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Delivering an Earth-Shattering Discovery? 620

Posted by Cliff
from the don't-panic dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "Just for fun... suppose you've made an Earth-shattering discovery that, when revealed, will cause massive social upheaval. Maybe you've discovered a new energy source or weapon, or figured out how to factor large primes in seconds, or learned how to time travel back in time and affect the present. Being a nice guy, you decide to warn the world now and give everybody a few years to prepare before revealing the discovery. How can you absolutely encrypt or otherwise protect your discovery, but guarantee its revealing at a certain future date even if you and everybody you know is long gone? For example, could you bounce an electromagnetic signal describing the discovery off a celestial body several light-years away?"
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Delivering an Earth-Shattering Discovery?

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  • by Francis (5885) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:19PM (#4045763) Homepage
    Hell, I can already do that.

    int factorLargePrime( int largePrime ) {
    return largePrime;
    }
  • Easy... (Score:4, Funny)

    by RinkSpringer (518787) <rink@DALIrink.nu minus painter> on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:19PM (#4045765) Homepage Journal
    Write it down using my handwriting, it'll take them centuries to decipher that...
  • Encode it with Rot13 and pray.
  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:20PM (#4045770)
    If you are in the professional vicinity of making such claims, you are probably already a staff researcher at a government, academic, or private lab. All of these have PR facilities to release discoveries.

    On the other hand, if you are the guy in his own backyard or garage who has just made a startling discovery about nanotechnology or cold fusion....well, thats not going to happen so don't worry too much about it.

    • by GigsVT (208848) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:27PM (#4045825) Journal
      And just how much equipment does it take to develop a new algorithm that could change the way the world works?

      I take issue with your statement. I mean a lot of research comes from constant refinement, with billions of dollars poured into it, but these days, everyone has access to thousands of sources of information in theousands of fields for the price of an ISP account.

      I'd argue that there is an effect that would make really groundbreaking discoveries more likely to come from an amateur. If something really is groundbreakingly simple to implement, then by it's nature it is something that can be discovered with little resources.

      Insert obligitory reference to Apple Computer, and I rest my case.
      • Think Medicine Man with Sean Connery. 2 people in a rainforest discover that one kind of ant has the power to reverse cancerous masses. That kind of thing is possible. We like to think that everything simple has already been done, but I suspect that we're wrong.
      • Are you talking about something Apple Computer did that was innovative?

        Their single board computer (the Apple 1) wasn't a whole lot different than several others that entered the market at about the same time.

        Apple's 'Great Success' came about because the Apple 2 was the exclusive platform for VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet, for it's first year on the market. Businessmen would walk into a computer store and say 'I want to buy a VisiCalc' not knowing, or caring, that the machine they were sold had an Apple logo on it.

        Big loopy yarns of myth have been floofed all around to obscure this simple reason for Apple Computer's early success.

        To wrap back to the discussion in progress and keep this from being off topic: there weren't any groundbreaking discoveries by amateurs at Apple when the company was starting. The BigBoard, the TRS-80 Model 1, and various other machines implement the same low-cost single-board design. It's important to make a distinction between 'groundbreaking discoveries' and 'marketing phenomena.'
      • Blockquoth the poster:

        If something really is groundbreakingly simple to implement, then by it's nature it is something that can be discovered with little resources.

        And since big research groups have more resources to throw at problems, they could in principle find more of these "little resource" breakthroughs. And since they have many people wokring on the field, they're more liekly to come across the low-hanging fruit. What happened to all our proponents of "many eyes makes bugs shallow"?


        It's not to say that a major effect can't be discovered by one guy working in his lab. But it's not the way to bet.

    • On the other hand, if you are the guy in his own backyard or garage who has just made a startling discovery about nanotechnology or cold fusion....well, thats not going to happen so don't worry too much about it.

      Even if you did nobody would believe you without hard proof. Skulking about pretending the knowledge is too dangerous for mankind to handle at that point is a surefire way to get yourself labelled a quack and a fake.


    • If you discover time travel for example why tell the world? They'd only use it to destroy themselves with.

      Theres no point in releasing earth shattering discoveries, the world isnt even ready for computers and nuclear technology.

      Everything we invent, they use to destroy the world.

      Why invent anything? Every invention brings us one step closer to self destruction.
  • Easy! (Score:4, Funny)

    by MediaBoy77 (469933) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:21PM (#4045775)
    Send it through an AOL mail gateway!
    • To be on the safe side, I would recommend writing it down using MS Powerpoint and emailing it as an attachment to yourself through a MS Exchange server.

      You can be assured that the document will vanish for the foreseeable future. Of course, there is a good change that it will never be found again...
    • Re:Easy! (Score:4, Funny)

      by archen (447353) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:49PM (#4045958)
      Hi,

      How are you?

      I give you this discovery to have your advice.

