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"Low Tech Understanding High Tech" Topic


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206 hits since 7 Jun 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 4:16 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?

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 4:46 a.m. PST

I think if we gave a Paleolithic worker an impact
hammer he/she would have great difficulty figuring
out how it worked, much less how to make one,
especially without a source of compressed air.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 5:01 a.m. PST

I would follow the lead of Poul Anderson's High Crusade. The tech was designed so dummies could use it. It came down to learning to read the language and push the right button.
Understanding the tech came later, often with helpful help from the aliens themselves, or disgruntled subject races.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 5:05 a.m. PST

I don't subscribe to the notion that 'sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic'

If the technology doesn't seem like "magic" then it simply isn't sufficiently advanced enough.

Wells' Martians really didn't seem that much more advanced than the Edwardian humans they fought against. I mean shooting manned cannon shells to Earth? Not having an understanding of the potential lethality of terrestrial microorganisms? In Wells defense, I don't think he cared to present an accurate depiction of alien technology.

Forgive me, but I'm not familiar with your books. But if they follow in a similar vein as WotW then yes, "They will take things apart and try to figure out how they work." How successful depends on the time they have. As for your iPad scenario, I think we would eventually figure things out, but probably not in Tesla's or Edison's lifespan. The discovery of semiconductors and transistors would have occurred sooner, before Shockley's time. Basically, all advances that would eventually lead to the building of an iPad would have occurred sooner.

The mechanical aspects of the Martian walkers would have made sense to Edwardian engineers. The alloys and composites that make up their walking and flying craft would have perplexed them but research would have led to material engineering advances.

The Strugatsky's novel "Roadside Picnic" is a good example of an advanced technology that is so perplexing, that years of study still haven't elucidated what the artifacts are or do. Besides indiscriminately killing people in bizarre ways.
It does seem like magic.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 5:22 a.m. PST

It's not really how advanced it is, but how alien it is.

If I replace a key and lock with a bio-organic system that you stick you hand in, people could spend years and years and years examining it and never realize that the "lock" is not biologically recognizing the user (what a modern human might expect), but instead the user is tickling the lock's flerzbatz organ in a specific pattern to make it release the bolt when it "laughs" (which is actually closer to how a mechanical lock works than biometric identification).

That principle, then applied to "advanced" technology in the same way. If it is a further extension of currently recognized principles, it should be no problem. If it is based on something completely unknown, big problem. The sliding scale comes in when you add larger and larger bits of alien principles to known ones.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 5:33 a.m. PST

It's not really how advanced it is, but how alien it is.

Good point.

The Martians in Wells' book are technological extensions of the humans and not truly alien. Which was his point.

The absent aliens in Roadside Picnic are very advanced and totally alien (according to the artifacts they leave behind).

JSchutt07 Jun 2017 8:07 a.m. PST

The only thing that needs unraveling is how low tech can defeat or circumvent the secrets of high technology. A much more entertaining plot device. Happened all the time throughout history.

i.e. From an example given…to circumvent a bio-organic security system one might only need to procure a hand (detached from an acceptable organism) that would circumvent the lock's intent. The locks intent is to only admit the hand while ignoring aspects of the body.

An example from history would be multiple point attacks that can overwhelm sophisticated defenses…such as overwhelming numbers of D-Day landing craft….which were basically unarmed.

Personal logo Great War Ace Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 9:14 a.m. PST

This segues into "God". You should see that immediately. Aliens that possess such utterly alien "tech" would be more like gods, not magicians. The whole topic of "supernatural" or "paranormal", entirely unobserved by any scientific means we have, is one of "alien" traits to science. So "God", which is unobservable, gets no proof. "Artifacts" are everywhere, including our own selves. But none of them lead directly to observing "God": by design, evidently. Try for endless eons, and we will still fail to "grok" "God", because it is too alien to finite beings……….

VCarter Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 9:19 a.m. PST

Just look at how long it has taken us to figure out all the stuff we got at Roswell.

Saw it on the History channel. :)

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 10:24 a.m. PST

This segues into "God". You should see that immediately. Aliens that possess such utterly alien "tech" would be more like gods, not magicians. The whole topic of "supernatural" or "paranormal", entirely unobserved by any scientific means we have, is one of "alien" traits to science. So "God", which is unobservable, gets no proof. "Artifacts" are everywhere, including our own selves. But none of them lead directly to observing "God": by design, evidently. Try for endless eons, and we will still fail to "grok" "God", because it is too alien to finite beings……….

I dare Scott to incorporate any of the above into his next book wink

VCarter Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 11:17 a.m. PST

Or so ancient alien theorists surmise.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP07 Jun 2017 1:28 p.m. PST

Back on the old alt.alternative history usenet message board there was an extensive thread about the former Sears Tower suddenly being transplanted to Ancient Rome.

link

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 4:11 a.m. PST

Bowman,

Well, to some extent I already have :) The Martians control their machines through an interface which connects directly to their own nervous systems. So rather than 'driving' a machine by pushing buttons or pulling levers, the machines become an extension of their own bodies. This will greatly confuse the human engineers who will be expecting buttons and levers.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 4:56 a.m. PST

That sounds really good. But in that case you've answered your own question. It would be very difficult for humans to interface with the basic Martian controls.

Of course in the Hollywood/Roland Emmerich world, the humans would instantly reverse engineer the Martian equipment and become instantly proficient in running it by "thought control". We could have some comic relief scenes as the intrepid pilots clumsily bang about in the Martian walkers. All that is missing is a Mac portable computer. But then, the young, beautiful and brilliant great granddaughter of Ada Lovelace comes to the rescue with her up to date Analytical Engine and saves the day! See, I can write bad screenplays just as well as the pros.

Best of luck with the new book.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 5:04 a.m. PST

Patrick R, what a fascinating thread. Thanks for sharing. Where did all the intelligent people on usenet go? Watered down with the full blown internet?

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 7:22 a.m. PST

Bowman, I deliberately added the neural connection to make sure humans couldn't just jump into the cockpit of one of the tripods and my pulling levers and pushing buttons eventually get it to work :) But even allowing for that, the actual mechanisms must function along established scientific principles and those could eventually be figured out. The question would be how long it takes.

Personal logo Bowman Supporting Member of TMP08 Jun 2017 10:19 a.m. PST

But even allowing for that, the actual mechanisms must function along established scientific principles and those could eventually be figured out.

Maybe, and maybe not. All neurons evolved the same here on Earth. The same means for propagating an electrical charge, that is. It's not like an electrical charge going down a metal wire as you can well imagine. Its the complicated movement of chlorine and sodium ions across a semi permeable membrane. The movement of these ions across the membrane makes a net charge move down the nerve cell. Once this hits the end of the nerve, certain chemicals (neurotransmitters)are released, migrate to the next nerve cell and starts the process all over again. There is little chance that Martian neurophysiology would evolve similar enough to have that work………I think. wink

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