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This is another attempt at helping my previously mentioned time traveler to distribute a significant amount of 2020 knowledge in 1990. This time we're assuming 2-3 loops have happened and he can carry back a little more technology to 1990.

The time traveler will have a small specially made device, think something like a Raspberry Pi + monitor and possibly ports to interface with 1990 tech. On it he has stored gigs worth of information & knowledge from the future which he wishes to share with 1990 to uplift their technology. He wishes to maintain his own anonymity while doing so.

He is looking at a simpler solution than previously mentioned and sticking his uplift-tech device, along with a per-printed (in the future) note, into a box and anonymously mailing it to a trustworthy influential individual (or group) that can be trusted to ensure distributing the information to the world.

He only has one of these devices at first to mail, thus he must be very careful to pick a recipient who is trustworthy and in a position to distribute the information. Luckily he can research historical figures in 2020 to try to find the perfect candidate to trust with such an important payload before he goes back.

He has two primary concerns when picking the recipient. First is his desire to ensure this information is distributed to everyone equally. He doesn't want a single country or organization to hog the information and utilize it to become a superpower, he wants all of the world to benefit equally from the knowledge.

Keep in mind this doesn't just mean he needs to trust the recipient to not steal the knowledge, our protagonist needs to trust the recipient has the means to prevent his government, or other groups in power, from strong arming the recipient into handing over the payload once they learn of it's existence. This means the recipient needs to either have significant amount of power and influence, or have a means to ensure the information is stealthy shared and replicated to numerous sources before making it's existence public knowledge.

The second concern closely influences the first, and that is the massive quantity of data to be distributed. The payload will have potentially many gigs worth of data, since he's trying to share 30 years of worlds knowledge. 1990 technical infrastructure will struggle both with having bandwidth to efficiently distribute so much information and the storage to store, and duplicate, it. This will make it difficult for the recipient of the payload to easily distribute, and duplicate, the information across the world in a timely manner. Until the recipient has ensured the data is replicated in numerous locations the payload itself becomes a tempting McGuffin that people, and governments, will want to take and control for the potential power it's information can provide.

Given these constraints who, if anyone, can be entrusted to ensure the information is properly disseminated across the world; and what instructions should the time traveler include with the payload to help the recipient to have the best chance of succeeding at this attempt?

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    $\begingroup$ They had DDS (aka DAT) cassettes in the 1990s, capable of storing between 1.3 and 20 GB, depending on the generation of DDS tapes (DDS-1 was introduced in 1989, DDS-4 in 1999.) They were small and fast, if a little expensive. Source: I actually used them in the 1990s. They also had multi-gigabyte hard disk drives. What I would be curious to know is what specific technical knowledge you expect the benevolent time traveller to share, which would greatly accelerate technological development? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 2 '20 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP, even if the time traveler only had Wikipedia as a source, there is tons of useful facts which could help the past avoid disasters like fukushima along with accurately predict earthquakes and tsunamis throughout the intervening 30 years. Although not the OP's goal, it is still useful and might slightly enhance scientific progress. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Nov 2 '20 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Wikipedia is probably useless, but he's got the right idea. What he actually wants is the patent library for every patent since 1990. That will include every medical, manufacturing, engineering, and chemical process developed in the last 30 years usually with a fairly detailed record of how to do it. You could include detailed diagrams of modern breakthrough batteries, microprocessers, 3D printer nozzels. You could send back Python, the CRAN library and a copy of Github. $\endgroup$ – SirTain Nov 2 '20 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ There's a few years of manufacturing development necessary to use any of it, but the lack of major breakthroughs is why it's useful. Try to take the information back to the 1500s, and they wouldn't even know where to start developing the technology. $\endgroup$ – SirTain Nov 2 '20 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ A short technical revamp: Raspberry Pi (and a big SD card), plus a (micro-)HDMI to VGA adapter and two PS/2 to USB adapters (not the usual other way round). They would find VGA monitors and PS/2 keyboards and mice in the 90s, you know. And even if not: "The PS/2 keyboard port is electrically and logically identical to the IBM AT keyboard port, differing only in the type of electrical connector used." $\endgroup$ – Oleg Lobachev Nov 2 '20 at 20:54
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DARPA

They're the guys responsible for making a lot of the cool tech we use today, such as graphical user interfaces, GPS systems, and even the Internet. They might not give all the information to the public, but they would "give away" more technology than most other possible people. In addition, as @SirTain so helpfully pointed out, you won't run the risk of being sent to prison for trying to pollute our precious bodily fluids.

