Are time travelers surfing the Web?

Researchers looked to tweak travelers visiting from the future by sifting through the Internet

If there are time travelers out there, they aren't talking about it on Twitter or Facebook.

At least according to research conducted by Michigan Technological University which this week published a paper "Searching the Internet for evidence of time travelers."

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"We had a whimsical little discussion about this," said Astrophysicist Robert Nemiroff, a professor at the university. The result was a fun-but-serious effort to tease out travelers visiting from the future by sifting through the Internet. Unfortunately, they have uncovered no DeLorean time machines, but that hasn't made the search less interesting, he said in a statement.

Nemiroff said you can't just put out a cattle call for time travelers and expect good results, so his team developed a search strategy based on what they call prescient knowledge. If they could find a mention of something or someone on the Internet before people should have known about it, that could indicate that whoever wrote it had traveled from the future.

To conduct their research, the researcher said they used three search implementations. Specifically in this study, the researchers conducted a series of searches for digital signatures that time travelers potentially left on the Internet. Specifically, we search for content that should not have been known at the time it was posted - or what the team called "prescient" information.

"The first search covered prescient content placed on the Internet, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific terms in tweets on Twitter. The second search examined prescient inquiries submitted to a search engine, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific search terms submitted to a popular astronomy web site. The third search involved a request for a direct Internet communication, either by email or tweet, pre-dating to the time of the inquiry."

In the end, no time travelers were discovered.

"Unfortunately, as of this writing, no prescient tweets or emails were received," the researchers stated. The authors however, are not convinced that their coming up with zero means zippo to time travel theory. "Although the negative results reported here may indicate that time travelers from the future are not among us and cannot communicate with us over the modern day Internet, they are by no means proof."

The authors also raised the question that time travelers may not want to be found, "and may be good at covering their tracks." Other reasons they came up with zero may have been that the time travelers did not leave the specific event tags that the authors searched for. "Finally, our searches were not comprehensive, so that even if time travelers left the exact event tags searched for here, we might have missed them due to human error, oversight, incompleteness of Internet catalogs and searches, or inaccurate content time tags."

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