With more than 5 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or correcting the rock and roll entry to give fair credit to its inventor, Marty McFly. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,157,764-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: John Titor
What it’s about: The future! At least as it existed in the year 2000 in the mind of an internet user calling him or herself John Titor. Titor appeared on a time travel forum in 2000 and then posted throughout 2001 on a bulletin board system (a weirdly dated place to post online, for 2001). He claimed to be a soldier from 2036 who was on a mission back to 1975 but had stopped in 2000 for personal reasons. One of those reasons included making some bold and unlikely predictions about 2001’s future. We’ll see how much this modern-day Amazing Criswell got right.
Strangest fact: Titor’s supposed mission to the past was a strange one, but perhaps its odd specificity was enough to make his story plausible to some. He claimed he was being sent back to 1975 to retrieve an IBM 5100, which was needed to debug legacy programs in 2036. (The story somewhat checks out, as UNIX systems can only record dates through the year 2038). Supposedly, Titor’s grandfather was involved in creating the 5100, which is why he was selected for the mission, though time travel seems like an elaborate solution to what’s essentially a repeat of the Y2K bug.
Biggest controversy: Unlike many others who have claimed knowledge of the future, Titor said that he had a working time machine. He described it as a “stationary mass, temporal displacement unit powered by two top-spin, dual positive singularities” and that the equipment was built into a 1967 Corvette, Back To The Future style. Titor claimed that the car traveled through time by creating a “standard off-set Tipler sinusoid,” referring to the work of Frank J. Tipler, a controversial physicist who has published theories on human reanimation and building a time machine. Tipler’s ideas are widely considered pseudoscience.
Thing we were happiest to learn: None of Titor’s gloom-and-doom prophecies came to pass. He predicted a second U.S. civil war, beginning with unrest surrounding the 2004 presidential election and followed by “a Waco type event every month that gets steadily worse” until erupting in large-scale violence by 2008. The war would split the country into five regional factions, rage until 2015, and then, for unspecified reasons, spill over into World War III. Like Criswell before him, he claimed the capital would move to the heartland (for Titor, Omaha, Nebraska), with Washington, D.C., being destroyed. (Although capital of what isn’t clear, with the country split five ways.) Titor also claimed the final Olympics would occur in 2004.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Titor also predicted some cool stuff that never came to pass. He claimed CERN would create miniature black holes in 2001, forming the basis for time travel. He also suggested that UFOs were in fact more advanced time machines from further into the future than he claimed to hail from. The black holes never came to pass, though the jury’s still out on UFOs.
Also noteworthy: In 2008—long after many of Titor’s predictions had failed to happen—Italian TV show Voyager looked into him. The show hired a private investigator, who found no evidence of a John Titor ever having existed. He did, however, come across the John Titor Foundation, a company set up in 2003 with a P.O. Box in Kissimmee, Florida. (Many of Titor’s stories involved Florida, and he claimed to live there in the future.) The Titor Foundation published a book that same year, John Titor: A Time Traveler’s Tale, now out of print. In 2009, the website Hoax Hunter found the CEO of the Titor Foundation, an entertainment lawyer named Larry Haber. His brother John was a computer scientist, and as Titor had very specific knowledge of the IBM 5100, it’s likely either John, or the two brothers together, created Titor and his predictions.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: One detail Titor did get right: The IBM 5100 is actually able to emulate and debug mainframe computers, so its value to future generations isn’t entirely implausible. Surely hipsters will be moving in on this form of retrocomputing, using seemingly obsolete computers, if they haven’t already.
Further down the wormhole: Titor claimed that, because of the collapse of the federal government, the U.S. dollar would be as worthless as the Confederate dollar (though at other times he claimed U.S. currency was still in use). Confederate money thrived during the early part of the Civil War but spiraled into inflation and was retired at war’s end. But one Confederate state actually has two defunct currencies. The Texas dollar existed for six of the 10 years in which the Lone Star State was an independent nation. We’ll visit the Republic Of Texas next week. Yeehaw!