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"Low Tech Understanding High Tech" Topic


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595 hits since 7 Jun 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 4:13 a.m. PST

I'm continuing to add to my successful series of Great Martian War novels and a question that comes up is how successful would the humans be in unraveling the secrets of the Martian technology that they capture? I don't subscribe to the notion that 'sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic'. The humans will recognize the Martian devices as advanced technology, not magic. They will take things apart and try to figure out how they work.

But how successful will they be?

Will they be able to figure things out or will they not even possess the tools and basic knowledge to know where to begin? If we were to travel back in time and hand Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla an iPad, would they be able to figure out how it works? I suspect probably not. But I could be wrong.

What do you think?

Lion in the Stars07 Jun 2017 4:22 a.m. PST

I know a Victorian engineer attempting to reverse-engineer and disassemble a nuclear reactor would kill himself horribly in the process of taking out the control rods…

And that's barely 50 years beyond Victorian engineers!

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 4:26 a.m. PST

Scott
having read your first book and really enjoyed it I'm glad you are continuing the hard science aspects of the universe.

A lot depends upon how the basic structure of your universe works. If the current Standard Model of the universe holds true and the Martians have a physics at least as advanced as ours 19th century humans will be hard pressed to gain much directly from taking their technology apart. If the models of the universe postulated by the Victorians are correct and the Martians are just higher up on the learning curve humanity might well do better. What I mean by this is; if humans understand the basic principals behind the devices they have a better chance of reverse engineering them.

Even if the physics of the devices is beyond the ken of humanity just the knowledge that such technological feats are possible will drive human science and engineering forward. They might not be able to reverse engineer devices or exactly duplicate them. Instead they may be able to produce similar effects by different methods.

advocate07 Jun 2017 4:35 a.m. PST

Can the humans communicate with Martians? I'm assuming there is some kind of alien record-keeping. Writing maybe not so much, but diagrams might help, and as tsofian says, might inspire human endeavour without actually directly copying technology.

Grelber07 Jun 2017 4:43 a.m. PST

Some things, like an M-16 or an AK-47, would be understandable, though. I think technology would have to be divided into several groups, from readily understandable to totally incomprehensible.

It might be possible to find a weak point, and start unraveling things from there.

For example, learning a language, or several hundred, takes time and trouble. For the Martians, it would be useful so they could learn what we were up to. If you were to program your computers to interrogate captives, you only need a few people to understand human languages. However, if one of these computers was captured in the right mode, the humans might be able to interrogate it, speeding up the process of unraveling the secrets of Martian technology.

Grelber

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 4:45 a.m. PST

Lion
Great example! The amazing thing about the Victorians is that the death of the first several engineering trying to take the reactor apart would not stop an endless stream of investigators from taking the next step. Look at all the men that died trying to fly, or trying to reach the Poles. The Victorians had a completely different view of risk compared to our current one.

If a reactor suddenly fell into the Victorian period many would die trying to learn its secrets and if they melted it down it would be regional or world wide disaster (depending upon how big the reactor was). That being said what science would the Victorians harvest from their explorations of this device? They would discover radiation perhaps a bit earlier (The discovery of x‑rays by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895). They would learn much about metallurgy, pumps, electric motors, piping fabrication, They might even learn how fission works and through that much about the structure of atoms and the existence of isotopes (first suggested in 1913 by the radiochemist Frederick Soddy).

It might not even have to be an artificial reactor, what if the natural reactor in South Africa was still in an active period? link

Darn it Lion, this is a REALLY amazing line of discussion. I'm going to put a thread about this on my Yahoo! Group. Thanks!

And if anyone wants to come over to my Yahoo! Group (Hivequeen-subscribe@yahoogroups.com) please feel free!