      Attachment: [discovery.exe]
  • by Tri0de (182282)
    if it was time travel then you could just travel forward and reveal it then. IMHO it would be a bad idea to wait more than a week or two, odds are somebody else is fairly close to coming up with the same thing.
  • Um... (Score:5, Funny)

    by awx (169546) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:21PM (#4045780)
    why? What have you done now? Why are you asking such an interesting question whilst chosing to remain anonymous?
  • Just make sure... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MattC413 (248620)
    ...that if the signal comes back, it doesn't come back too late to do any good (are humans still around, and if not, could your breakthrough have helped humanity survive?)

    ...that your 'breakthrough' isn't independantly discovered between when you send the message and when it bounces back.

    ...that whatever you bounce the signal from doesn't have intelligent life on it that may possibly suffer from the same social upheaval that you are protecting this society from.

    Any others? :)

    -Matt
  • by I Love this Company! (547598) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:24PM (#4045797)
    Milhouse: We gotta spread this stuff around. Let's put it on the internet!
    Bart: No! We have to reach people whose opinions actually matter! And I think I know how.
  • by Soft (266615) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:24PM (#4045805)
    ... they're still doing those encryption-breaking projects [distributed.net]!
  • Why do you wonder? Have you made an earth shattering discovery perhaps? Hm, well it's a good hypothetical question. I think that... You could store the information on a space probe and send it out to orbit the solar system someplace far away. Sure it's expensive but few people could go find it in the near future.
  • by Aceticon (140883) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:28PM (#4045833)
    Encode it in an EULA for some program or other.

    The probability of somebody really reading an EULA is so low that in all likelyhood the thing will be burried in the EULA for a couple of years before it's found.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:28PM (#4045834)
    For example, could you bounce an electromagnetic signal describing the discovery off a celestial body several light-years away?"

    that is a really stupid idea. do not, i repeat, do not give the information to an alien race first.

  • Too late... (Score:3, Funny)

    by InsaneCreator (209742) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:29PM (#4045837)
    The Segway has already been revealed!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Didn't this happen already with the discovery of cloning?

    The problem solved itself because once the ground-breaking discovery was made, the process of engineering it into a relevant technique that had any practical application took enough years for the discussion and social adjustment required to take place. Not that we're finished with that discussion, and not everyone likes it, but I think we've gotten over the 'future shock' on that one.

    --LP
  • Vaporware (Score:5, Insightful)

    by donutello (88309) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:29PM (#4045843) Homepage
    Being a nice guy, you decide to warn the world now and give everybody a few years to prepare before revealing the discovery.

    This sounds suspiciously similar to "It".

    Please, if you actually have something worthy of talking about just say what it is. People who come to me promising a revolution in the future but refuse to talk about what it actually is give me a bad Amway feeling.
    • Besides, despite what the Amway and "Ginger" people think, theres no social upheaval from either of these things...
    • Re:Vaporware (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jgman (136006)
      (start rant)

      I so hated the hype over "Ginger/It." "It's" going to change the world "they" said. I live in a Northern climate. And while yes, this looks like it could be a cool way to travel bout town or deliver materials in the summer, nobody ever acknowledges the 8 months of the year when you wouldn't be caught dead on a scooter. Heck, even in the summer, any rainy day puts you back in the car. So when "they" said it was going to change how we build our cities... how laughable!

      Our cities and commuting will change in the US when gas goes up to $5 a gallon. Even then, we will most likely get serious about fuel cells/alternative energy and still drive cars all over the place.

      (end rant)
    • by autocracy (192714)
      Amway comes across wrong because the people who market it (are part of it) are the same type of people who are Linux zealots, but without the technical background. Amway isn't earth-shattering, but it does work. The reason so many people fail is they aren't capable of talking with large numbers of people consecutively.

      Disclaimer: I am not enrolled in Amway, or anything like it. My reason is based on my goals in life, and not any problem with the organization.

  • If you wanted to "warn the world NOW" (emphasis added) without revealing the discovery until a few years later, would anyone take you seriously?

    For example:

    "I have discovered a source of energy that does not create light or heat, is infinitely renewable, and costs less per Joule than a stick of gum to produce. I can't tell you what it is for a few years, but I CAN tell you that it will throw everything into disarray (socially and economically)...you'd better start preparing."

    The reaction of the world at large could be summed up in a single word: "Crackpot".

    Nobody would take you seriously until you revealed the device (and thus "proved" your crackpot theory) -- then all hell would break loose as the energy mogul equivalent of the RIAA tried you keep people from sharing this cheap energy source with heavy political donations and an "energy bandit" media campaign.
  • Uhmm, somebody posted a paper on testing primality in polynomial time on the 6th... and the world didn't end.
  • by bmooney28 (537716) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:32PM (#4045858) Homepage
    "It" or "Ginger." Then I would invite a book publisher to get a sneak peak behind the scenes, documenting the release process in great detail... Included in this release process would be sharing my secret with important people such as the head of Apple computers... then, upon release... In order to insure that the public found out about it, I would then allow the book publisher to send out a teaser to major news media outlets letting them know some worldchanging invention is coming...

    on the other hand, perhaps that's a bad idea...

