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Rebooting The World?

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the interesting-thought-experiments dept.

Technology 501

Kristopher Johnson asks: "As things are now, it is pretty easy to develop software for new hardware platforms. Just write a cross-compiler on an existing platform, and then copy the binary to the new system. New hardware is designed and manufactured using software running on existing hardware. So what if we had to start over from scratch? Say some cataclysm occurs that fries all microprocessors and scrambles the contents of all existing ROMs, disks, CD-ROMs, and any other machine-readable media in all computers. And the same fate falls on all high-tech manufacturing equipment. What would be the fastest way to 're-computerize' the world? What would we do differently if we didn't have fifty years worth of legacy systems to continue maintaining?" It's an interesting thought, and one that I tend to not spend much time worrying about. For those of you who have, however, how do you think humanity would recover from a catastrophic loss of all electronic technology? My personal experience is that if something like this were to occur, we would not recover very quickly, but I'm not as optimistic as I was a few years ago. Maybe some of you can paint a better picture.

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nothing would change (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#395287)

As people rushed to capture market share, they'd create sloppy designs, of which, one would become a standard, and that would act as the same legacy dead-weight we have now.

oh my god (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#395292)

This article scares the hell out of me. I mean, where would we get all of our free porn?

help wanted: Scribe (1)

bobalu (1921) | more than 13 years ago | (#395303)

Help Wanted: Scribe

To start immediately, the successful candidate will be able to write legibly and have extensive experience in making paper and ink.

Please apply in person.

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (1)

BELG (4429) | more than 13 years ago | (#395307)

Youre assuming that the typical computer geek has no other skills. Wrong, I say! Geeks in general tend to be excellent theorists (something that has always been important, and always will be important). Many geeks also love building things and solving problems.

Id say that geeks would certainly not be the first ones to perish (except perhaps the ones with -really- bad physique).

The "typical" computer geek does not exist! The "geeks" are in fact a range of different types of people that share one common passion. Computers. Some collect, some build, some simply slack off and play games and others document and "clean up".

Irrelevant question (1)

HEbGb (6544) | more than 13 years ago | (#395311)

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

These questions really have no real relevance, as the event will not occur. "What if all of the ink on all the books in the world magically disappeared? What then?"

Time to work on getting better stories, guys.

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (1)

mtnbkr (8981) | more than 13 years ago | (#395316)

Good response. However, not all geeks are helpless without their computers. Some of us know how to hunt, fish, grow vegetables and treat injuries.

You can get pretty damn geeky about those subjects as well :)


Stick it in the microwave for 3 seconds. (1)

kevlar (13509) | more than 13 years ago | (#395327)

... and watch the sparks fly.

Its a pretty neat trick.

Wonder where you got that "original" idea... (1)

Arkus (15103) | more than 13 years ago | (#395329)

Perhaps it's one of the major themes to the TV series Dark Angel.

Recreating the world in two easy steps (1)

Rocketboy (32971) | more than 13 years ago | (#395349)

1. Clone Seymore Cray and have him write an OS and key it in using front-panel switches (in octal -- no assembler needed.)
2. Have RMS write the rest.

Voila! Unix reborn, everything is GPL'd, and it'd be years before MS could recreate Windows.


Post-transistor... (1)

Cloud 9 (42467) | more than 13 years ago | (#395358)

Jon Katz' head would explode as he suddenly realizes he's not capable of doing ANYTHING else.

Trinary systems are better ! (1)

Betcour (50623) | more than 13 years ago | (#395364)

I just hope if such a thing happen that people will build CPU/software using trinary logic rather than binary (-1, 0 and 1 state). With the same hardware a trinary system would be way more powerfull than a binary system :)

Making Machine tools (1)

J.Random Hacker (51634) | more than 13 years ago | (#395367)

Difficult is a relative thing. Maybe you mean time consuming, but once you are over that hump....

My father has had to rebuild machine tools several times. He could have paid large sums of money for the parts that needed to be replaced, but the machines in question are 70 years old or so, and the parts are not stocked -- thus special order. Therefore, he made them using the broken tools (!). Actually, he made a series of each part, installed it into the machine under repair, them made a better part, reducing the tolerances and slop each time. At the end of the process the rebuilt machine performed better than the original design.

Clearly the machines were not totally broken, and that helped a lot. But for your example of machine threads, I can imagine making wood threads by hand, and using those to mill out (large ) iron or steel threads, gears, etc. and using those to mill still better parts, ad infinitem. Just like we did to start the process in the industrial revolution. The main difference is that we know what works and where we are going. We could probably skip some steps along the way too.

I imagine that the process with computers would be similar, but we might ditch some of the sillier instruction sets, but who knows?

And therefore not worth thinking about? (1)

Bedemus (63252) | more than 13 years ago | (#395376)

I'm a big fan of the show, but I'm sure no disrespect was meant by the guy's posting the question without a reference to where he got it from... In fact, this is a very common discussion in philosophical circles, and it wasn't like the people that brought us Dark Angel were the first to come up with the thought.

Why do I get the feeling I'm just feeding a troll...
NeoMail - Webmail that doesn't suck... as much.

