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Can Big Data Unearth Dr Who?

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The photo to the right has been doing the rounds online for a few years now and purports to show evidence of time travel, with the man in the sunglasses clearly visiting from the future, his cover seemingly not blown by the photo itself but by the rise of the web as a platform to discuss such things.

Nevertheless, it represents one of the more well known attempts to capture visitors from the future.  Stephen Hawking conducted an experiment designed to lure time travelers in our midst.  He hosted a party in 2012, to which time travelers were invited.  To stop people from the present stopping by, he only publicised the invitations after the party had taken place.

Alas, no time travelers appeared.  An approach being undertaken by two researchers from Michigan Technological University looks for evidence of time travel in the big data trail.  The subject of their search was the Comet ISON, which was first discovered on the 21st September 2012.  The researchers trawled Twitter and Google Trends to try and find mentions of the comet before that date.

They also conducted a similar experiment with the election of Pope Francis on the 13th March 2013.  Suffice to say a successful sighting is rather dependent upon the time traveler messing up and posting something about either event before it had happened, but the researchers believed that the approach is suitable for wider replication across other terms that are both unique enough but also culturally important enough to be relevant to future generations.

Were the intrepid researchers any more successful than Stephen Hawking in their hunt for Dr Who?  Sadly not, so the hunt for time travelers continues.

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