  • Simple... (Score:2, Funny)

    by tunabomber (259585)
    Just put all of your findings in a U.S. citizenship application, then send it to the INS for processing. With what's going on at the INS right now, it'll take YEARS before that application ever sees the light of day again.

  • by bons (119581) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:33PM (#4045863) Homepage Journal
    For example, if what you discovered was time travel, simply send the damn machine, or better yet, millions of the machine into the future 2 years from now.

    If you discover a new energy source, use that energy source to power a device that will reveal that energy source in X amount of time.

    (I won't touch discovering a weapon. A weapon is not a discovery, it's an implementation.)

    Meanwhile, the very act of warning the world, seriously increases the odds that someone else will duplicate your discovery long before your time is up. After all, the materials you used are all there, the knowledge is all there, what the heck makes you think you're so unique that you're the only person working on the problem or capable of coming up with an answer. Historicly, any discovery is usually a horse race, with multiple groups likely to arrive at the same answer in rapid succession.
    • Better yet, with a time machine, just go back two years into the past to warn the people that it will be invented two years from now. (Not that I think time travel backwards is even possible... forwards is certainly possible, though not practical, ie near-speed of light traveling for an extended period of time)
    • Meanwhile, the very act of warning the world, seriously increases the odds that someone else will duplicate your discovery long before your time is up.

      Very well, I have just recently discovered the secret to faster then light travel. I will reveal this secret on October 18th 2003 at 12:00 GMT.
    • by zCyl (14362) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @04:18PM (#4047237)
      For example, if what you discovered was time travel, simply send the damn machine, or better yet, millions of the machine into the future 2 years from now.

      Funny you shouild mention that. That's exactly what you're going to do in 5 years when you do invent time travel. Except then I will wait two years, take one of the machines back, steal your prototype, and bring it back to me last week, at which point I will announce that I have just invented it...
  • by Morty (32057)
    You made an implicit assumption that you should reveal this discovery. What about ethics? If your discovery truly will shatter society, should you reveal it and go down in history in infamy, or should you keep your mouth shut and avoid the history books altogether? As wonderful as it is to be famous (or infamous) for a revolutionary new idea, do you really want to be responsible for widespread havoc?

    Someone else will eventually have the same idea. Maybe even next week -- see Newton and Leibniz. Perhaps other discoverers, too, will have the good sense to keep their mouths shut. But when eventually one blabs, you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you were not the one who destroyed society.

    BTW: Asimov once wrote a story called The Dead Past that explores this theme.


    • Any discovery which you dont believe humanity can handle, dont reveal it. Keep it to yourself, or store it on a secure format and hide it in a save under the ground somewhere.

      I'm sure the people who discovered nuclear technology are sorry now, considering how it was used.

      Look every good technology gets in the hands of bad people, and its used for bad reasons, even computers.

      Why release technology thats too advanced for the worst of our species to handle? If bin laden could use it to destroy the world, you dont release it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have an earth-shattering discovery that I will reveal in ten seconds. Get ready.

    10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...

    It's a slow news day on Slashdot.
  • Use Moore's Law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by solarrhino (581267) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:38PM (#4045895) Homepage Journal
    Encryt it with enough bits, then throw the key away. As processors continue to get faster, the time required to brute-force decrypt will drop. You can use Moore's Law to estimate when such a decrypt is likely to occur - though if your secret is big enough, you'll probably guess low. People can be very clever if they put their minds to it.

    Of course, this is likely to be a moot point. In order to warn people, you've got be to able to convince them that your accomplishment is real. Unfortunately, history shows that once a desirable result is known to be possible, it doesn't take very long for other people to duplicate that result.

  • by akb (39826) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:38PM (#4045899)
    ... "can anyone locate an ask slashdot question lamer than this one?"

    I think the answer to this question is "no" but I eargerly await a counterexample.
  • You could submit it to slashdot. They would proceed to ignore the article in favor of questions about "discovering weapons", "factoring large primes", and other silliness. It would be likely that they would publish the article immediately after it was too late, such as discussing upcoming confrences after they start or the difference in LOTR DVDs after the first one had been released. (And a month after the differences had been announced).
  • Why bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:41PM (#4045916) Homepage Journal
    Why do you want to leave the world in suspense? How the heck are people going to "prepare" for something when you won't even tell them what it is. Your scenereo sounds something like this:

    You make a news annoucement saying "I've discovered a terrible secret, but I won't tell you what it is for 20 years!"
    Then 20 years later you finally announce your discovery to people who have forgotten about you.

    The reason entire world has forgotten about you is because you sound just like another crackpot trumpeting hidden vauge doom.

    Are people going to be "better prepared" in 20 years? Why? I'd say get the truth out in the open when you discover the problem and let society work it out. That or just never ever release your secret if you fear that humanity would not survive (hint: people are pretty resourceful, they're good at suriving).