Re:Just to be picky... (1)

tacpprm (67226) | more than 13 years ago | (#395379)

Someone has never tried exposing his AOL CD's to high intesity microwaves ;-)


It's a "THOUGH EXPERIMENT" folks... (1)

chong (67651) | more than 13 years ago | (#395381)

I can't believe how many people are talking about how geeks wouldn't survive an infrastructure meltdown or battling about "real" programming.<br><br>
The point of the query, I believe, is what might we do differently if we could do it all over.<br><br>
Instead of the apocalypse, then, just assume that all current technology is licensed away from us, forcing us to recreate the electronic environment we're familiar with...(now that's scary...)

reminds me of aftery2k comix (1)

funkboy (71672) | more than 13 years ago | (#395387)

for those of you that don't keep up: aftery2k [] .

Nitrozac is a babe.

Then I will dominate with my Data General Nova!! (1)

JBMcB (73720) | more than 13 years ago | (#395390)

We will revert back to computers that you can fix with a handful of transistors, resistors, and wire. Old computers are MUCH more robust than their modern counterparts, with discrete components and (mostly) off the shelf construction. Usually the only integrated component is the processor itself. Alternativly, I've got this '70s book that describes how to make a "Working Digital Computer" using paperclips, lamps, and cardboard toilet tissue rolls...

Loss of computers == America as 3rd world country (1)

Ricofencer (84315) | more than 13 years ago | (#395396)

Hmm, the loss of computers would devastate the world. Loss of financial records would wipe out the economy, setting us back to the optimistic state of last months bank statement. There would be virtually no travel - how long has it been since you've seen a gas pump that didn't rely on electronics? No communication save that of the old method off letters. Not that letters would be quick, no travel right.

Suddenly guns, bullets, food and water would become the most valuable commodities. We'd be at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Loss of computers in would be one of the most devastating disasters to the advanced world. The people would still be around, but life would majorly suck. The first thing we'd have to do is keep the world fed and in potable water. We'd see a remarkable decline in life expectancy. Disease and famine would wipe out lots of people in the first few years.

Welcome to the Neo-Dark Ages.

Hmm, maybe time to get an older vehicle, a reloading bench and some big caliber weapons. Maybe Montana isn't so bad after all...

Re:Just to be picky... (1)

ZiGGyKAoS (86253) | more than 13 years ago | (#395398)

You ever put a cdrom in a microwave. its pretty scrambeled after about 2 seconds.

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (1)

mr (88570) | more than 13 years ago | (#395399)

The typical *nix sysadmin or Perl hacker has a very specialised set of skills that only counts within the narrow environment in which they are confortable operating in.


See Chairman Mao as an example of the 'elite' 'functioning' outside their training.

Computing is not the first priority in this situation, nor is it even in the top ten.

Given the lack of electricity, the food demand VS food supply issues from such a destruction of the world technology, etc la, yes quake-playing computers would be low on the list.

Want more about this: Set your browsers back to 1998-1999 and read up about the Y2K "bug". Then s/Y2K Bug/some other bug/g

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (1)

Sc00ter (99550) | more than 13 years ago | (#395408)

This is very true, but most geeks have other skills as well. Mostly some sort of orginization. The problem is that most of the slashdot people don't understand what you're saying and will probably try to get names and addresses out of their palm pilot before planting the next crop of food and then they'll die.

Let's Hope Not... (1)

paulywog (114255) | more than 13 years ago | (#395419)

Let's hope that it doesn't come to this! I've thought about this question before, and it's one that you would just hate to have to consider. (Like trying imagine what it means for time to be infinite.)

If it ever does come to that, I don't think I want to be around. Having NO technology remaining would make it horribly difficult to begin again. There could certainly be some better design decisions made with no need for legacy support, but imagine all of the prerequisites to building even the simplest TTL package! Egads.

Re:Give me an instruction set! (1)

RobinH (124750) | more than 13 years ago | (#395423)

I'd volunteer to write the first compiler.

That's very generous of you... :-) But which language are you going to write it in? You could write it in assembly, but there is no assembler to assemble it.

Since real programmers write in machine code [] , I guess I'll volunteer to write the first assembler, entirely in hexadecimal. Now all we need is someone willing to re-instate a computer that uses vaccuum tubes or relays.

some trouble up in here? (1)

cybermalandro (126175) | more than 13 years ago | (#395425)

I think the answer is self regenarating equipment or hardware that can rebuild itself.

Re:Just to be picky... (1)

pallex (126468) | more than 13 years ago | (#395426)

It`d still scramble the firmware in your cdrom drive!

A better question... (1)

Tyler Durden (136036) | more than 13 years ago | (#395437)

How about rebuilding practically *all* of technology? Consider having a bunch of people, placing them on another planet with an environemt like ours that was never inhabited before. How would they recreate our technology?

It always fascinated me that human beings developed on this planet with nothing but their natural environment and were able to produce all that we see around us. I'd love to see a technological timeline beginning from when humans developed that shows when what piece of technology was invented and how certain technologies were used to build upon to create other technologies.


