On November 2, 200, a man calling himself John Titor logged onto an obscure internet discussion board and posted this message:
Greetings. I am a time traveler from the year 2036. I am on my way home after getting an IBM 5100 computer system from the year 1975. “My ‘time’ machine is a stationary mass, temporal displacement unit manufactured by General Electric. The unit is powered by two top-spin dual-positive singularities that produce a standard off-set Tipler sinusoid.
“I will be happy to post pictures of the unit.
Naturally, people asked questions and scoffed. Titor answered them, some copiously, some cryptically. And he did indeed post pictures of his machine: mounted, like in Back to the Future, in a car (though it was a 1967 Chevrolet rather than a DeLorean).
Between November 2000 and March 2001, he answered many more questions. At one point he was even interviewed on Art Bell’s radio show. He described his time machine in detail, even posting pictures of its user manual. A small internet cult grew up around him. Then one day he was gone, leaving his acolytes to pick over the remains. But who was he really?
Titor’s actual target was the year 1975; apparently he was making a stopover in 2000 for “personal reasons”.
His mission was to acquire an IBM 5100 computer which had the ability to translate computer languages that IBM did not disclose publicly. According to him, due to the post-apocalyptic world he originated from, this computer was needed to debug ageing machines still used in 2036.
Sure enough, Bob Dubke, an engineer who helped design the 5100, confirmed that such a feature existed! The 5100 had the rare ability to emulate programs in older languages used by IBM mainframes, but the company was worried about how its competition might use it, and told nobody. So Titor was, at the very least, a very well-informed hoaxer – a computer scientist or enthusiast who used his knowledge well.
He claimed he was a member of a military unit tasked with retrieving items from the past which could help get society back on its feet. A civil war in the United states had triggered a limited nuclear exchange with Russia in 2015, which killed nearly three billion people. In the aftermath, life had returned to something more like what Republican survivalists imagine America should be.
There was not, as we know, a second American Civil War in 2004/5. Another of his prediction was that the Olympics in 2004 would be cancelled. They weren’t.
The stability of the Western world did not “collapse” in 2005 either, and Mad Cow Disease did not become rampant. And the president in 2005 did not “try desperately to be the next Lincoln”. The president in 2005 was George W. Bush.
With this poor level of accuracy in prediction, John Titor faded away, presumably climbing aboard his 1967 Chevrolet and travelling back to the future.
The get out clause for the inaccurate predictions: by travelling back in time and announcing his Time Traveler status, he had changed the course of history enough that a new timeline ensued. It’s a classic trope of time travel movies. If true, then Titor would have returned to a 2036 he did not recognize.
Here are a couple of videos that look at the man and his legend: