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Technology thought experiment

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FordGT90Concept
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Technology thought experiment

Post by FordGT90Concept » Fri Jul 22, 2016 6:57 pm

If there was a piece of technology you could take back in time to change the course of history, what would it be and why? What would likely be the positive and negative repercussions of it? Does this train of thought lead to a better, second idea?



My first thought was a modern combine harvester back 200 years. Then I realized there would be no diesel to run it. Fast forward 100 years and the diesel exists but combine harvesters need organized fields--straight lines of crop for the harvester to collect. I think that's doable as it would accelerate the pace of development of other field equipment.

Positives: Food likely wouldn't be a concern during the Great Depression because mechanization brings in a massive surplus. It may have also prevented the dust bowl because it optimizes the yields from ground already dedicated to crops. Food is vital to everyone so it's hard to guess what other repercussions it would have.

Negative: Mass farming leads to rapid soil depletion. Other agriculture technologies would have to mature quickly to avoid an eco-disaster.

Second: a modern tractor might be better because it is paced by implements. At the same time, it should still massively increase agriculture capabilities.
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by SirMarth01 » Fri Jul 22, 2016 8:02 pm

The obvious answer is to take back a smartphone or tablet loaded with Kiwix, along with an external battery with solar charger and this nifty doodad. Completely destroy history by bringing modern knowledge (and selfies!) to any period in time!
Last edited by SirMarth01 on Fri Jul 22, 2016 8:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by FordGT90Concept » Fri Jul 22, 2016 8:48 pm

Link to Kiwix is wrong but that's awesome. Problem is smartphones and tablets don't have much space and the internet is huge. Hmm...
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by SirMarth01 » Fri Jul 22, 2016 9:00 pm

Just need to store Wikipedia, hence Kiwix. All English Wikipedia articles without pictures is only 16GB. With pictures, that jumps up to 54 GB.
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by FordGT90Concept » Fri Jul 22, 2016 9:04 pm

Really? Wow. Why do they have so many begathons? I'd recommend adding TV Tropes to that library for completeness. :D
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by fanatictentacle » Thu Jul 28, 2016 11:52 am

In all of History, Humans always lusted for power. So I personally think that it wouldn't be a good idea to bring modern technology into the past.
Whatever technology you take with you, it will be exploited for power. If you don''t exploit it yourself (to become super rich and powerful or a super villain) someone else would take this technology from you to benefit from it.
Also this technology has its limits. The whole internet and smart*everything* would be dead without the proper infrastructure. Modern machines rely heavily on highly specialized processes to build and operate them (heavy machinery needs complex oils and fuels, the parts could never be built in the past, ...) Even modern weapon (if you have something terrible planned) would make life worse in the past. You would have to take the munitions with you, because you cant fabricate more of if. Radar and GPS guided weapons would not work.

Another option would be to become an engineer. Learn every process you need to built something from our time. Take your knowledge with you and jumpstart industrialization a couple 10 years earlier. More would not be possible... If you go back to colonial times, you would be jailed as a lunatic. Middle age / Dark age ... burned as witch. Earlier than that and humanity doesnt have the infrastructure you would need for industrial processes.

So all in all this would be very limited. Because I am a really bad person, I would prefer the idea of taking knowledge with you (as I already am an engineer XD ) to lets say 1910 ... and then become super rich and powerful *rofl*
The positive effect would be: Igniting the silicon revolution some years earlier, we would have quantum computers by 1980 ;)
The negative effect: Shifting the balance of power in unknown ways would lead to serious problems on the international stockmarket, maybe even wars

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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by FordGT90Concept » Thu Jul 28, 2016 12:58 pm

I think you underestimate the ingenuity of man. Remember, everything man-made around you today was created by someone in the past. Everything from pencils to mass produced food. If someone gets their hands on fascinating tech, they would attempt to deconstruct it and figure out how it works. Replicas would be built and sold. Yeah, the replicas wouldn't be as good as the original but it would still give a significant boost to technology in the period.

I also didn't mean staying in the past with the machine. Basically go back in time with the technology, show/explain how it works for a few hours, and then leave. It's up to the people to decide what to do with it. You can't profit from it other than changing the future you return to.
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by fanatictentacle » Fri Jul 29, 2016 12:22 pm

Huh, well in that case... my previous argument still stands: Most modern tech wasnt developed in a single recreatable moment. Almost everything was achieved through technical evolution. An interative process of constant development. Like if you would show a smartphone to a very skilled technician in 1950; he could take it apart, maybe even understand the basic principle. But it would be impossible to instant recreate the process needed for the cpu, the memory, hell even the resistors couldnt be built in that era. Okay with this knowledge the whole process could start earlier, but the whole toolchain needed for most tech is so complex, that you wouldnt get such a great advantage. Given the right year... stay at 1950 ... this could lead to something like having a 64bit cpu in 1990. But I dondt know if that would make such a great impact on history.

To stay on your idea: If I would take something back to past for a short moment. To change the future... I would think about showing the most horrific pictures of Hiroshima and Nagaski, of Chernobyl and Fukushima to the "genuises" at the los alamos project in 1943... maybe that would stop the "atomic revolution" ... Maybe show them the tech for solar panels, wind energy, etc. The positive effect could be: No atomic catastrophes, no problem with radiation. The negative effect would be: WWII could have lasted longer, if the japanese didnt surrender due to the a-bomb. But the overall result would likely be the same.