The wheel is overrated. Fire is the shit!

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (1)

daemonc (145175) | more than 13 years ago | (#395446)

I have discussed these possible "end of civilization" senarios with my geek friends on numerous occasions. We concluded that computers were far from the top of are list of priorities. We also found that we possess numerous valuable skills and together we stand a good chance at surviving and prospering in a post-apocalyptic world. With our combined skills we could rebuild automobiles, distill ethonol for fuel, generate electricity from wind and water, forge our tools and weapons from scrap metal, make gunpowder, grow our own crops. We could build a self-sustaining community with nearly all the modern convieniences.

Bring it on! (1)

TonyTheTiger (156325) | more than 13 years ago | (#395456)

I may finally be able to get out of debt!

How would we know? (1)

blues5150 (161900) | more than 13 years ago | (#395462)

How is everyone going to find out that this event even happened? All forms of communications will be toast as well.

I think it would depend on the circumstances (1)

OwnedByTheMan (169684) | more than 13 years ago | (#395467)

I think the direct cause of the loss of the technology (as well as the time spent in luddite-ville) would have a definite effect on the speed and method of re-development.

If it was a "instant" catastrophe that caused the loss, I would like to think that the people in the world best suited to redesign and rebuild the technlogy base would commit themselves to the critical systems first. Health care, transport, communications, certain infrastructure.

The big problem I see is with the vast majority of the population ignorant of anything beyond how to shut down before turning off their machine. After critical systems have been restored, the work on revenue generating tech can begin. I have a hard time believeing that the industry giants will tolerate anything but the minimum amount of time required to become re-operational (This will be further exascerbated by the now-evident feeling of "being the first x-business back in operation".)

In short, if that is possible, I feel our rush to re-tech the world will overshadow our desire to redesign it past our old limitations. Certainly some innovations will become evident but they will primarily focus on tech that is purpose built to quickly re-equip (tech wise) the world.

An interesting thought. Would Microsoft be able to re-establish their dominance? I have often thought that their market share is due to an exisiting install base.

Hmmm... (1)

Gibbys Box of Trix (176568) | more than 13 years ago | (#395470)

My personal experience is that if something like this were to occur, we would not recover very quickly

Just how many "catastrophic loss[es] of all electronic technology" have you experienced, Cliff?

Well, let's find out... (1)

Akardam (186995) | more than 13 years ago | (#395480)

[root@world root] reboot
Message from root on tty1:
Warning! World going down for reboot NOW!

What to do differently? Not much... (1)

Akardam (186995) | more than 13 years ago | (#395481)

What you are describing is the complete erasure, if you will, of all hardware and digital media.

What about this? *holds up his "Programming Perl" book*

As much as today is a computerized world, we have thousands and thousands of dead tree publications around the world describing the silicon technology of the past decades. IF what you describe were to happen, would we redesign everything? I think not. We'd just go down to the good ol' RFC repository, dig out the good ol' Intel chip references, and quickly climb our way back up the tech ladder. We wouldn't HAVE to start from the ground up, except in manufacturing. Ok, so we might end up with more efficent manufacturing.

You have to remember that people are lazy. Some might go about designing better systems, but most will just turn to the books, the knowledge in their head, and rebuild. You'd have to wipe every engineer's, every programer's, mind, and every book on the topic on the face of the earth, clean, to truly have an effect such as you speak of.

Akardam Out

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (1)

CyberXine (193594) | more than 13 years ago | (#395484)

You didn't even answer the man's question. All you did was rant about how geeks wouldn't have a spot in a post-apocolyptic world.

Re:Old Troll Week on Slashdot? (1)

CyberXine (193594) | more than 13 years ago | (#395485)


Wow, neat! (1)

OverCode@work (196386) | more than 13 years ago | (#395487)

Would the USPTO get scrambled too? and would the DMCA cease to exist? If not, recomputerizing the world would be a real mess.


I think we'd have more important problems (1)

Jon Erikson (198204) | more than 13 years ago | (#395488)

This is just another typical geek response to the end of the world scenario. "But how would be get our computers back" the geek wails, utterly oblivious to the fact that in any kind of realistic scenario that could destroy all of the computing power in the world, people would be more concerned about surviving than being able to play Quake deathmatches.

One question that I've thought about is "If the end of the world was coming, what good would you do?". Some people would be leaders, some would have the skills to grow food or hunt whilst doctors could help the injured.

But geeks? They would be the first ones to perish.

The typical *nix sysadmin or Perl hacker has a very specialised set of skills that only counts within the narrow environment in which they are confortable operating in. Take that environment away, and said hacker is like a fish out of water. And with the vast lack of social skills they possess, they can't even integrate into the hunter-gatherer groups of the post-apocolyptic world.

Computing is not the first priority in this situation, nor is it even in the top ten. Asking this question shows nothing other than how tenuous the grasp of geeks is on reality, and just how little chance of survivial they would have in such a scenario...

Re:Sad (1)

beth_linker (210498) | more than 13 years ago | (#395496)

If 8088 assembler was so great, how come nobody writes in it anymore?

