Mike Pescaro

MIT Time Capsule Puzzle Solved 15 Years Ahead of Schedule

A time capsule complete with computer artifacts was opened up at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Wednesday.

It was part of a celebration, after Bernard Fabrot, a self-taught programmer from Belgium, solved a cryptographic puzzle at MIT 15 years ahead of schedule.

It took him three years to do it, and he says he did it for "fun."

"At first, I did a silly little dance, and then I was so happy," Fabrot said upon completing the puzzle.

MIT thought it would take 35 years to solve.

It's no easy feat, involving squaring a number about 80 trillion times.

Now, the freelance software developer is a celebrity in the technology world.

"I didn't know it would come to this. I thought I'd just get an email, and now MIT and you guys, it's crazy," he said.

He says he used one computer to solve it.

The puzzle was designed to stop anyone trying to solve it more quickly using parallel computing.

"This was a time puzzle that was intended to take a certain amount of time to solve," said MIT graduate student Jon Gjengset. "Then when we heard the news that it was solved, that was an interesting observation that what we thought was a very hard puzzle got solved faster than expected."

The time capsule was packed in 1999 and included an artifact from Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Gates donated the original Altair BASIC that represented Microsoft's first-ever product.

Bob Frankston programmed the first electronic spreadsheet, which was also in the capsule.

"It's really a reminder in a sense how long ago it was, and how much people today take these things for granted," he said of having his spreadsheet in the capsule.

Another team, led by tech executive Simon Peffers completed a computing solution for the puzzle as well, slightly after Fabrot.

Fabrot and Peffers took very different approaches to the puzzle.

Peffers and his team essentially built specialized hardware to solve it, but Fabrot used technology found in consumer PCs.

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