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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by FordGT90Concept » Fri Jul 29, 2016 9:27 pm

Good idea, but I'd counter that everyone knew exactly what they were aiming to do when they started their respective nuclear weapons program--starting with the Nazi regime which was absconded to the USA and Soviet Union. It was a Trump/Clinton situation: no one was building the bomb for themselves, they were all building it because an adversary was. The only way to stop that ball from rolling would be to prevent the Nazis from pursuing it. Without the Nazi interest in building a nuclear bomb, I think the nuclear bomb would be delayed but it would still eventually happen.

Can you make the case nuclear energy is worse for mankind than it benefits? Is it worse than the alternatives (especially coal which has been #1 until recently)? To expand upon what you started here, I think one piece of technology would have pivoted that balance if it became available at the right time: advanced breeder reactors and bed reactors. In the case of both, there would be no Chernobyl, Fukashima, nor Three Mile Island. In the case of the former, there would be hardly any nuclear waste today. At the same time, the former would likely lead to a nuclear weapons program should one not already exist.

Wind and solar energy was known about for centuries. The only thing that changed, really, is materials. Taking the aluminum Hall-Héroult electrolytic process back would have had profound effects on everything from automobiles to trains, to buildings, to aircraft. Large wind turbines can't be built without strong, light metals. Aluminum works nicely and, as long as you have energy to extract aluminum from bauxite ore, the stuff is readily available everywhere.


If the USA didn't drop the atomic bomb on Japan, there would only be a communist Korea today and a North/South Japan. Considering the impact South Korea and Japan have had on technology today, I think the world would be a quite different place.
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by fanatictentacle » Sat Jul 30, 2016 2:35 am

You americans really love your "what if when" scenarios dont you? ;)

But to correct it from our side... The german effort towards atomic energy (and ultimately bombs) was struggling right from the beginning. They chose the wrong path, had to few skilled people working on it, etc. Like with most mega-projects during WWII from the germans (V2, Train howitzer, gigantic bunkers, etc), they lacked manpower and in the end, they tried to develop too many different tech on too many frontiers. The war in europe was almost over, with a-bomb or without. Germany had lost on the east and west sides, the soviets were storming berlin. It seems unlikely, that one would have to intervene on this side to stop german atomic power.
On the other hand: If america didnt drop the bomb, this could lead to a different cold war scenario. But every thought on this topic would be highly speculative. There are still secrets on the soviet side, what exactly happened during that time, who had the real power and why which decision was made.
Sure, the interest in atomic energy wouldnt just vanish... scientists would always push boundaries. How knows what will happen to the effort on thermal fusion? Or the speculations on black holes from particle colliders? Maybe its safe... maybe someone on 50 or 100 years starts a similar discussion to this one :D

btw: you seem very confident about communist Korea and split japan. How so?

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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by FordGT90Concept » Sat Jul 30, 2016 3:01 am

It was too little, too late for the Nazis but the fact they were working on it is the reason why the Manhattan Project was started in 1942, more than two years before the fall of Germany. If Germany managed to create a nuclear bomb before anyone else and used it, like the USA did, WWII would have played out very differently.

Truman made the decision to use the bombs because it would end the war faster.

The first nuclear power plant was installing in a submarine. Commercial power plants were largely built using the same model.

Humanity's future is bleak without fusion power.


Japan was the final, prominent enemy. The Soviet Union was pushing south through the Korean peninsula while USA was pushing west from Pacific islands and North from the Philippines. By the time the bombs dropped on Japan, the Soviet Union had already occupied the northern part and the 38th parallel was agreed to (the south would be under the protection of the USA). The Soviet Union installed a communist government in the north by 1948 while the USA installed a democratic government in the south. Come 1950, war broke out between the two as the north attempted to unify itself with the south. It ended in a stalemate that exists to this day.

If the Soviet Union fully occupied Korea and began an occupation of Japan, the Soviet Union and USA would have split Japan with Korea being under the control of the Soviet Union. Truman felt the cost of civilian lives with the atom bomb would save lives that were ultimately lost in Korea on their civil war. Was Truman justified or right? Everyone has an opinion.
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by GreatBird » Sat Jul 30, 2016 9:10 pm

This is such an open ended concept. Take ANY modern tech back in time and it would seriously potentially disrupt tons of industries and fundamentally alter the course of human history. It's almost irrelevant to talk about which particular tech, though the invention of the atom bomb was utterly inevitable and is something that could never be avoided. We're really lucky that they haven't been used more. :-/

This makes me think about introducing "transparent aluminum" in the 80's, and the clever way they handled that in Star Trek IV. Scotty: "How do you know he didn't invent the bloody thing?" ;-)
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by FordGT90Concept » Sun Jul 31, 2016 4:52 am

I had to look up what that was...aluminum oxynitride (aluminum, oxygen, and nitrogen):
http://science.howstuffworks.com/transp ... armor3.htm
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by GreatBird » Sun Jul 31, 2016 1:31 pm

Ha! The hilarious thing is that it was complete fiction in the 80s when that movie was made. :-)
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Re: Technology thought experiment

Post by diss3cted » Tue Aug 02, 2016 1:40 am

Being as egoistic as I am, I guess I would do a Back To The Future 2 and bring a Sports Almanac with me.

Other then Biff, I would try to not cause too much attention with my wins. Just enough to have a comfortable life in peace and quiet :)

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