Time travel and crimes

Assume that you have the ability to travel either forward or back in time up to 100 years. (This is a hard limit.)

Now, it turns out that it is possible to make small changes in history. Many people live out their lives, never impacting the larger course of events to any degree that matters. But due to constraints that I do not pretend to understand, it is inherently impossible to make large changes–so don’t try to kill Hitler, because you’ll simply be wasting your time.

This means that you can, for example, travel back in time and rob a bank. While such an event may have a large impact on the people who actually experience it, it is extremely unlikely to have wide-spread ramifications. You can also travel forward in time and rob a bank, although you’ll be taking a gamble because you have no idea what security measures banks of the future may have.

So you can go either backwards or forwards and commit any crime you wish. (If you go back, and the crime would somehow alter history to any significant degree, something will happen to somehow prevent you from completing it.)

Would you go forward, or back? If you go forward and return successfully, obviously you can’t be arrested for a crime that you haven’t yet committed. On the other hand, security measures may be more effective in the future. If you go back, most statutes of limitations will have expired by the time you return.

I think it would be easier to get rich off the future. I don’t have to rob a bank. I could steal something minor like a cell phone (or a sports almanac :D) and find a way to make a huge profit off it when I return to my own time. Just being able to identify an predict a future investment opportunity would be a relatively effortless and risk-free way to make a profit.

The obvious ones are not crimes but taking advantage of knowledge of the future. Shorting stocks in 1929 or 2007, for instance. Or following Soros when he broke the Bank of England. Buy gold, travel back in time, convert gold to currency, short stocks / currency, profit, convert currency back to gold, travel forward in time to present day. What’s an extra billion or two on top of the extant disaster?

Going to the future, you won’t even know for sure if you are committing a crime, which is a fluid subset, dependent on the whim of legislators. For example, supposing this question had been asked in 1966, and the respondent said “I’d go 50 years in the future and sit around smoking pot in the People’s Republic of Boulder”. You’d step out of your time machine and discover that you are committing no crime, nor even, much to your disappointment, civil disobedience.

I can’t think of a serious crime I would want to commit, time machine or no. I happen to think crime is bad, therefore want no part in it.

Yeah, it’s not like the only thing stopping me from robbing banks in the present is fear of getting caught. Robbing banks is wrong. Even if I had no morals, it’s also dangerous, perhaps even more dangerous for a time traveler dealing with an unfamiliar situation.

If I were in dire poverty perhaps I’d be tempted to do something bad/dangerous to get money, but 1) I have a stable job and make a comfortable living and 2) I can easily think of ways to profit from time travel that would be a lot less bad/dangerous than robbing a bank.

I would go back 2 hours in the past and change the hypothetical to allow time travel to anytime in the past or future.

Working on that time machine cost me 15 years of my life. If only it had worked, I could go back and tell myself not to bother with it.

Remember what Asimov said: a niche in time saves Stein.

Now you say that, it makes me wonder if this question is related to the notion that atheists only act morally because they’re secretly afraid of God, or something like that.

I wouldn’t want to commit a crime, for ethical reasons. Would like to, say, find out who kidnapped and killed Adam Walsh and maybe prevent that. Not only for the sake of Adam and his family, but to hopefully dial down all the paranoid “stranger danger” terror that swung up as a result of that, that’s had kids actively fleeing from people trying to HELP them, and probably created a lot of mental trauma in general.

I suspect there wouldn’t be such a “helicopter parent” problem with attendant helpless infancy lasting into chronological adulthood if there hadn’t been events that led to the utter hysteria about how ANY stranger WILL harm a child if given a chance.

I’d go back to 1999 and buy Google, Microsoft, and Apple stocks. Or Facebook, maybe. That’d be enough to keep me very happy, and isn’t illegal.

On the other hand, if I was to commit an actual crime, stealing so blatantly wouldn’t be my plan. I’d scam some of the most egregious people, like Rupert Murdoch or Donald Trump, bamboozle them with some dotcom nonsense, then take the money and run before the crash.

1999 was a terrible time to buy MSFT, considering it was at its peak, and dropped a lot directly after that year. Google wasn’t publicly traded at the time, and Thefacebook was about five years away from being written in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room.

Buying AAPL in 1999 would, of course, be an excellent strategy.

I don’t really get the point of it - I personally don’t have a desire to commit a crime just to be doing a criminal thing. Completely ignoring and moral issues, if I wanted cash, instead of doing a risky bank robbery I can just do a bit of research, then make a killing at the lottery, sports betting, or trading stocks with next to no risk of dying in a shootout or high speed chase. If I wanted to kill someone, it would be someone who had wronged me today, so killing them in the past wouldn’t fill that, plus killing a past version of them would probably create a paradox. It seems like a rather bizarre hypothetical.

Also, I think that assuming you’re safe from prosecution is a bad bet. Even in the current legal system, a statute of limitations doesn’t apply if you commit a crime then flee the jurisdiction, and don’t generally start until you stop taking action related to the crime. The courts would have to change to deal with a world with time travel, but while you might be lucky and be an ‘early’ test case who manages to slip through a loophole, they would pretty quickly do something to handle ‘future crime’.


Yeah it’s not like I’d go engage in crime that involves harm or violence. Gaming the market, OTOH, I’d think about it. Or travel to partake of something before it was outlawed.

Since insider trading is a crime, I would use the non-publicly disclosed information to invest heavily with the likes of Enron and Madoff timing my pulling out shortly before they peaked (so they still had capital to keep things running and pay me out) and well before they collapsed.

If my plan is to commit a crime I’d go backward. I can’t plan a crime to happen in the future very well. I guess I could go into the future, return to work out my plans then travel forward again, but it’s much easier to just go backward to a known time and place. However, with that ability it’s much easier to enrich myself with time travel legally. In that case the simplest thing to do is to go to the not to distant future to check the stock market or look for major sports upsets to bet on.

I thought this was going to be about the opposite: going back in time and preventing crimes. So, maybe I wouldn’t prevent 9/11 or kill Hitler, but I’d have no problem stopping Grandma’s bank from being robbed so she doesn’t have to go bankrupt in the 30s, etc. Or just generally being the Batman of the past with my modern technology and uncanny ability to know exactly when and where crimes will take place.

Well, okay. I’d do my research before travelling.

[nitpick]Even in Colorado, smoking pot in public is still illegal.[/nitpick]