    If you just don't want to be around when people discover your secret, put it in your safe deposit box and forget about it. When you die your heirs will go through the box and be faced with the same dilemma you have. Note: this is the cowards way out.
    • Re:Why bother? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bingo Foo (179380)
      I think the announcement would be more like "I've discovered how to factor large integers. I won't reveal the method for ten years so that banks, governments, and child pornographers may alter their storage and communication methods with less disruption."

      Of course, You'd have to give some sort of proof, maybe breaking a secure key, and then sending the result to the key owner (encrypted!).

    • You make a news annoucement saying "I've discovered a terrible secret, but I won't tell you what it is..." Then ... later you finally announce your discovery to people ... you sound just like another crackpot trumpeting hidden vauge doom.

      Is this what happened with Theo de Raadt?
  • by Fizzol (598030) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:42PM (#4045921)
    I seriously don't think there's much outside of a major war or the impending destruction of the planet that would really cause massive social upheaval. We lived through 9/11 and in reality, despite the destuction, the fear and the subsequent massive loss of privacy and civil rights, things continue to tick on much the same as always. Despite cries that everything has changed, in reality very little has changed. If we finally were visited by aliens, or if someone finally did catch bigfoot or the lochness monster it'd be news for a few days, and then we'd be back to our everyday concerns. Never underestimate the people's propensity for self-centeredness.
  • Before you "warn" everyone, you need to include in your warning an example of a working exploit. Otherwise it is dismissed as just a "theoretical" vulnerability.

    Example announcement:

    Look, I've just discovered how to build a <time machine / weapon that destroys the sun / plastic decder ring that cracks any code>. Click here for detailed plans on how to build one in your own garage.
  • I'm not sure about the bouncing off of some celestial body thing (?), but you can usually pay a lawyer to hang on to a letter or some such for a certain period of time, and then send it for you. If you did this with say 10 lawyers or so through out the country/globe, I think the chances of your discovery getting out would be pretty good, regardless of your future good health, etc.

    Although I guess its funner to say, encase your discovery in a meteor, and then send it in to a decaying orbit, to crash land on the White House lawn in a year or something, but I think the more regular and mundane ways are probably better. :-)
  • Ending SPAM (Score:2, Funny)

    by rawg (23000)

    I know what his secret is. He found a way to end SPAM. It involves Lasers, GPS, and Traceroute. He uses traceroute to find where the SPAM came from then uses a laser with GPS to destroy the whole city. He wants to warn people that if they live next to a SPAMmer then they will be in danger of being vaporized.

    Thats what this whole thing is about.
  • leak it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by selectspec (74651) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:56PM (#4045991)
    Leak your information to society's lowest common denominator. Go to middle-of-nowhere-town in Arizona and enlighten some toothless trailer park people about it. Spread the news around the various crankpot ogranizations out there. Nobody credible will believe them or you, but the idea will probably be serialized into bad sci-fi TV shows. Eventually, over half of the population will believe in the idea even though the reputible scientific comunity will refute it. At that point, you'll have given the government long enough for its secret organizations to have established the correct safety nets to handle the problem.
    • Leak your information to society's lowest common denominator

      Interesting idea, how would politicians take it?
  • by lingqi (577227) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @12:56PM (#4045992) Journal
    first of all -- nice question.

    One thing I want to say is that there are theory abound that important discoveries are always discoverable within a relatively short timeframe of eachother. IIRC the phenomenon is called the critical mass of knowledge or somesuch.

    It basically says that when the society (body of knowledge) reaches a certain point -- *IF* one body does not discover this thing, another surely will within a short time. This example is beautifully illustrated with Bell and his telephone -- the fact that two inventors, almost simultaneously thought up the idea.

    Some sociologists argue that this is true for even important discoveries -- i.e. if Eienstein really did become a clockmaker, somebody else would probabbly still thought up the theory of relativity anyway. now - admittantly, there is no way to prove this for obvious reasons. However there are compelling reasons to believe this is a phenomenon that does occur in our world (Bell's phone is not the only one. I can't come up with any other solid examples right now -- cuz its Sat morning -- but if you look through the history of science, this actually happens quite a bit).

    It is possible that it is due to the speed at which science is advancing today. science advance fast = new discovery are made in short time between eachother. and since often these things need to be found consecutively (tech-tree style), it almost guarantees the *necessity* of a certain technology's discovery at a certain time.

    A ancedotal evidence that would prove interesting, just for fun -- is that China had paper money (paper in general!) / printing / fireworks long before europe; somewhat refuting this theory but also may indicate that it does not work so well for societies that are completely different and far apart with no communication. but it is very possible that paper making, say, arrived in two ancient china-man/woman's head within a couple years of eachother.

    how does this apply to the ask-slashdot in question? well if it is not obvious by now -- it means that you might as well just release it now before Dr. Evil's scientists find out about it. (or, use it to take over the world yourself. whatever)
    • I've heard of multiple examples of this sort of thing. Who actually invented the Telephone, Television or the Computer? No matter what you believe someone will be able to present credible evidence that you are wrong.