However, if you really want all the technology to become available to the general public, don't want it to necessarily be commercialized, and don't mind insufferable arrogance,

GNU / The Free Software Foundation

The proprietors of such famous technologies as EMACS and Linux, they would go ballistic if you were to give them a cache of future technology. The only issue with them is that their knee-jerk reaction to everything is "slap a GPL on it and post it on an obscure listserv." As a result, while they would probably appreciate getting Linux thirty years early, the blueprints for an Intel i9 processor would be wasted on them.

Therefore, DARPA + GNU

Your best bet is to give the blueprints for the hardware to DARPA, and then let GNU have the rest. Better yet, give GNU copies of the hardware blueprints along with a note telling them that you gave the same stuff to DARPA. This is for three reasons:

  1. DARPA normally wouldn't necessarily give the technologies to the general public post haste; however, since GNU has put all the blueprints on an obscure listserv, they've now got to develop it before the Russians do.

  2. Their knowledge that DARPA also has the technology would give GNU something other than the Great Editor War (and Great OS War, and Great Language War, and ...) to focus on... namely (a) developing the software parts of the data dump and (b) making trouble for DARPA if it doesn't give the technology to the general public.

  3. Notice that I didn't say anything about giving DARPA the software. While they could still make their own firmware to run the new hardware, it would be much more efficient to just work with GNU.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a pretty good answer. Giving the information to DARPA first ensures that neither you nor your sponsor get labeled a commie traitor for making destabilizing technology available to everyone (read: the Soviets), and then giving it to GNU ensures that the information should eventually get out to everyone in an open-source format. $\endgroup$ – SirTain Nov 2 '20 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ DARPA directly violates the requirement not to have "single country or organization to hog the information", but this is maybe as good as it gets. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Nov 2 '20 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ I have had only limited experience with either group. But that limited experience tends to tell me these two groups are not going to be socially compatible. The D in DARPA is "defense." That is, the military. Their reflexive response will be silence. GNU's reflexive response is to slap a GPL on it and post it on an obscure listserv. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Nov 2 '20 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @puppetsock I know. The idea behind my answer is that by themselves neither GNU nor DARPA will do anything with the information, but if both have it they will hound each other into making it viable and available to the public. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Nov 3 '20 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ @SirTain: This is 1990; the disintegration of the USSR is well under way, and we’re certainly past the point where “commie traitor” was the knee-jerk reaction for something like this. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Nov 3 '20 at 10:13
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The People Who Came Up With It:

This will be the harder option for distribution, but the fairest and in the long term ,the most effective. For scientific papers, find out the addresses of the authors. For patents, the folks who patented it. For blueprints, the companies that generated them.

These will be the organizations that are already working on these problems. They will have the earlier versions of the tech. Rightfully, they should get the rights to any tech. organically, this will move the technology forward. If anyone wants to dispute the legality of all this going on, it is the most clearly legal way to do it. This also means the folks who have an interest in the fields involved get the leg-up they need to move their research forward. People will recognize the stuff they are working on.

Every piece of information involved should come with a mailing address. Call it old-fashioned, but printing all this stuff back then is possibly the most effective way to move it. Sending disks and emails will eventually be a good backup.

This does require a lot more work. It requires the MC establishing an office to distribute the material. It will be obvious to anyone involved that a time traveller is involved, but I doubt that wide-scale distribution of this data would be concealable without the help of a major government. It also means that the people who are most transparent with their research will gain the biggest boost. Since openness is critical to your MC, this seems to fit nicely with his ethos.

If the character wishes to screw over bad actors, he can doctor the information and send it to alternate sources with the names changed. No one trusts everyone. If you want to block a certain group from misusing information, either don't give that out, or give it to whomever you do trust. The sheer volume of the truth will allow the character to lie a little and get away with it.

Some data will be time-sensitive. The butterfly effect will be your enemy. If you want to prevent 9/11, your data might change the timeline of the event. What do you do about Ponzi schemes (like Bernie Madoff) and murders? Innocent people will die and be ruined if you don't act - or not, depending. Semi-random influenced events may or may not happen, but warnings that don't come true will make you a Cassandra - Establish a reputation for disasters that are inevitable (earthquakes? volcanic eruptions?) and maybe NASA will listen when you say there's a critical O-ring seal failure problem with the space shuttle.