Did you even read this before posting? (1)

Steve Richards (211082) | more than 13 years ago | (#395497)

If it came about, I think I'd load up on weapons, and become an anti-organisation vigelante.

So you'd become an armed sociopathic criminal. But a really self-righteous one, so it's all ok.

(Note: sarcasm.)

Take down all of the current senior managers who have Hitler complexes, before they can start controlling people and resources again.

So you'd try and break the influence of a small proportion of people who you see as the cause of all the world's ills by killing them.

Would you remind me just who has the Hitler complex here?

Natural Selection (1)

davidmb (213267) | more than 13 years ago | (#395499)

By allowing geeks to flourish, we're denying the forces of nature which should by rights have eliminated them from this planet.
I say let's stop this madness! What we need is a geek cull. Kill the majority of geeks and then keep the remaining few as slaves. Yes!

The End for Kevin (1)

davidmb (213267) | more than 13 years ago | (#395500)

At least we'd be safe from Kevin Warwick and his Cyborg Army.

Or maybe that's what he wants us to think, eh?

The New Luddite Economy (1)

T1girl (213375) | more than 13 years ago | (#395501)

Anyone living on a self-sufficient farm with their own water supply would be in fat city. The Third World would become the First World and vice versa. All that Cannibal Welfare Mutant stuff from Y2K scenarios would start to come true. Mankind would endure, but a different class of people would thrive. Eventually, the hustlers, evangelists, political opportunists and barons would elbow their way back to the top of the heap.

You're missing the obvious (1)

Tristan7 (222645) | more than 13 years ago | (#395510)

The reason we continue to manufacture computers in the same basic manner, is that the science at a basic level has been most thoroughly researched around where we are. Silicon isn't neccessarily the best base material, but it's been worked with longer than anthing else. If this happened tomorrow I bet we'd just be scrounging around for some old equipment to remanufacture everything basically along the same lines.

When the pointy-haired one finds out... (1)

3-State Bit (225583) | more than 13 years ago | (#395519)

"Damnit Silverman, I *told* you to print hard copies of all your code!"
("Yeah-but, there's sixty four thousand lines of it in seven concurrent source trees. Also, there's no more compiler--remember, all the world's electronics have been lost")
Well place a purchase order for a new one. Use your head, Silverman: we have deadlines to meet!!
(mumbles):"Damn imbeciles".
(overheard from the next room) "**Whaddaya mean there's no TV???!!** ... Has ops gotten our internet connection back up??...huh?...Well SOMEBODY had better tell me our stock price within the next five minutes if they know what's good for them -- what kind of insane assylum are we running here anyway??
...Alright, that's it, I'm taking tomorrow off again.

Depends on demand (1)

riedquat (226343) | more than 13 years ago | (#395521)

The rate at which we develop new technology will depend on demand rather than technical ability, as it does now. If we loose all our tools, there will be a much greater initial demand for agricutural equipment. That said, I think the development of computers will take off quicker than it did in the 1940s because people will know just how important they'll be.

As a side note, some very simple but essential things turn out to be very difficult to manufacture from scratch. For example, it's very difficult to make a screw thread because the device which makes them (a lathe) requires a screw thread to operate.

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (1)

riedquat (226343) | more than 13 years ago | (#395522)

As well as writing ARM code, I can cook, brew beer and I know enough about gardening and setting traps to keep myself alive. I don't see any reason to believe that geeks are any worse at survival techniques than the vast majority of the western world.

Those who live in harsh environments now (Aborginals, Inuit, some Africans for example) will have a better chance to survive, and possibly those in the Army. Nobody else (IMHO) has any better chance of survival than anyone else.

Well, color me stupid (1)

OlympicSponsor (236309) | more than 13 years ago | (#395535)

You got at least 2 (or maybe 3) people to mod this crap up. I have to hand it to you--you sure know how to reel them in. Of course, it's been so long since I saw a "Jon Erikson" post (and where's "Dan Hayes" these days) there's probably a lot of moderators who don't know you.
Non-meta-modded "Overrated" mods are killing Slashdot

Get a life (1)

stud9920 (236753) | more than 13 years ago | (#395536)

If all the computers in the world are dead, maybe it's time for us to get a life, you know, spend some time with something else than machines, get a girlfriend, make friends, read good books, in one word : live.

Re:Pretty much the same, I bet (1)

stud9920 (236753) | more than 13 years ago | (#395537)

Computer people in the 50's weren't idiots--they just didn't have computers to help them.

We all know the people who invented COBOL and FORTRAN were geniusses.

Hopefully... (1)

Jabbaloo (237287) | more than 13 years ago | (#395539)

...we wouldn't have COBOL in more than 50% of our business industry...

No more computers? (1)

big_groo (237634) | more than 13 years ago | (#395540)

Wow. We'd sure lose a LOT of trees. Just imagine the demand for paper. Isn't the US government supposed to be moving toward the "paperless office"?

Talk about your ecological consequences. *shudder*

It's a thought experiment, folks (1)

sacremon (244448) | more than 13 years ago | (#395546)

I think people are taking this question far too seriously.