      So, given that it looks like knowlege leads to discoveries, not people, how do we justify allowing people to say "I invented this, so you can't make use of my invention without paying me a huge amount of cash"?

      There are some very good examples of people who had an idea and refused to use it to get rich (the guy who came up with the idea for VisiCalc springs to mind).

      I doubt we could ever convince the law makers to alter copyright and patent laws. But maybe this could form a defence against DCMA type legislation - blame it on the memes?
    • What you've just posited was actually one of the important lessons from _Guns, Germs, and Steel_: simply the notion that the position of a society around knowledge or technology is far more important than the presence of lone inventors, no matter their genius. "Critical mass of knowledge" is important; likewise, a society that _cares_ about the invention is important, perhaps even more so. An important aspect about some modern cultures (American, Japanese) is the alacrity with which they adopt (and adapt to) new things. Cultures of this type actually tend to dominate the world. Cultures of the opposite type tend to be the also-rans of history, often trodden under heel of the first.

      C//
  • , but guarantee its revealing at a certain future date even if you and everybody you know is long gone? For example, could you bounce an electromagnetic signal describing the discovery off a celestial body several light-years away?

    What makes you think that revealing the information at a later date won't cause social choas? How would you know, you would be long dead. There's no guarentee that societly later on will be able to cope with the discovery.

    Also note that by releasing the information at a later date, you risk someone else making the same discovery and releasing their findings. If you can do it, you can be sure someone else can do it too, it's only a matter of time

    IMHO, you are a coward & too irresponsible to handle such information if you choose to release your discovery at a later date because you do not want be held responsible for the social upheval. At least while you are alive you have some control over the information, but waiting until your dead only means that you've passed the responsiblity to someone else.

  • NT Server (Score:3, Funny)

    by bildstorm (129924) <peter...buchy@@@shh...fi> on Saturday August 10, 2002 @01:07PM (#4046058) Homepage Journal

    If you password protect it on an NT 4.0 server running IIS and don't publish what the server is, well, give it a few months and someone will discover it.

    To extend the length of time, put it on a more obscure network. Maybe put it on IPv6 with no IPv4 address...

    At any rate, in a few days of discovery, script kiddies around the world will be working hard to show their talents on your machine. A few weeks later a PDF version will show up on alt.binaries.e-books.

  • Great Question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by philipkd (528838) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @01:10PM (#4046071) Homepage
    (Note: I ramble for a while, but only answer the question fully in the last paragraph) Believe it or not, I've been grinding my brain over this issue many times. For example, let's say you had an ability to put an invisible camera at any arbitrarily chosen point in space and watch what is happening. Not only that, but you could then choose to arbitrarily switch the contents of some space with the contents of another. You could instantly kill murderers and evil-doers world wide. But then, the question is, who should have control over this technology? Should you be the one to own it. Be the benevolent dictator who believes that you somehow will stick to some absolute pure moral ground that wouldn't corrupt your ways? I'm always tempted to think that way, but them I'm reminded by all these examples, mostly in literature, where some single person with ungodly power becomes corrupted automatically. Is this true? I mean, you could pull a Superman and have your little ice palace and help the world in secret. The only other option, then, is to just give it to the public and open up the technology. I think the best options then are only two: horde it completely to yourself or give it up to the world. Even if you horde it and you're being selfish, at least you're not letting it fall into the hands of groups or what not who could do crazy things with it. I think the inventor is one you have the least to worry about. The one with the brains to make the invention and to know exactly what it's about and what it's for, i feel is less likely to mis-use it. Now, if you want to release something with a 2-3 year time-delay, maybe release only a partial solution to the problem and base it on findings that you expect won't be discovered until 2-3 years from now. For example, a while back, you might have figured that sometime, within the next 10-15 years somebody would have figured out how to determine primality in p-time, and then when they did, your solution would be complete. I'm sure there are other theorems that were discovered today that have likely follow-up theorems that will be discovered in two years. I hope this is not another "IT" machine. Sheesh. If it is, just release the damn thing.
  • > For example, could you bounce an electromagnetic
    > signal describing the discovery off a celestial
    > body several light-years away?

    Based on the example presented, I think we can guess that the secret doesn't have anything to do with long distance signal transmissions!
  • by Bingo Foo (179380) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @01:11PM (#4046080)
    Ron Rivest (The "R" in RSA) wrote a paper [216.239.51.100] on time locked crypto, which sounds like what you want. But really, what are the chances you have an earth shattering discovery to reveal if you can't even use Google?
  • Let's say that you come up with the first true religion, an attitude so perfect towards the Powers that they grace your every gaze and gesture with convenient miracles. Well, first off, tell folks in your home town - none of them will believe you except for maybe your mom. Then go find some hooker to convert to your truth - she or he will probably be grateful enough for the attention to go along, but hardly in a position to convert the world. Okay, then go out and find about 12 guys for MLM. Generate some pyrotechnics by getting the Powers to help in some evictions of Lesser Powers from their human fan clubs. Throw some wine and bread parties. Perform stupid animal tricks with a jackass. Progress perhaps, but still not much danger of your word really getting out. Then take it to the point of self-righteous paranoia, accuse your closest aids of being ready to betray you, show the Powers that you really aren't cool enough to present the true religion after all, and see how they then justify all your paranoia by setting you up to be a human sacrifice in a very public way. The News at Six picks it up. Shazamm, your word gets out!
  • NASA already tried this, so there's no way we're going to believe that you've discovered a massive killer asteroid that's heading toward Earth. Everyone knows the really dangerous asteroids can't be seen until after they've passed/hit us.

