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Friday, December 7, 2012

Cryogenic time travelers and explaining the present

If cryogenics ever becomes a fully feasible two-way process, such that you can be frozen and unfrozen and remain a viable organism with your brain intact, I think the world may become a very strange place. Think about some of the possibilities. What better way is there to see the future than to live in it?

Maybe this would open the door to a one-way variant of time travel where people put themselves on ice for 20 years and then thaw out and hang out for a while to see what's new. Then they hop back in the tube and chill out (sorry) for another decade or two and do the whole thing all over again.

Let's say you still only get to live the same approximate number of years, but only the ones spent while thawed actually "count". If you live to be 100 and somehow could afford it, you could stretch that life over a number of centuries with some careful planning. Sure, you'd miss seeing a whole bunch of things in person which would be old news by the time you got your next "update", but you'd also get to see things that nobody else from "your time" could have ever imagined.

If this already existed and if someone from 1992 came around for a visit next week, what would you show them? What sort of things would define the present time in a meaningful way, and particularly one they could understand?

I was inspired by an image which went around a few years ago. It was a screen shot of someone trying to install an app on their iPhone. It said something like "this file is larger than 50 MB and must be installed over Wifi". The attached comment said something like "imagine trying to explain this to someone from the past". It was a succinct example of how much new stuff can appear in a short amount of time for ordinary people.

To really explain that image successfully, you'd have to build up an image of what the time tourist's baseline knowledge is, and then build up the pieces from that to the present day. They might have managed to miss out on the very early days of mobile phones and thus would need that whole thing explained to them. Then there's the whole notion of what a smart phone is, and what an app is, and wireless connectivity's many flavors and all of this. It would take quite a bit of effort if they were technically inclined and genuinely interested in what made things tick.

Of course, upon thinking about that, I realized it might make a good interview question. The ideal candidate would be able to deconstruct a technical situation down to its base components and also explain them to someone with no possible knowledge of the environment. This would demonstrate deep technical knowledge plus the kind of softer skills which can be missing in those with that technical knowledge.

It's been said that you don't really understand something until you can teach it to someone else. Establishing that someone understands a given topic is a frequent goal for certain kinds of interviews. It seems like there are connections just waiting to be made here.

"If you can teach this ice-man from 1990 about split-horizon DNS, then you can have the job."

Okay, maybe that's a little extreme.