  • PS There may be as much benefit in reporting failed efforts as successful ones. Billions of dollars are spent on research and development that never goes anywhere. Letting people know in advance that DOESN'T work and WHY will let them concentrate on what DOES.
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  • $\begingroup$ I think something similar was attributed to Edison, but whatever: The first n tries didn't fail, he learned a new way that doesn't work every time. Which is incredibly useful to know, and might show promising venues for further studies into things related or not. $\endgroup$ – Deduplicator Nov 3 '20 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ The PS is probably more important than the answer here. Technology was already advancing extremely quickly in the 90s, and an awful lot of what we have now is locked behind economies of scale and huge infrastructure projects that would take decades to complete no matter when they're started. Knowing 30 years of mistakes and disasters is far more valuable than getting slightly fancier smartphones slightly earlier. $\endgroup$ – Yurgen Nov 4 '20 at 12:07
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RMS

I know someone answered "GNU" already, but if you have to pick one particular person, there is probably nobody else on the planet as radical about the openness and freedom of information as Richard M. Stallman. He is an undisputed zealot on this topic.

ESR

Another major openness advocate is Eric S. Raymond, head of the Open Source Initiative. He's a bit more flaky than RMS, but still probably a good choice if you had to pick just one person.

Steve Wozniak

I agree that Bill Gates was quite influential in the 90's, but he was hardly altruistic or open. He was legendary for browbeating early PC users for stealing his software. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the happy hacker "The Woz". While Apple was as proprietary as anything, Woz grew up in the 60's and absorbed some of the hippie hacker ethos of his generation. He helped found the EFF and is active in philanthropy. As a single actor, and a key player at Apple, he is as qualified as anyone for this role.

Stewart Brand

As the author of the Whole Earth Catalog, which was like modern search engines before they were invented, Brand was committed to disseminating information. Yet another member of the hippie generation, he literally drove around the country selling tools to help hippies be self-sufficient. He is clearly the kind of idealist tree-hugger type that could be trusted to share and spread a cache of info rather than hoarding it for himself for personal gain.

EFF

Most of my nominees are single individuals, but while GNU would be a reasonable organizational choice, I think the Electronic Frontier Foundation would be a "purer" choice. They are focused not on building software, but on protecting informational freedom of all kinds. In particular, they have fought abusive patents perhaps more than any other non-profit in the world. They are the nuts and bolts operation of information freedom and now have a fairly wide reach and sphere and influence.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe add Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia to the list? $\endgroup$ – blues Nov 5 '20 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ It sounds like all of these people would be dedicated to spreading the information. However, I'm not sure any of them would be able to ensure it was properly shared when the goverment will likely find out about it and show up in force to take the Rasberry Pi and classifying it as a state secret the moment they start sharing. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Nov 12 '20 at 4:05
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Not to put us on too high a pedestal, but the perfect recipient of such a treasure would be a successful (or soon to be successful) science fiction author. Such a person would be comfortable with future technology, good at distributing information and have enough wealth and connections to get the job done.

The nice thing is that from your future vantage point, you can use the totality of an authors work as their resume for the job. If you are worried about governments and super corporations wanting to steal the information, I'd recommend Dean Koontz. In his books, the government is never the good guy. Worried about managing the massive scale of the information you have to share, choose David Brin. His writings involve Earth receiving a massive library of technical knowledge (from Aliens) and how it effects our culture and world. Need your author to have a strong technical foundation, consider Michael Crichton or William Gibson.

Better yet, send the device to one author but include a note recommending that they create a think tank of other great minds to help with the project. Provide the home addresses and private phone numbers of other science fiction authors whose writings demonstrate traits which will help the project. Throw in a few non-fiction authors, like George Gilder and Doug Hofstadter. Cherry pick the scientific celebrity list for people like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan. And of course, reserve a seat at the table for Stephen Hawking.

However, keep this in mind. By diverting these great minds from their writings, you will be depriving the world of some wonderful stories and un-sowing the seeds which those stories would otherwise plant in the minds of tomorrow's science leaders. Therefore, if your character is going to do this, they better have a really good reason why 1990 needs that information early. You are messing with the mind of the world. Be careful!

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    $\begingroup$ If you are diverting them from their writings, then simply give them all copies of the works they were going to write. Is a rose by any other name as sweet? It's their work, why not let them benefit if you are screwing up their reality? Maybe they will write something else instead that never existed. Imagine your favorite author releasing that sequel they never had the chance to finish... $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Nov 2 '20 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus, in that same vein of improving on artist's work. You could actually stop ryan reynolds first attempt at deadpool! ...wait, is deadpool meta-referencing this groundhog day future-knowledge cache? What is that, breaking the 5th wall? $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Nov 2 '20 at 23:07
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1st Preference; Someone who:

  • Believes in the freedom and release of information so strongly he's willing to go to jail for it.
  • Registered leaks.org in the 90s to start leaking information that was in the public interest.
  • In the 90s was hacking big companies to find their secrets.