  • The last line in the Movie "The Matrix"

  • by rneches (160120) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @01:20PM (#4046129) Homepage
    Build a gigantic secret base under an island somewhere. Equip with bad 70's decor, absurd super-weapons, henchmen, girls in swimsuits that inexplicably produce large caliber handguns when required, speed boats, hilicopters, and so forth. Put security cameras everywhere, and pay a midget or a guy with claws or something to monitor them. Obtain an absurd exotic pet, like a singing tapir or a farting oscilot. Train said pet to run errands about the island. Develop some mildly disturbing hobby, interest or passtime, such as bobbing for bat guano or hunting opera singers with a crossbow. The secret plans themselves, of course, should be encoded somehow in a fantastically ugly peice of fo-futurostic art. Where else?
  • I actually thought about this, for a few minutes, while reading about quantum computation.

    What if somebody discovers how to implement the Shor's quantum factoring algorithm, say, in their microwave oven, or with a cheap laser. Or not QC, just some teenager figures out how to factor numbers. Or there's a huge backdoor in Microsoft XYZ and 90% of the world's computers can be accessed at the push of a button (I'm talking even easier than you can hack windows now :-).

    Well, as the poster says, maybe he'd just announce his discovery (maybe through a trusted Bruce Schneier type person in the case of crypto), and give everybody time to plan.

    But would that be a good idea? Cracking crypto would be a pretty big deal. Like, foreign governments would assassinate you in two seconds to get that information. YOUR OWN government would probably not think twice about calling you a terrorist and shipping you to Cuba for "interrogation". And/or they'd discredit you and make you look like a fool to keep the information from coming out.

    You'd probably be hunted for this information. It would be a huge discovery that would allow whoever had to gain quite a bit of power.

    So my conclusion was, if you ever discover something like this, forget it. Destroy the machine, erase the notes. Let humanity find it on its own, go back to your day job.

    Maybe you could come up with some way to prove you thought of it first, once someone else thinks of it, so you can take credit, but I sure wouldn't want to announce it up front.

    In fact, it's possible something like this has already happened. Who knows?

  • Give it to the gov to debate and regulate. It will take them at least two years to finish.
  • Algorithm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by return 42 (459012)
    Well, leaving aside the issue of whether this is a good thing to do or not, here's one way to do it:

    algorithm = blowfish; hard to optimize in hardware, nothing better than brute force known
    b = number of key bits for which average brute-force time is "short" (12-168 hours), assuming a large distributed effort
    t = average brute-force time for b bits
    T = delay until message should be revealed
    N = T / t

    choose b, t, N so that 50 <= N <= 200
    smaller N means smaller final message
    larger N means less variation of delay

    inner_msg = cleartext

    for i = 1 to N
    key = random_key(b)
    outer_msg = encrypt("keyfound" . inner_msg, key)
    inner_msg = outer_msg
    publish final outer_msg, scheme, parameters, cracking program

    Even if most people don't take it seriously, a few will. Of course then it'll take much longer. For T over a few years, factor in Moore's law.
  • If you do it today, tomorrow nobody will believe you. If your idea really is that earth-shaking, three years from now you'll be labeled a rabble-rouser, ten years from now you'll be labeled a revolutionary, and a hundred years from now you'll be labeled a genius or a prophet. Maybe both.

  • Some discoveries are best kept to yourself, especially when you know the world cant handle it.

  • Oh, great (Score:4, Insightful)

    by robson (60067) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @01:41PM (#4046332)
    The "anonymous reader" went and broke the final seal on mighty Cthulhu's undersea prison, and is now stressing out over how to break the news to the world.

    On one hand, he could tell us now so we can slowly go insane over the course of the next 10 years, watching that unfathomable horror get out of bed, brush his teeth, read the paper, etc.

    On the other hand, he could just wait and let us find out the hard way as Cthulhu emerges in 10 years. We'll instantly go insane, frozen in terror as that ageless beast proceeds to devour us all.

    Surely you can see the bind he's in. Please, give him a little respect and take the topic seriously -- none of this "+1 Funny" business.
  • Hi, remember paper? Remember that it can be stored for very long periods of time without much degredation. And remember that there is something called a safe deposit box at banks? You lock up the documentation for your discovery, then when it is "time" to release it, open it up again. Problem solved. Worst case scenario, you are not around anymore, just bury the key into this wacky invention called a "time capsule".
  • Put it on an FTP server in the goatse.cx domain. No one's gonna look at that thing for years to come.
  • I hope this doesn't go over the length limit, because the truly interesting bits are at the end. :-)

    I'd like to clarify the question a bit. Who would we be protecting the data from? Presumably, it would be governments, criminal organizations, large corporations. Groups that have tremendous means at their disposal. In other words, you would need to be protecting your own person just as much as (if not more than) your secret.

