Pew Research’s recent public opinion poll on technology and the future has been on my mind this week. We’ve already discussed the possibility of weather control and teleportation, but what about time travel? Only 9% of Americans polled say they want time travel technology (or, at least, that they’d prioritize it over other futuristic contraptions), which I’m initially inclined to blame on the fact that most of us didn’t grow up watching Doctor Who and don’t know how cool time travel technology can be.
As was the case with most of the other technologies discussed in the Pew study, time travel refers to something we’re already doing (albeit on an insignificant scale). Due to the effects of time dilation, astronauts and satellites already travel forward in time by tiny fractions of a second. Greenwich Royal Observatory’s Colin Stuart explains how here:
But even if we perfect and amplify this technology, it only allows time travel to the future, and where’s the fun in that? There’s little point in traveling to the future if you can’t come back to the present when you’re done. But traveling backward through time involves a lot more energy and, in Michio Kaku’s words, “punching a hole in the universe”:
A good number of scientists and inventors are trying, in various ways, to figure out how we can travel through time—but none, as far as we know, have been successful.. Our inability to conquer time travel defines our existence as mortal beings who can only move within brief, finite periods of time—in one direction, and at or near one speed. If we ever could travel in time to change the past, it would be to the human experience what printing our own fake money would be to a game of Monopoly. It would be a game-changer—so much of one that our odds of using the technology responsibly, or even competently, would be slim. Stephen Hawking once remarked that one of the best arguments against future use of time travel is the lack of evidence for time travelers among us. It does, at least, suggest that if future generations have visited us, they had the good sense to keep it to themselves.