Julian Assange is who I'd give a 2020 data dump to. I'm choosing someone who's willing to go to jail to ensure that data in the public interest gets released.

Assange's life consisted of "born into a cult" -> "teenager hacker" -> "contributing to open source software" -> "hosting wikileaks" -> "going to jail for releasing public interest information to the public." Early 90s will catch him at the end of his teenage hacker phase and just as he's starting to contribute to the world's global knowledge base. This is the perfect time.

He did a dry run of wikileaks in 90s by registering "leaks.org", however he never used it, he didn't start wikileaks until 2006. If you can get him something worth leaking, he may end up starting wikileaks on his first try instead.

There was some early hacking charges against him in 1991 - if you can get the information to him before he starts hacking, he won't need to hack to get leak worthy information.

Include some 2010's news stories about how he exposed torture in the middle east and the USA killing journalists to remind him why he's motivated to do this, and how his belief of free exposure of information made the world a better place.

2nd Preference; Someone who:

  • Believes in the freedom of information so strongly they're willing to go to jail to get the truth out.
  • Has used their skills to expose government oppression.
  • Has an easy way to multiply information and mass transmit it.

Kenneth Jarecke A war reporter already famous in 1991 for capturing a photo of a burnt Iraqi soldier, and had covered the Tiananmen Square massacre. Alternatively, Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the pentagon papers. Either of these two could be trusted with a large volume of public interest documents in the early 90s.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't agree, but it is a really innovative answer. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Nov 2 '20 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ I'm afraid I just don't believe either has the power to prevent strong arming governments from getting in the way. Sure they may be willing to face jail to get a goverment from getting access to the data, but once in jail they can't do much to distribute the data. I don't see a viable means where they can successfully ensure the data is widely shared if the goverment has other plans for the data. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Nov 12 '20 at 4:02
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Option 1: Bill Gates

Yeah, I'm a Bill Gates fanboy, what of it?

In 1990, Microsoft became the first personal computer software company to exceed 1 billion dollars in sales in a single year. Bill may not have had the international untouchability that he has these days, but he does have plenty of access to enough resources to make it impractical for even the US government to try to shut him down.

Presuming Bill Gates still grows into an eccentric billionaire trying to help the world by the time you start planning this expedition, you can talk to him in 2020 about what exact message you should send to get his help in 1990.

This plan has a bonus in that Bill Gates of our timeline (maybe not the one you'd be able to talk to him in) is likely introspective enough to tell you if he would actually have been a terrible choice in 1990 and could offer better suggestions.

Option 2: Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter was a former President of the United States which makes him politically inconvenient for any government to try to suppress. More importantly, he's a genuinely nice guy. If you sat down with him in 2020 and explained what you were trying to do and how you planned to bring technology and medical science back from the future for the good of all mankind, there's a pretty good chance he would help you craft your letter to himself in 1990.

Option 3: Tim Berners-Lee

Tim is credited with implementing the World Wide Web. I think that if anyone could sneak it into the very foundatiuons of the internet it's him.

Unforseen Concerns

I've been reading a bunch of your prompts this morning, and this is the first time I've thought about it. I think it goes here because you're talking about preventing governments from strong-arming people.

Please remember that in 1990, the Cold War was still a pretty big deal, the Soviet Union had not fallen. Further, the People's Republic of China didn't join the World Trade organization until 2001.

Hightened tensions with these nations could be exacerbated by some crazy time traveller bringing destabilizing technology back with them and trying to make it available to everyone.

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  • $\begingroup$ Did Microsoft sell to anywhere outside of America or Eurpoe in the 1990s? Still might be your best bet but remember "He doesn't want a single country or organization to hog the information and utilize it to become a superpower, he wants all of the world to benefit equally from the knowledge." $\endgroup$ – Daron Nov 2 '20 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron M$ was one of the first major software vendors to push for internationalization standards in software. They did a lot of work to localize their products for as many markets as they could sell into. $\endgroup$ – Lawnmower Man Nov 2 '20 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Even if you deliberately leave out news and events and only include science data, by the second loop intelligence agencies will have figured out how to hide intel among the data and thus send it to their past. Likely as soon as the CIA or whoever stumbles upon their own breadcrumbs in the data, a secret WWIII gets kicked off behind the scenes as suddenly all moles are burnt, all secrets of the opponents revealed, plans known, etc. This data would trivialize annexing or severaly damaging most major powers as no modern nation has ever had a 30 year nigh-omnicient lead on the other superpowers $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Nov 3 '20 at 2:17
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    $\begingroup$ Bill Gates would be the last person anyone should give access to future technology in the 90's. He was not the most honest guy, as we, the people from the 90's, all know. And that's to put it mildly. $\endgroup$ – osiris Nov 3 '20 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ +2 for Tim Berners-Lee (or CERN in general), -1 for Bill Gates --> Have a +1 Sir :) $\endgroup$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Nov 3 '20 at 14:20
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CDs are cheap (like a few cents each if you buy thousands), hold at least 600Mb and were widely used in the early 90s for distributing software. So spend $500 and buy like 2000 CDs. https://www.mediasupply.com/buvecds.html