    If you have the means to protect yourself for the requisite amount of time (let's call it the "quiet period"), then you'd be able to use those same means to protect your secret.

    So, let's assume that you're not entirely convinced of your ability to protect your own person, but you're willing to endure any amount of torture, or even death, to protect your data before the quiet period is up. Let's also assume that, nevertheless, you're filthy rich and can do anything that is possible with currently available technology.

    The question is one of balancing between guaranteeing the protection of the secret during the quiet period, and guaranteeing the disclosure of the secret afterwards. This is made difficult because of your intention, at the beginning of the quiet period, to announce to the world that you have this secret. Whatever security you might have had from obscurity would be utterly lost. So...

    Standard encryption is not much of a solution, because once you've announced the existence of your secret, you'd have to protect your encryption key just the same way you'd need to protect the secret itself. You're not gaining anything in terms of the guarantee of protection. On the other hand, if you keep the key in your head, it would die with you when you're tortured to death, and you'd lose your guarantee of disclosure.

    Bouncing your secret in a data signal off a distant celestial body is not bad, but I suspect that there would be too much of a possibility of signal loss, compromising the guarantee of disclosure. You could back it up by bouncing multiple signals off several celestial bodies, and this might be as good a solution as I can think of.

    My best proposal however, would be a variation on the celestial body proposal: pack the information into a capsule, and launch it into a trajectory that will bring it back to the earth after the quiet period is over. A back-up capsule with a different trajectory could better guarantee disclosure. I have no idea how much these projects would cost, but I suspect the capsule plan would cost less than the celestial body plan.

    Really, the best form of protection is probably one in which it's not in people's interests to try to breach it in the first place. Some contraption in which any tampering guarantees destruction of the data will probably work best. Possibly something combining quantum encryption with radioactive decay as a timer...? I'm not well-versed enough to go beyond idle speculation here.

    In this case, you'd have to play your political cards right, because somebody might decide that if they can't get their hands on it, then nobody should be allowed to.

    In the end, however, your biggest challenge might be to get everyone to take you seriously when you announce that you have the plans for a breakthrough technology that will change the world in five years.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 10, 2002 @02:15PM (#4046577)
    For example, could you bounce an electromagnetic signal describing the discovery off a celestial body several light-years away?

    Since this is just for fun, let's do some calculations. It's been a while for me, so forgive me if my math goes astray.

    Let's suppose there were a convenient target, MirrorWorld, roughly 1 light-year away. We send our message by pulsing a high-powered laser toward the spot where MirrorWorld will be one year from now.

    Ideally laser beams are tightly collimated, but even the best ones spread a bit. Let's suppose that the beam we use starts out about a millimeter wide, with a spread of 1 nanometer (10E-9 meters) for every meter of travel.

    Now a beam of light travels about 9.5E15 meters/year, so by the time our beam hits MirrorWorld, it will be 9.5E6 meters (plus one millimeter) wide. That's not so bad - only about 75% the width of the planet earth.

    Now, of course all our calculations were perfect, our execution flawless, and nothing unexpected happened to distort the curvature of space, so our beam will hit MirrorWorld dead center. Also, MirrorWorld is, a perfectly flat, perfectly reflecting surface, perfectly oriented to reflect all of the incident energy of our laser back to the position where the earth will be two years after we fired the beam without any loss and without increasing the rate of spread.

    Of course, the beam continues to spread at it's original rate. After 2 years total travel, the energy in the orignal pulses would be spread across a beam about 1.9E+7 meters across. That works out to about 1.1E15 square meters of surface area by the time the beam hits the lens/antenna that we placed just outside the atmosphere (to avoid losses). If the lens is a perfect collector of energy, 1 square meter in size, we will receive 8.8E-16 joules for every joule transmitted in the original pulses.

    Now, a table found here [syr.edu] suggests that a ton of Uranium-235, used as fuel, contains about 7.4E16 joules. So if you burned a ton of U-235 per pulse, and your reactor and laser were 100% efficent, you could received 65.12 joules per pulse per square meter of receiving lens/antenna.

    Maybe you don't need a ton of U-235 per pulse. Maybe your lens can be very large and your receiver very sensitive. Still, it's worth noting that, according to this site [pbs.org] the total combined production of U-235 by the US and USSR was only 1950 tons. That's 1950 bits of information or less, depending on your coding... so try not to be too wordy.

    The above discussion took the long way around, just for fun, but you can dismiss this idea more quickly and easily by simply asking "where in the sky do I look to see a heavenly body (outside of this solar system) reflecting the light from the Sun?". If the answer is "nowhere", then there probably isn't any way for you to reflect a signal either.

