Towards an Empirical Identification Strategy for Time Travelers

So one false lead has been exposed.  We know that time travelers aren’t using Facebook.  But we don’t really know this, because the researchers used just about the laziest strategy possible.  They searched Facebook for posts containing the words “Pope Francis” and “Comet ISON” before either of those were named.  I hope I don’t need to clarify the idiocy of this, but just in case: if there are time travelers, they don’t want to be found.  The absolute easiest way to get caught as a time traveler is to make the idiotic mistake of referring to a unique event before it happens.  It should be obvious why time travelers don’t want to get outed, but the main one is that the US government might take an unhealthy interest.

However, if there are time travelers, how could one go about spotting them?  The fact that they’ll likely be pretty averse to getting spotted should complicate things.  Any dead giveaways will be anathema.  However, if we assume that time travelers are trying to avoid distorting history and creating time paradoxes, that might create some characteristic patterns.  But there are a few things that might be worth looking at:

  • Alpha in large public markets:  Alpha is investment returns above and beyond the market benchmark. Basically no one earns alpha consistently.  A lot of those that do are those in relatively illiquid markets – for example, Warren Buffett buying up whole companies.  But you can’t do that if you want to avoid making waves in history.  So we’d need to look for people who are earning massive returns, but only in markets large enough that they won’t affect the actual behavior of the markets.
  • Unusual isolation: Again, if people want to avoid altering history they’re probably taking serious measures to avoid doing just that.  Isolated houses, dark glasses, general distance from social interaction.  Most likely not employed, and may be described as “independently wealthy”.
  • Interest in nature: If we assume that disturbing history is verboten, this is the main reason to time-travel.  Climate change is only getting more serious, and the climate when time travel is finally invented may be unrecognizable.  The future’s naturalists will be excited to come back to gather pristine samples.

So…healthy investment returns, unemployment, isolated lifestyle, and probably an “amateur” naturalist.   If I were out data-mining for time travelers, which I am not, that’s where I’d start looking.  Unless of course the assumption about changing the past is wrong, in which case all bets are off and Elon Musk is obviously an alien time-traveler.

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