The internet existed in the 1990s.

Make a peer to peer file sharing program on a CD (like LimeWire, KaZaa, BitTorrent, etc). Included with the client is a chunk of your repository the installer installs anywhere up to 500MB worth of repository data on the client machine, depending on the user's disk space. There are many versions of the CD each containing different parts of your file repository.

Mail a copy of the CD to thousands of university professors and engineers. Don't use your real return address so you remain anonymous. Include instructions telling them to share the CD with others and explaining what is on it.

Once several people install the CD you now have a distributed file sharing repository that is impossible to destroy because there are lots of redundant copies. Put copies of the file sharing client on popular FPT sites like Usenet alt.binaries.

If you really wanted to get aggressive about it, you could make the file sharing program into a virus instead. It would then automatically spread the information to other computers.

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I see the point of nominating organizations like FSF and EFF, but let's face it, those are 501(c)(3)s, with boards of directors and their own formal agendas, and they can't be counted on to decide that dealing with your info-bomb is suddenly their mission in lieu of whatever they were doing before.

Instead, I would send the package to one specific person, John Gilmore, and ask him personally to disseminate it for the good of humanity. Gilmore is a founding member of the EFF, so he aligns with their technological freedom goals (actually he's probably more of a hard-liner on those issues than the EFF itself). He's been a contributor to GNU since 1983 and originated some well-known GNU projects, so he's committed to free software. If he decided it was the right idea, he could probably enlist a lot of help from one or both of those organizations. But Gilmore is also a founding member of the Cypherpunks, which was, in the 90s, the organization most dedicated to the idea of using technological means to allow people to share information, anonymously if they choose, no matter who considered it illegal or obscene and tried to censor it. Gilmore coined the phrase "the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it". He's the person I would trust to have a backup plan to ensure your information's survival and dissemination even if, for some nefarious reason, "going through channels" failed.

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The Leibowitz Solution

What about entrusting copies to e.g. the Vatican?

Meets the criteria of having enough power to withstand pressure from foreign governments. Struggles on the technology side with replicating the information across the nascent internet. But as long as they can duplicate it locally they'd have enough envoys to a wide range of countries, with diplomatic credentials, that they could physically distribute it to trusted parties around the globe before making it public.

If you consider there's a risk of giving one religion too much power, or that some parts of the world would be underrepresented, share with some others to balance it out. Actually, I'm not clear on how the time travel works, but with your future benefit of hindsight is this something your time traveller can tinker with? So try e.g. the Vatican first, if that is disseminated widely enough, or leads to a power grab, go back again and give it to somebody else at the same time?

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    $\begingroup$ Lol, did the Vatican even have computers in the 90s? $\endgroup$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Nov 3 '20 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ What I actually want to say is... The Catholic Church really was cough not exactly a paragon for scientific development and spreading knowledge. I wouldn't trust them with my favourite cookie recipe. $\endgroup$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Nov 3 '20 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ @fgysinreinstateMonica While I agree that I wouldn't trust them with my favorite calzone recipe, the Catholic Church has historically actually been quite supportive of learning and scientific advancement... just so long as you don't challenge orthodoxy. That I know of, there's nothing really in modern technology that challenges orthodoxy (with the exception of AI, but you probably could make a good argument that "it's not truly intelligent"). $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Nov 3 '20 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks Fair enough. But the problem is that it has always been up to the Church to decide which particular bit of knowledge (or social progress, or political development) is a danger to their orthodoxy (or power). And given their track record... see the calzone recipe argument. $\endgroup$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Nov 4 '20 at 6:42
  • $\begingroup$ @fgysinreinstateMonica True. I agree that papal interdict is always a danger; I'm just saying that I don't think its likely. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Nov 4 '20 at 12:23

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