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 4:50 a.m. PST

In terms of communications some sort of "Rosetta Stone" (like the interrogation computers Grelber mentioned) would almost be required. One issue is interfaces. The Victorians have only a limited concept of a computer interface. Even think of the scene in the Star Trek movie with the whales where Scottie is perplexed by the archaic mouse and keyboard interface, and the folks are speaking the same language and have the exact same set of sensory inputs. Two species with radically different physiologies may have radically different types of interface requirements.

Personal logo Fergal Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 4:55 a.m. PST

Look at the Native Americans and the European invaders. The native culture never reverse engineered any type of fire arm. I believe the same is true in places like Africa as well if you look at the British conquest of the Zulus. To actually produce something you need a certain amount of infrastructure to support the production.

Low tech folks are fully capable of using weaponry, but producing it is very different.

Also look to the US and USSR after WW2, they just took all of the brilliant minds from Germany and made them work for them. Perhaps an anti-martian-gov martian could help the Humans?

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 5:17 a.m. PST

Fergal
there was a huge amount of reverse engineering or counter engineering in both world wars. Think of the British raid to capture a German Radar unit. It wasn't only human resources captured in 1945 by the Allies, it was plans, equipment and finished systems that were carted back and examined.

Also the Japanese "reverse engineered" their entire culture from the time they became open to Western influences till the 1930s. Until they had developed their own technological base with enough research and industry to meet their needs they depended upon western science and engineering for much of their requirements, but they slowly developed domestic resources to meet those needs.

Personal logo Fergal Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 5:28 a.m. PST

the Japanese "reverse engineered" their entire culture

Not sure that's accurate…

With the WW2 example I was suggesting a type of book plot based in reality. The reverse engineering that happened in WW2 for the most part was between cultures of very similar tech levels, with the Germans being slightly more advanced.

To get to the OP question, it's closer to wars against Native Americans or Native Africans.

Legion 407 Jun 2017 6:00 a.m. PST

Just like in my favorite series, Stargate(all 3 of them). You could land on a planet with various levels of tech. With the SG Team being much higher tech than the locals usually. You saw the same thing with all the Star Treks, with the Prime Directive, etc.

In the '60s IIRC, the Rand Corps did a study for the US Gov't. About the Earth's populous reaction to the arrival of very high ETs/aliens. They called it something like "The Conquistidor Effect". Reflecting what happened when the much higher tech Spanish landed in the New World vs. the local low tech denizens. As we know it didn't turn out well for the indigenous humans … frown

That may/could happen to us "Earthlings" if the high tech aliens have similar intent as the Conquistors. If in fact aliens land on this 3d rock from the sun. huh?

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 6:42 a.m. PST

A lot depends on the context. What would Edison do with an iPad? Has he seen one in use (and his lab assistant stole one for him) or is it a relic with no clue as to even its use? Would taking it apart destroy it, essentially making further inquiry useless? Would he be able to get a second one?

What if it is networked tech. A Chromebook, for example, is pretty useless without an internet to connect to. If the thing is a relic you might get it to light up, but even if you figured out the mouse and keyboard, you may have no idea what you;re dealing with.

Even worse if your interface is for different biology. What of the screen assumes ultraviolet or infrared vision?

More mechanical things are easier. Pulleys, fulcrums, gears, pistons etc. can be understood by sheer physicality.

LostPict Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 7:07 a.m. PST

It would also be interesting to see the reverse, Hi-Tech unraveling Low-Tech. Imagine the challenge that a typical 2017 digitally oriented engineer would face trying to unravel the primarily analog controls of a 1950s era reactor, a 1940s era 16 inch gun ballistic fire control system, or a 1920s steam plant on a large ship like the AC-3 USS Jupiter. Let alone the rigging on a four-master, a late 19th century steam locomotive, or an early Edison Power Plant.

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 7:28 a.m. PST

What if the interface is via scent not em radiation? Also trying to deal with "lower" tech would be a bear. The film Space Cowboys dealt with that subject fairly well, and that was only the difference between 1970s tech and 2010s tech.

mrinku07 Jun 2017 2:35 p.m. PST

The key word in Clarke's Third Law is "Sufficiently" anyway. Gehm's corollary is "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."

