CSAIL unseals time capsule with major tech-history artifacts

Daniela Rus with Ed Fredkin and Anant Agarwal

This week MIT CSAIL unsealed a special time capsule from 1999 after a self-taught programmer Belgium solved a puzzle devised by MIT professor and famed cryptographer Ron Rivest.

Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the capsule was first created as part of a celebration commemorating 35 years of research at what was then MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science.

CSAIL director Daniela Rus and former lab directors Anant Agarwal and Ed Fredkin together unveiled the capsule and then went about uncovering the artifacts locked inside like a group of giddy schoolchildren opening Christmas presents.

Among the items in the capsule:

  1. The original 1992 proposal for the World Wide Web developed by now-MIT professor Tim Berners-Lee
  2. Microsoft's first-ever product, the Altair BASIC interpreter, which was donated by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who attended the 1999 ceremony and helped fund the Stata Center building that CSAIL calls home
  3. The 1979 user manual of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program, developed by MIT alums Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin. VisiCalc later spurred Microsoft to create their own version, which it called Excel.
  4. The 1978 paper that laid out the framework for RSA encryption algorithms, devised by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Len Adleman, which are what enable modern e-commerce
  5. A 1962 technical paper on MIT’s “Compatible Time-Sharing System”, one of the world’s first systems that allowed multiple people to use a computer at the same time

Rus also spoke about the fact that there are still quite a few time capsules all over MIT’s campus - some buried, others hidden and a few that are actually right in plain sight.

For example, 80 years MIT engineers placed a capsule under an 18-ton magnet in the cyclotron building. The capsule will be unearthed in the coming months as the Institute prepares to break ground on the new College of Computing building there.

Meanwhile, in 2015 a construction team working on the new MIT.nano building inadvertently uncovered a glass time capsule that was buried almost 60 years earlier, with the intention of not being opened up for 1000 years.