What the question is really striving for is, if you had to design a computing system from the ground up, knowing what you know now, what changes would you make? What mistakes would you avoid?

It's given that you would need to build some elementary systems before you could start getting close to the goal systems, and that would take time. But what would you aim for?

Legacy (1)

Llew42 (249522) | more than 13 years ago | (#395553)

I'm sure we'd rebuild (eventually), but, as other posters have pointed out, starting from scratch would require going through many of the same basic steps we've gone through in the past 50 years (how many recent college graduates could tell you how to do floating-point division of a binary number?)

One problem I can see would be that we'd have almost a thousand years to build up legacy code before the dreaded Y3K bug hits--by 2090, people will have realized that, once again, they'd forgotten to use more than two digits for the year, but they only need to add in a third, right? Their code won't be around in a few hundred years, so there's no need to use four digits when three's plenty...and so the legacy grows...

It would be wonderful! (1)

baptiste (256004) | more than 13 years ago | (#395556)

I love technology, but it would be the most stress free time for me. I'd kick back, relax, play with my kids, plant some crops, and stay oblivious until things got totally out of hand. Course Bill Gates probably has some hardened bunker with the keys to his kingdom and then he'd have a completel monopoly. Gets you thinking :)


I'd finally be able to use all my Y2K stocks.. (1)

Choco-man (256940) | more than 13 years ago | (#395559)

finally! i knew all that diesel fuel and ammunition i'd hoarded for the y2k catrastophe would come in useful!

Slowly (1)

lesv (258710) | more than 13 years ago | (#395563)

If no computers existed, then we'd have to reinvent the manufacturing process. Much of current knowledge relies on computers. If we still had large transistors it would make things a lot easier. As far a programming them, right now, many of us are old enough to know how to do it with toggle switches. In 50-75 years, it's likely that the whole toggle technology would need to be reinvented. As for what would I change, or would be likely to change. I suspect we'd be able to skip a lot of bad ideas.

Re:Trinary systems are better ! (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 13 years ago | (#395564)

Yeah?? Has somebody developed a viable trinary logic design? Can you give us an URL?
I ask because I've once tried to figure out some simple trinary elements (logic gates) from transistors, resistors and diodes.
I quickly gave up because the circuitry became awfully complex, compared to the binary designs from my electrical engineering textbooks.

This is true of more than computer technology... (1)

herrlich_98 (267669) | more than 13 years ago | (#395583)

The first computer is hard, the millionth is a lot easier.

Mining and refining the first pound of iron ore is hard, the millionth pound(with iron/steel tools) is a lot easier.

It seems like a lot of different types of technology come to become "recursively" dependent on themselves as they mature.

Give me an instruction set! (1)

nick_patt (306368) | more than 13 years ago | (#395591)

Well, since I live in the algorithmic clouds (I write code, and don't design hardware), I'd volunteer to write the first compiler.

While Lex & Yacc (& countless other lexer and parser generators) are nice, our compiler professor introduced recursive descent parsing as "Desert Island Parsing."

I guess that all I'm saying is that - Give me an instruction set, and I'll give you a compiler.

Re:Just to be picky... (1)

dragonsapp (307227) | more than 13 years ago | (#395592)

you probably couldn't scramble a CDROM, but you can mess up the hardware that read the CDROM. If the information is still good but you can't read it then what good is the information?

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (1)

Konovalev (316879) | more than 13 years ago | (#395607)

I agree. The wider and IMO more interesting point here is: how far down can we be knocked before we lose the ability to climb back up? Our industrial civilisation was built on easily accessible deposits of coal, iron, oil etc. most of which no longer exist. If we lose a significant chunk of resource mining capacity, then we lose civilisation for ever. Second point: with the loss of machine-readable data, a vast amount of information would be lost -not even preserved on paper. Forget your (rather unlikely) info-disaster scenario - even losing the world satellite fleet would probably knock civilisation back (although not irrecoverably). That's the problem with survivalism - any disaster that big leaves us no hope of recovery, whether it's WWIII, meteor impact, plague or whatever. The surviving remnants of humanity would be forced to live in harmony with nature. Than which there is no worse fate. So the answer is: in a sufficiently bad disaster, no-one would be any good. Sidepoint: what makes you think most doctors would be any good? Without their X-ray machines, their antibiotics, anaesthetics, lab tests... you'd be better off with a Chinese 'barefoot doctor'. Or an army medic.

who would they blame? (1)

CrackElf (318113) | more than 13 years ago | (#395614)

Who would get blamed for a computer apocalypse?
Personally, I would get my motorcycle tweaked up,
syphon some gas, and go somewhere where no one
knew my previous profession.

He's a geek - No I am not - but he turned
me into a newt - Into a newt? - I got better

-Crackelf, butchering misquotes

Re:Pretty much the same, I bet (1)

Chakat (320875) | more than 13 years ago | (#395621)

We wouldn't have to truly start from scratch. The designers would still be around, and they would know the basics of how to design a chip. Sure, the first few generations of computers will be lousy as they don't have the tools we do now, but that will simply mean the first post-apocalyptical computers will be only as powerful as an 8086, just without the bone-headed parts (the scant number of registers on the x86 is near criminal, IMHO). One of the side-affects, too, is that those revolutionary/evolutionary designs that break legacy systems may be implemented, causing better performance than before. The design and implementation will still be there, we just won't go down as many of the dead ends getting there.

