How would you change history?

A question having nothing to do with Glowforge; I have an Imaginary Gadget that can take your mind with what you personally know and transport it to a 15 year old freeborn person (not royalty or slave) any time or place in the past, your only advantage is what you know, and you can only use technology that is common, or what you can personally do with it. (You couldn’t make a Damascus Sword unless you could personally do so now, you could not build or sail a ship if you could not do so now) Presume you look like everyone else and can speak the language.

#1 where and when.

#2 what would be your first program to have the ability to succeed in the culture.

#3 What would be your ultimate goal.


You need to further restrict it to being someone not ourselves. Otherwise I’m going to be the most popular 15 year old in my 10th grade French Class with 12 girls and one guy.


That is certainly an answer, you probably don’t need to go into details about ultimate goals, both if thought of more as what would you choose to a genie’s offer it would be something of a waste to aim so low. Obviously it different in that it is not so much about having as doing.

Just working within the rules. You said a 15 yr old. Pretty well limits focus beyond the obvious. Now if you had said a 20 year old I might come up with something more altruistic.


The point being I think that it would take a long time to accomplish much. Remember you are going in with your mind at your current age so hopefully not so easily over run by changes a normal 15yr old has no previous experience with.

But if I went back to my own 15 yr old self (like @rpegg stated) then I would run out and buy microsoft, apple, AOL (sell that one before the burst), Amazon etc stock…

Jumping out of my lifeline into historical past… would prefer not to be drafted into any upcoming wars… or face the black death or diseases that give a life expectancy of 35… Interesting to think about though…


Of course probability would change many things. Someone at IBM might become what Apple became instead, or AOL might have become the AT&T of the Internet and own everything, or another online business decide to become “All-you-can-eat” instead of AOL and put the others out of business.

If you have that personal knowledge you could become a combination of Apple and Microsoft and neither one become so much as a blip. But the question still is what would you do. The knowledge would be power, but would you just use it to become another fat cat, or make the world something different than today. And most importantly how.

I’ve often wondered what would I do if I woke up and it was early morning on 9/11 ( or the day before)… what exactly could you do? Course back to the buying stock and becoming rich, you could use that $$ altruistically .

The best answer to that question I have seen was to go back to classical Athens and invent movable type printing. The only reason we have Issac Newton as the inventor of calculus is that someone else paid for the work to be published.

As a very recent discovery Archimedes also invented calculus, and who knows how many others, but without the ability for mass printing there were few copies of anything written, and still fewer of anything technical.

Once books can be printed and reprinted the knowledge is very dispersed and a disaster like the burning of the Alexandria Library cannot destroy the knowledge as it did and humanity might be a thousand years more advanced than it is.


I just finished the final episode of El Ministerio del Tiempo, a Spanish time travel series on Netflix. It is quite good and raises a lot of these issues.

I’m kinda partial to going back to find a way to save some of the books from Ancient Greece or Rome or back to Mozart’s time and figure out a way to keep him alive a bit longer.

That or head to 1491 and try to warn the folks in the Americas what was coming their way.


This question reminds me of the book 1632 by Eric Flint. It’s a wonderful and interesting rewriting of history in which a modern coal mining town in West Virginia gets transplanted to a province of Germany in 1632 along with all of its inhabitants. They only have the books and tools that were in the town and have to see what they can do with it. Really cool thought experiment.

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I remember when I was a kid… back in the 1900 and 80’s… and I was talking with a friend about this “Microsoft” company. We were wondering what direction they’d go… how and IF they’d continue and grow as company. And I remember specifically discussing buying stock if we were old enough because we both agreed the company would probably do pretty well.

For anything much before the turn of the 20th century (and even then) the odds of suffering some kind of unfortunate event seem pretty high, even if you get to rely on the 15-year-old’s existing knowledge of social norms and physical survival skills…

Obviously if you could bide your time you would become comfortably well off, but as for affecting history that’s a dicey one. Would you have to be looking out for other people using the same gadget?

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The question gets to a central wrangle most time based novels have to deal with to the point of ridiculous with the Terminator series of many different timelines each trying to go back to change or ensure their particular result with all the results existing simultaneously, as if things were changed in the past they would be different now, so the result would be a different timeline.

There was a TV movie sixty some years ago that was quite good and made a bigger impression for my youth than it might have otherwise about a guy waking up in Hawaii on Dec. 6, 1942 and trying to warn folks of the Pearl Harbor attack, and mostly being taken as a lunatic.

I often think of what would happen if you just wrote an accurate history from Clinton to the present and tried to sell it as an imaginary novel in 1955 if you could even avoid the lunatic labor.

Hence I think most warnings would go unheeded.

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Book? more like library.

That’s why I stopped reading it, it got so rediculous that it resembled the flowchart from some complicated workflow and was too hard to figure out who was who. I personally preferred the Leo Frankowski Tim Etta sling engineer series about the polish engineer who ends up in Poland right before the mongol hordes and has to figure out how to defeat the mongols.

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