In regards to high tech expertise trying to operate low tech equipment it's not quite the same thing, especially if the low tech equipment is a known thing. Your 2017 engineer at least would have heard of analog controls.

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 5:22 p.m. PST

mrinku
the engineer may have heard of analog controls, but how many modern garment companies could put together a drop loom, or a hundred of them? There is a lot of technologies from the past that are poorly understood and not well documented. I have a number of friends that are serious naval history researchers, published by Naval Institute and such folks and even they are having a really hard time uncovering the nuts and bolts of things like optically directed fire control.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 7:46 p.m. PST

Many good points. A few broad summaries.
1. Use is easier than production. Capture high-tech gear, and the main limit is expendable supplies.
2. Try to be civilized. Societies which have professional scientists, engineers and full-time people who make things have real advantages in making new previously unfamiliar things as opposed to hunter-gatherer and herdsman cultures.
3. Clever ideas are really straightforward. New concepts mot so much. If I gave Civil War rifled muzzle-loader to a 17th Century gunsmith, I think he could work out each innovation and why it was an improvement except the percussion cap. (If I geve him a flintlock with a self-priming touch hole, he'd be OK.) But a 1938 lab confronted with a 1965 transistor radio might be in for a long haul.
So captured equipment can be used, at least for a while, and will get easier to use and longer-lasting with experience. But making a heat ray might be anything from "why didn't we think of that?" to "I have no idea why it works or even what some of the components are made of." I'd say make a die roll for each invention, ranging from the factory can be in full production in three months, to it won't happen in the length of the campaign. So maybe you get walkers with naval guns because we can't figure out the heat ray, or maybe we get heat rays mounted on steam tanks because we can't master the walker.
And read "Hawk Among Sparrows" sometime.

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 4:53 a.m. PST

Using alien tech implies that the user interface is either compatible between species or that a work around can be found. If I were to invade a world with a different species I would ensure that my gear could not be used by my new subjects because the interface would be species specific

Legion 408 Jun 2017 5:33 a.m. PST

The key word in Clarke's Third Law is "Sufficiently" anyway. Gehm's corollary is "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."
I've always felt "demons" and aliens are basically different sides of the same coin, anyway …

Lion in the Stars08 Jun 2017 8:34 a.m. PST

If a reactor suddenly fell into the Victorian period many would die trying to learn its secrets and if they melted it down it would be regional or world wide disaster (depending upon how big the reactor was). That being said what science would the Victorians harvest from their explorations of this device? They would discover radiation perhaps a bit earlier (The discovery of x‑rays by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895). They would learn much about metallurgy, pumps, electric motors, piping fabrication, They might even learn how fission works and through that much about the structure of atoms and the existence of isotopes (first suggested in 1913 by the radiochemist Frederick Soddy).

Well, the Victorians understood steam plants really well, so everything outside the reactor would rapidly get figured out. The turbines might confuse people for a little bit.

If the reactor dropped in with the manuals, they'd probably avoid a meltdown, but would still kill a lot of people until they discovered radioactivity, either from taking the reactor apart or having people to turn valves.

The real challenge for them would be the metallurgy to get sufficient high-quality steel to handle the heat and pressure. Heck, just getting to be able to run Victorian steam plants at 600psi safely would be amazing for them, and if they could get up to 3200psi things would be crazy.

mrinku09 Jun 2017 10:35 p.m. PST

I haven't read Scott's books, but since this is All Quiet on the Martian Front and set around 1910, the human tech really isn't too shabby. Powered flight, internal combustion is displacing steam, HMS Dreadnaught has been launched and radio is well understood.

Scientifically, radiation research was WELL underway, and Einstein had published his special theory of relativity five years earlier in 1905. Quantum theory was being worked out. One can only imagine what Tesla, Einstein and the other major thinkers and inventors would have been able to come up with, with access to Martian artefacts from the 1890's onward.

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