Hard, but not so hard (2)

Erich (151) | more than 13 years ago | (#395627)

It would be a lot easier to re-create the technology we have now than it was to get here in the first place. We know what a transistor does, we know how to lay them out on a chip. And almost every person who graduates with a CmpE degree can design a MIPS processor in a few thousand gates. I can't say I can speak for disk, but we know how to make disks, so it wouldn't be that hard... We know how to do almost everything in a modern computer, we'd only have to rebuild the infrastructure. This might be a tad difficult if, say, we loose our fabs and stuff, but for the most part I think we could get up and running with new components in, say, 5 years. Underlying appliances 1 year, rudimentary fabs in another year, they start plopping out circa-1990 chips in an additional year, and we use those to leap up to, say, 1997 or so by the end of 5 years.

It will help that we won't be constrained by x86. Though in modern processors it's really not that big of a deal (yay, hardware translation).

Just to be picky... (2)

Psiren (6145) | more than 13 years ago | (#395642)

I don't think you *can* scramble a CDROM can you? the data is physically burnt in the substrate. Anything magentic could be affected though. But I would have thought optical storage would survive anything but direct physical damage.

Re:Just to be picky... (2)

Psiren (6145) | more than 13 years ago | (#395643)

Hmm.. interesting point, but I'd consider that direct physical damage, i.e. heat. But if there is enough microwave radiation to destroy all the CDROM's, wouldn't all the life on the planet be in trouble anyway? ;-)

Re:Just to be picky... (2)

SoftwareJanitor (15983) | more than 13 years ago | (#395665)

wouldn't all the life on the planet be in trouble anyway? ;-)

Except maybe cockroaches... :-)

One of them damned little buggers would mutate to compensate and pretty soon the roaches would rule the world feeding off of the corpses of the animal life that couldn't adapt.

Re:Trinary systems are better ! (2)

mindstrm (20013) | more than 13 years ago | (#395667)

SO everything would be dones in base3?

Spacehounds (2)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 13 years ago | (#395668)

Well, if we follow the example of "Spacehounds of the IPC [] " we just need a few heroic individuals with access to machine shops. They'll smelt copper, draw wire, build an electrical generator, and start making bolts with which to fasten together the parts for a chipmaking foundry.

Safe again! (2)

ehiggins (35174) | more than 13 years ago | (#395675)

The hard-working members of the MPAA and RIAA would be free from you filthy rotten pirates again! Britney could finally get herself off welfare!

With no cash registers... (2)

slaughts (50394) | more than 13 years ago | (#395678)

All products and services would have to cost even dollar amounts. Heaven forbid that someone would buy something that was 79 cents and wait for the person to calculate the change from a dollar by hand. It seems now that doing math by hand is a lost art. (At least in the US).

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (2)

MartinG (52587) | more than 13 years ago | (#395679)

vast lack of social skills they possess

how tenuous the grasp of geeks is on reality,

they can't even integrate into the hunter-gatherer


Why does this just all sound like an unpleasant attack of a large group of people based solely on generalisation and assumption?

What happened to your tolerence of other peoples values?

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 13 years ago | (#395685)

Hey! In your take on his hypothetical scenario, everything would be a "Quake Deathmatch!" So you're right, people wouldn't be worried about simulated deathmatches!

And who's to say that geeks won't form their own survival groups? After all, they love technology first and foremost -- they are geeks -- and the latest spear technology might excite them! Plus, no patent office to enshrine "method and apparatus for one-throw fish aquisition with pointy stick device."

Heck, geeks might THRIVE in the post-apocalypse! Much better than those lawyers, politicians, thinktank puddingheads, and Oprah fans that have great social skills!

- - - - -

Re:Geeks don't have that "killer instinct" (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 13 years ago | (#395686)

Considering a large number of your "average geeks" are either gun nuts, trained in some martial art, or both, I'd say they could cope pretty well. Plus, all that training that Quake gives them!

- - - - -

Re:Hmmm... (2)

levendis (67993) | more than 13 years ago | (#395693)

hey, maybe he dumped a cup of coffee on his box last week! that would be pretty damn catastrophic for me..


A Canticle For Leibowitz (2)

Spankophile (78098) | more than 13 years ago | (#395696)

You should read this book by Walter M. Miller Jr.

It's a post-apocalyptic tale (aren't they all?) but there is a definite theme of responsibility regarding technology.

I.e. If it was technology that brought about the first disaster of humanity - should we really be trying to rediscover that same technology? Have we learned anything, could we be more responsible now, or is mankind just inherently stupid/evil/selfish?