    I think I'll post this anonymously, in case I did something really stupid. Enjoy!

  • by gotan (60103) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @02:36PM (#4046673) Homepage
    I'm sory, but i fail to see a case where it would make sense to go to great lengths to keep information hidden until a specific date:

    My main point is, that it's hard to announce (and why delay the revelation unless you inform at least someone who can do something in the meantime?) a discovery without revealing the identity of the person (or even worse: group) that discovered it. If he/they visibily go through a lot of trouble to hide the information, then someone will consider the information worthy enough to reproduce it. He has many options:

    - ask/bribe/torture the person who discovered (whatever) to reproduce the information, or give out enough details that someone else can reproduce it.
    - find out what the line of work of that person was and invest heavily in that direction (virtually noone can make an important discovery today without at least working with someone or refer to other's works (oops all that queries in a scientific database may reveal a pattern))
    - find a way to get at the information anyway (maybe it resided on some harddisk that wasn't overwritten 10 times, maybe the method of keeping it secret is flawed)

    Also, does it make sense to reveal that information at a fixed date in the future (e.g. bouncing it of a celestial body)? How can you know now what revealing the information might do at that date, and why do you think mankind will then be "ready" for it? revealing information at a fixed date in the future makes only sense for astronomical events (an asteroid will hit earth at it's next pass near the sun (maybe 80 years from now) and you think it's better to spare mankind the upheaval for the next 70 years (but how can you know, maybe we could do something about the asteroid in 40 years from now if only we knew, maybe shooting at it with a strong laser, so gas emissions will alter the course ever so slightly).

    For other discoveries it makes even less sense to hide them for a fixed time, since it's impossible to guess, how fast (and whereto) society will evolve, when scientific discoveries will provide us with a good replacement for some technology or other, and, generally speaking, when the time is 'just right'. In that case it'd probably be better to involve some kind of human intervention/judgement to determine when to reveal the discovery.

    One way to do that would be to build a (not necessarily secret, depends on the discovery) "society" to guard the information. maybe politicians from different countries, people from international organisations or even corporations. Technically you could give each member (or different groups of members) part of the information which makes only sense when it's all (or a significant number of information pieces) are put together (there are codes that do that for you: e.g. give one part a oneway pad, the other the encrypted information). But that still leaves the problem, that the information might be discovered independantly, somehow cajoled out of the original discoverers, or just 'rediscovered' (it's easier to get funding for a project if you know you will discover something).
  • Basics set of action constants for Autocoding and general automation by end users [mindspring.com]

    And be sure to understand what preparation means Cornering the Autocoding market [slashdot.org]

    The best place to hide something is right out in the open.

  • Pick two different law firms guaranteed to be around in 5 years, which shouldn't be too hard. Have them each keep a copy of all pertinent papers in a 2 separate firesafes in 2 separate buildings, preferably in two separate states of low import. For example, North Dakota and Alaska. Then just pay the lawyers to hire a pr firm in 5 years and pimp the product.

    Your question implies two things: 1) a very short time span. "A few years," you say. 2) Civilization as we know it today will still be around in those 2 years. In other words, you don't seem to be worried about making sure the survivors of a nuclear war will be able to make use of your discovery. You just seem to want to make sure that someone will be around in you disappear off the face of the earth.

    Ah, I have it. You've discovered a cheap, non-polluting, renewable substitute for oil. It can both power vehicles with no emissions and produce biodegradable plastics. No wonder you're scared. You're lucky you aren't under arrest for being a terrorist.
  • Advanced AI (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnPM (163131) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @03:10PM (#4046850) Homepage
    Well I'm coming very late to this discussion but it's something I've thought about before. Many posters have pointed out that any breakthrough discovery is unlikely to be 10 or 20 years away from the rest of the scientific community, especially if you give a credible clue that the discovery exists to be made.

    However one exception to this rule occurs to me. If you were to somehow develop advanced Artificial Intelligence that was thousands of times more intelligent than a human you could use this to solve a huge number of technical and scientific problems. If you could control the AI completely and safely (big if) it would be possible to develop technologies that would supress discovery of the same technique anywhere else in the world. How? One way would be development of advanced self-replicant nanotechnology that would allow you to surveil the entire Earth and subtly divert research efforts getting too close to your crucial discovery. Computers would mysteriously fail here and there, experiments would fail, etc. No one could detect your actions because, by definition, they don't have the detection technology.

    Sounds crazy, I know. But all the rules go out the window if you assume the existance of a loyal machine that can think thousands or millions of times faster than we can. We'd all like to think it would be us to discover this first in our basements or something. In reality it's far more likely to be the NSA. Scary.
  • by tlambert (566799) on Saturday August 10, 2002 @03:24PM (#4046940)
    I have discovered a truly marvelous method, which the margin of this Slashdot posting is too narrow to contain.

    -- Terry

"Right now I feel that I've got my feet on the ground as far as my head is concerned." -- Baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky

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