Henry Ford, many of today’s standard systems would have been relatively easy. Power steering and brakes. Disc brakes. Automatic transmissions. Even air conditioning could have all been options on the Model T. (Maybe some were, early Fords were never my thing.) A mechanic could probably add another dozen upgrades to this list without effort.

Also, a company that was building AM transmitters and radios could be producing FM equipment within a year.

Go read The Flying Sorcerors by Larry Niven and David Gerrold. Just because someone knows how to build something doesn’t mean that s/he’ll be able to build it out of the available tools, with the available technology.

However, the biggest problem with your scenario is that you are creating paradoxes with every step, if you assume a singular timeline. If you assume multiple timelines, then nobody can ever really go home again. Time travelers will emerge in a parallel timeline. And who’s to say that the paradoxes won’t build up to a critical mass, and make the universe implode?

If this is an idea for a work of fiction, I wouldn’t read it because it’s boring. It’s basically the equivalent of giving someone a ring of infinite wishes, with no drawbacks.

It’s not an idea for a work of fiction. It’s just something that’s been floating in my head for a while. I only posted it to see if there were any flaws. Obviously there are.

And I’m not talking parallel universes. I’m talking a singular time-line. So what paradoxes would there be?

OK, let’s say that you take penicillin back to 1911, and you don’t even try to duplicate it. You just inject a lot of people who would otherwise die from bacterial infections. This would change the timeline. Those people will live longer than they had in the original timeline, they’ll have an effect on the world for good or bad, and most of them will have kids, or have more kids, who will similarly make a difference in the timeline. Even the smallest change in the past could have enormous effects on the present/future. It’s like compound interest, you invest a dollar today, and it’s worth much much more in the future. Introducing technology always changes culture. Even if you’re fairly young, surely you’ve seen how people relate to each other differently now that we do so many things online. We don’t write letters any more. We think nothing of calling people up on the spur of the moment. When I was growing up, long distance calls were for Very Important occasions, and we might go half a year or more without getting a single long distance call. Nowadays, because of improved technology, long distance calls are trivially cheap. My husband and I live in Texas, and our daughter lives in Virginia, but she and he talk just about every day on their cell phones for at least half an hour. Their cell phone plan allows unlimited calls within the same company. That’s a small change…but it means that they can keep in closer touch.

The classic paradox is called the Grandfather paradox. Suppose you go back in time and kill your grandfather (actual biological ancestor, not adoptive or presumed ancestor). What happens to YOU? Do you change, that is, did someone else impregnate your grandmother, or do you pop out of existence? And if you change, or pop out of existence, then your grandfather was never killed, so you are you again. Paradox!

Really, read a lot of science fiction dealing with time travel. Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” is a good short story, and so is his “By His Bootstraps”. Asimov has a novel called The End of Eternity which I consider to be a classic. Also, read some alternate histories/counterfactuals…what if the South had won the Civil War, for instance? What if Lincoln hadn’t been killed? What if Germany hadn’t lost WWII? Etc. Some of these “what ifs” could very easily have happened.

Untended consequences. That is an excellent point. I was only thinking that things could get better, with the exception maybe of improved weapons that could do a lot more damage. But other than that, I never thought of any actual or potential bad or harm coming from it.

And trust me, I am familiar with time travel science fiction. But I don’t believe that if time travel were possible, that it would automatically lead to paradoxes. It’s possible I suppose, but I wouldn’t automatically assume they would happen.

If I was ever going to write a time travel plot, I would have time be impossible to alter. What happened is what happened, and whatever paradox that is theoretically possible cannot happen because it did not happen.

It may make my time travel story less exciting, though. Then again, I think it’s the rule that was used in 12 Monkeys.

Anything that you alter in the past will have consequences in the present, unless you cannot alter the past, that is, you can only observe what happens in the past. Otherwise, you could shoot your own ancestor, or you could deliver a dose of penicillin to Robert Heinlein, or you could get HItler’s head shrunk somehow. Even if you are just an observer, you’re going to change the past if people even see you, and especially if you talk to them. Some peasant saw (or claimed he saw) an image of the Virgin Mary, and because of that, there’s a chapel that’s been built and a whole lot of people who do things in the name of this apparition.

Look, check out the Back to the Future movies. See what happens when one person gets hold of a pretty simple artifact (the sports almanac). I mean, assume that time travel is possible, and that it’s possible to leave artifacts in the past. The alterations in the future are completely believable, if someone used that book to win a lot of money. The difference didn’t just affect one person, it affected everyone around him, and affected his geographical area.

Or it turns out there’s a variation of being unable to alter the past, a “predestination paradox”- the past already includes everything you did/going to do.