Easy (2)

XiRho (91952) | more than 13 years ago | (#395699)

640Gb should be enough for everyone.
--Bill Gates, post de-computerization apocalypse

Re:Pretty much the same, I bet (2)

haystor (102186) | more than 13 years ago | (#395701)

While everything you say rings true enough, I think the purpose of the original question sent in would have been better served if they had created a different scenario that is a bit more realistic.

Imagine if the company or government decided to spend enough money on a fresh development program where they buy and island, drop scientists off there, and deliver an unlimited supply of raw materials. The scientists would also be provided with whatever manufacturing capability they could design. They would still have access to theoretical knowledge, but no blueprints.

What might result from that?

Down With Floppies!!! (2)

Dman33 (110217) | more than 13 years ago | (#395703)

First thing I would propose is that all 3.5" floppy drives be abolished! All storage systems would then have to be designed so that they would be compatible with future speed optimizations..

Damn, I have waiting for the floppy on my PC take a minute to get 1 MB of data on a 1Ghz system with 7200RPM about bottleneck!!

Bring it on! (2)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 13 years ago | (#395706)

Personally, I can hardly wait.

There would be panic at first. If we had a worldwide and permanent loss of electricity, people would go wild snapping up generators to keep "their" power going. Then they'd gradually realise that there wasn't any more refined diesel fuel being produced. More panic. Probably 25% of the world's population would die. (probably the most useless 15% would be in that count, thank god!)

Then we'd get along. Differently. We'd start rebuilding things, and in two centuries we'd be back to where we were, with the blackout of 2001 no more relevant than the industrial revolution is to us.

If it came about, I think I'd load up on weapons, and become an anti-organisation vigelante. Take down all of the current senior managers who have Hitler complexes, before they can start controlling people and resources again.

It would be a slow process?? (2)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 13 years ago | (#395726)

Ever play a video game full of puzzles... like Resident Evil? Play for about 2 hours getting through all those tough puzzles, then forget to save, and the game crashes?
You spend a good 30 minutes cursing, and hitting your head against the wall, then you start back up. You get back to the spot you were and save the game. How long did it take you? 30 minutes. Why? Because you knew every single solution to every problem along the way.
If our systems were destroyed, we wouldn't have to go through that period with vaccuum tubes, we'd go straight to transistors (thank god). We'd not have to figure out how to go from a 286 chip to a 386. All this info is in books, and we'd have the knowledge of every hookup and the solutions to those hookups throughout the revolution of the information age.
I think we'd be back up and running in no time. It wouldn't be overnight, but it wouldn't be more than 5 years. This isn't bad considering its been like 50 to get to where we are today.
Now keep in mind that I'm assuming that banks and stuff like that would go on uninterupted, which is a biiiiig assumption, but it wasn't mentioned in the question, so I'm assuming :-P


Re:Just to be picky... (2)

jayfoo2 (170671) | more than 13 years ago | (#395727)

Of course if your CDROM drive is fried....

punch cards would survive too, so would printed encyclopedias, I think the question is more along the lines of how would the infrastructure to utilize the information re-evolve.

Actually I think things would eventually come back to about the same point. If new machines are needed they would be build, initially, from existing plans. This would retard the R&D process greatly, not lead towards new innovations (in the english, not microsoft sense of the word).

Most of the interesting effects would be societal. And by the way, we've (as a culture) more or less had that discussion (Y2K).

Geeks don't have that "killer instinct" (2)

Jon Erikson (198204) | more than 13 years ago | (#395739)

Despite their love for violent computer games and anime, I vey much doubt that a group full of geeks, no matter what their skills, would be able to compete with some of the violent people that would exist in such a world.

There would be those that would create nothing and instead live by stealing from others, using violence as their weapon. Would your average geek, more interested in building for the future, be able to deal with this sort of person?

I doubt it.

Sad (2)

atrowe (209484) | more than 13 years ago | (#395740)

"As things are now, it is pretty easy to develop software for new hardware platforms. Just write a cross-compiler on an existing platform, and then copy the binary to the new system."

First of all, what you just described is most definately not developing software. Most of today's self-proclaimed "programmers" would be totally lost without MS Visual Studio holding their hands. Writing a cross compiler using existing code requires only the most rudimentary understanding of the methodology and processes required to programme a computer.

This disturbing trend has been compounded by the existance of so-called "object-oriented" and "visual" programming applications. Simply cutting and pasting snippets of someone elses code or attaching pre-written libraries to one's code is more akin to a "connect the dots" game or weaving pieces of pre-fabricated cloth together to form a quilt. There are very few of us who remember writing 8088 assembler code or writing programs on hundreds of punch cards.

Most of today's programmers would be completely lost without their watered down "programming" languages.

Maybe this is a concern... (2)

Gendou (234091) | more than 13 years ago | (#395744)

You never know. We could have a couple Tyler Durdens running around, each of which has decided that we need to STOP, RESET, and try again.

