What would it take to convince you that someone was from the future?



It’s so good!

Ever since the pilot first aired as a free download in the iTunes Store, I’ve been a big fan of the television programme Continuum. It is a sci-fi show about a police officer from the year 2077 sent 65 years into her past. By rights, any conspicuously Canadian time-travel TV show should be terrible, but this one turned out to be pretty good.

Continuum season 2 spoilers ahead

Until part-way through the second season, the main character, Kiera, hides the fact that she is from the future from her partner, Carlos. During an episode in the second season, for reasons pertaining to the plot of that episode, Kiera has to reveal to her partner that she’s from the future.

He doesn’t believe her, and says that her prescience regarding the murders in question suggests that she is in cahoots with the serial killer who is the villain of this episode. Of course, by the end of the episode, Kiera proves that she is not a serial killer, and that she is telling the truth, that she comes from 2077. Carlos sees Kiera’s future-handgun—a “transformable multifunctional weapon with a holographic sight,” (source: Internet Movie Firearms Database, which apparently exists) and all is well.

When this happened, it got me thinking, first in the context of Continuum. If I were Carlos, and my partner had intimate knowledge of a serial killer’s whereabouts, victims, modus operandi, etc. that she couldn’t explain, and the best alternate explanation to her complicity in the murders is that she is from the future, I’m not sure that even seeing a gun with a holographic sight would be enough to convince me. I mean, just because a technology looks advanced doesn’t mean that it’s beyond the capabilities of secret government or corporate engineers.

I guess I would assume that the future-gun was just something that had been developed by a secret government organisation or something. Even the special CPS suit that Kiera wears that has a multi-touch interface—it’s not so futuristic that if I saw someone wearing it, I’d immediately think, She’s from the future! I’d probably go with the simpler explanation: She’s one of the serial killers, and she happens to have a large budget for futuristic firearms.

In some ways, it reminds me of the British scientists who concluded that the duck-billed platypus was just a very convincing fraud, when a specimen was first taken from Australia to Great Britain.

What would it take?

Then I started thinking in general terms, outside the context of Continuum, what would it take to convince me that some other person is from the future?

I don’t think specific knowledge of the future would cut it for me in terms of proof that someone came from the future. As the Continuum episode proved, I would be more likely to believe that a person either has some sort of “insider information” or that she is somehow causing the event she has foreknowledge of. Even if it were something like the exact time and location of a lightning strike, I would probably be more likely to think, This person has developed some way to cause a massive electric arc that looks like lightning, than I would be to think, She’s from the future.

If it was a Sports Almanac that accurately predicted the outcome of every sporting event, like in Back to the Future, it would be harder to maintain my scepticism in the long run, but I would probably start looking for evidence that the alleged record from the future wasn’t being changed to reflect likely predicted outcomes of sporting events.

What about technology from the future?

It would have to be something pretty remarkable to make me think that it is more likely to be from the future than something produced by very well-funded scientists and engineers. The following are things that, although impressive, would not convince me that they are from the future:

  • Back to the Future Flying Delorean—this sort of thing is possible in 2013, although expensive
  • Back to the Future Hoverboard—there is a crowdfunding project for this
  • Holograms/multi-touch clothes, Continuum-style—after the smartwatches, smartshirts are certain to be next
  • Working invisibility device
  • Star Trek-style tricorder—people have made these already
  • Star Trek-style dermal regenerator—would be cool, but not “you’re from the future” cool
  • Star Trek-style replicator—3D printer anyone?

The following are things that probably would convince me that they are from the future:

  • A structure that is bigger on the inside than it is outside (e.g. a functioning Tardis)
  • A working teleporter—although I’d need to do a large number of tests myself to make sure that it was genuine and not just a sophisticated illusion
  • An actual trip through the time machine itself—although I would need a good amount of convincing even then

What about you? Where would you draw the line?


    title = {What would it take to convince you that someone was from the future?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-09-25,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/09/25/what-would-it-take-to-convince-you-that-someone-was-from-the-future/}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "What would it take to convince you that someone was from the future?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Sep 2013. Web. 24 Mar 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/09/25/what-would-it-take-to-convince-you-that-someone-was-from-the-future/>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Sep 25). What would it take to convince you that someone was from the future? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/09/25/what-would-it-take-to-convince-you-that-someone-was-from-the-future/

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