The Timeviewer

Right, so I’ve attached a flux capacitor to an old Virtual Boy (if you’re gonna make a time viewer, why not do it with style?) just for shits and giggles. The result is that, if you pop in a past (doesn’t work for the future, sorry) date and map reference, you’ll be able to see exactly what happened there and then. Just see, not interfere in any way. If you’ve ever turned noclipping on in a First Person Shooter you’ll be familiar with the controls.

But I have a few ethical questions about whether anyone should use it, and once it’s out there people will be able to reverse engineer it. While an absolute gift for historians, it’s also a gift for voyeurs too as there’s no way to censor it, so privacy for people in the past becomes a thing of the past.

There’s also a bigger issue, in that a lot of people will not like what the viewer shows them about…certain events. I’ve been unable to, for instance, see any victims of crucifixion* in the Jerusalem area come back to life. And that’s just to start. Will the hassle be worth it? Should I smash it and burn the plans?

*Inspired by the novel When It Was Dark, a 1902 bestseller where the Resurrection is proved to be a hoax and people go apeshit - it turns out that the hoax is itself a hoax because Jews.

ETA; this was originally supposed to have a poll but I got “500 Internal error”, goddamn it. You’ll have to do without.

You know, there have been lots of science fiction stories devoted to exactly the sort of ethical dilemmas posed by using a Back-In-Time-O-Vision. Most notable is T.L. Sherred’s 1947 novelette E for Effort, which is in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame* He brings up exactly the points you raise.

Isaac Asimov tackled it, too, in The Dead Past. The Wikipedia page on it lists other similar stories:

In Robert Silverberg’s novel Up the Line, it is complained of that the Crucifiction has become too crowded with time-travelling tourists, so a lot of them opt to go to other important historical points.

That would only affect people who are alive right now and aware of this device. People in the past who had no idea of the device wouldn’t have their behavior affected. Of course, those still alive might be incredibly mortified now that their lives are a complete open book for anyone who wants to see it…

So I predict the following:

  • Either 1) a mad rush to develop anti-past viewing technology so that people still have some degree of privacy going forward, or 2) Everyone just accepts that there is no privacy AT ALL anymore.

  • Either the end, or great reduction of internet porn. When there is all recorded history’s sexual activity available for all to see, why do we need porn? On the other hand, porn sites “bookmarking” all of the interesting historical bits may become very popular.

  • The end of (most) crime. There is an extremely high probability of getting caught.

This last one is intriguing, though. Could you actually commit a crime such that even someone with infinite knowledge of events couldn’t prove that you did?



If there’s no minimum amount of time to look back, you could set the machine to 1 second ago and it essentially becomes a live spy cam anywhere in the world.

A central plot point in The Dead Past.

I recall someone writing an unofficial sequel to *The Dead Past, *where it turned out that society couldn’t handle the end of privacy & secrecy and ripped itself apart until it collapsed. Then society slowly rebuilt itself from the ruins, until it once again advanced to the point that time viewers could be re-invented - and then immediately tore itself to pieces again.

And that was the pattern of history until humanity went extinct; societies would rise, invent the viewer, then collapse, then rise until the viewer was invented, then collapse again in an endless cycle.

“The Present Eternal” by Barry Malzberg (collected in “Foundation’s Friends” - a collection of stories in honor of Asimov Foundation's Friends - Wikipedia)