The Universe of Discourse

Fri, 05 Jan 2007

Messages from the future
I read a pretty dumb article today about passwords that your future self could use when communicating with you backwards in time, to authenticate his identity to you. The idea was that you should make up a password now and commit it to memory so that you can use it later in case you need to communicate backwards in time.

This is completely unnecessary. You can wait until you have evidence of messages from the future before you do this.

Here's what you should do. If someone contacts you, claiming to be your future self, have them send you a copy of some document—the Declaration of Independence, for example, or just a letter of introduction from themselves to you, but really it doesn't need to be more than about a hundred characters long—encrypted with a one-time pad. The message, being encrypted, will appear to be complete gibberish.

Then pull a coin out of your pocket and start flipping it. Use the coin flips as the one-time pad to decrypt the message; record the pad as you obtain it from the coin.

Don't do the decryption all at once. Use several coins, in several different places, over a period of several weeks.

Don't even use coins. Say to yourself one day, on a whim, "I think I'll decrypt the next bit of the message by looking out the window and counting red cars that go by. If an odd number of red cars go by in the next minute, I'll take that as a head, and if an even number of red cars go by, I'll take that as a tail." Go to the museum and use their Geiger counter for the next few bits. Use the stock market listings for a few of the bits, and the results of the World Series for a couple.

If the message is not actually from your future self, the coin flips and other random bits you generate will not decrypt it, and you will get complete gibberish.

But if the coin flips and other random bits miraculously turn out to decrypt the message perfectly, you can be quite sure that you are dealing with a person from the future, because nobody else could possibly have predicted the random bits.

Now you need to make sure the person from the future is really you. Make up a secret password. Encrypt the one-time pad with a conventional secret-key method, using your secret password as the key. Save the encrypted pad in several safe places, so that you can get it later when you need it, and commit the password to memory. Destroy the unencrypted version of the pad. (Or just memorize the pad. It's not as hard as you think.)

Later, when the time comes to send a message into the past, go get the pad from wherever you stashed it and decrypt it with the secret key you committed to memory. This gives you a complete record of the results of the coin flips and other events that the past-you used to decrypt your message. You can then prepare your encrypted message accordingly.

[Other articles in category /CS] permanent link