Old Troll Week on Slashdot? (2)

OlympicSponsor (236309) | more than 13 years ago | (#395746)

It's Jon Erikson again! Good try with your "people come first" junk, but since the hypothetical question specifically stated that only computer stuff was destroyed, I doubt you get many takers.
Non-meta-modded "Overrated" mods are killing Slashdot

Oh no, back to life with no +1 (2)

OlympicSponsor (236309) | more than 13 years ago | (#395747)

Gotta go back to the old "trollboard" and start again, eh, "Ana"? Too bad. I think you'll find you have an easier time of it if you don't post such long, rambling and off-topic posts. Something short and pithy is the way to get the knee-jerk crowd--they won't read anything longer anyway.

BTW, you also were apparently unprepared for this topic--took you at leats 15 minutes to get something up. Not a good way to get eyeballs.
Non-meta-modded "Overrated" mods are killing Slashdot

Re:Sad (2)

drunkmonk (241978) | more than 13 years ago | (#395749)

It is impractical for someone to learn every step in technology that built the foundation for a modern convienence (be in visual programming languages or cars or dishwashers or whathaveyou). It's like asking someone to build an V-8 engine as part of their driving test. It's dumb.

Yes, there still need to be people who can do it, but not many. Technology builds on itself. If we all devoted the time needed to learn machine code, then when would we have the time to build higher level applications?

And let's say you know 8088 assembler... well, can you code in pure machine language? And if so, do you know how to make a microprocessor? And if so, do you know how to smelt the metals needed to make the machines that make the processors? Until we get to reductio ad absurdium.

Of course you don't. At some point your knowledge breaks down. We've become specialized. If not, we'd all be farming and hunting and building our homes, because we wouldn't have any time to do anything else but what was absolutely required for survival.

Catastrophic loss (2)

Ananova (255600) | more than 13 years ago | (#395752)

This presents an interesting 'What if?' dilemma. Of course it wouldn't take *as* long to do this, simply because the expertise is there - there is a bulk of people who know how to produce microchips, and they would remember how to do it.

But the second point is more interesting. Catastrophic loss? I don't think that's accurate. The effect of computers has been to break up society in a profoundly negative way. People are spending more and more time on their own, on computers and on the internet. This has reduced social contact. This means there is now less conversation between people, and people are less friendly. Compared with forty years ago, there is less of a sense of neighborliness and of community.

Although people now talk of 'online community', the fact is that there is no substitute for real human contact. It is a vital, life-affirming thing, and has been recognized as such since the ancient Greeks, who talked of man's worth being measured in his ability as a social animal. The effect of computers has been to reduce it, and this has a real effect on humanity. Although we might be richer, more 'successful' now than before, people are not as happy as they were. This lack of contentment has led to greater human suffering - more suicides, more depression, and more unfriendliness. The cause of this, the distintegration of society and community, although not wholly through computers, is through people spending more time with computers instead of people - although ostensibly satisified with a computer as a substitute for a human being, they certainly cannot be said to be happy.

And in other ways too - not simply people socializing with computers instead of people, our enslavement to technology has other symptoms. People now are never free from the computer - their palm pilots, their work computers, their home computers and their laptops.

This has affected people's home lives negatively - the typical Silicon Family has Mom and Dad out till 9pm working, with the children taken care of by a nanny. This kind of family, if you even pause to examine it for a second, is a profoundly negative thing - all the humanity is removed from it; what, after all, is the point of living if you are simply enslaved to computers without any time for people, as these people surely are.

Although, then, computers have helped in terms of 'progress', the world my Mom and Dad grew up in in the 50s is certainly a better one than the one we have today, so I'm really not sure this would be all that catastrophic.

First order of business... (2)

JohnnyKnoxville (311956) | more than 13 years ago | (#395756)

would be to bring back the Tandy.

Re:Just to be picky... (2)

lanbo (320794) | more than 13 years ago | (#395759)

If you like these themes, try to read "Ensayo sobre la ceguera". This is in Spanish but this book is from the Nobel Prize Saramago which is Portuguese. In english it would be something like "Story about getting blind" or something similar. I'm sure someone else will tell the title in english. This book talks about what happens to people when an illness affects everybody and get blind. I'ts an incredible book and explains a history even worse than losing data froms disks. Read this and you will get an impression of what would happen to people in these strange situations. If you tend to be depressive don't read the book :-)

Re:This may come as a shock... (3)

XiRho (91952) | more than 13 years ago | (#395768)

Ummmm. No.

But the majority (75% of world population)

people seem to forget that only 1% of the world owns a computer

I guess 1% + 75% = 100%, eh? Way to go New Math.

Seriously, I believe computer ownership is way above 1%, as that would be 60,000,000 people. If I'm not mistaken some of the latest figures put internet usage alone at around 500,000,000, which would make it just about 10% of the world. Add onto that people who are not online, and those who use computers indirectly.

This event would probably bring a mild blessing- hopefully the western world would see it as a chance to redirect its goals

Heck no, we've got to get our systems back online. You treat "Western world" as a single entity, as if events can be played out in a single mind with a single consciecnce, 'fraid not.

the training Quake gives them? (3)

streetlawyer (169828) | more than 13 years ago | (#395769)

You'd be surprised how much similarity there is between running through dark cellars, fighting for your life with a shotgun and sitting on your fat ass playing computer games and masturbating. Absolutely none; I was amazed.

Related (4)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 13 years ago | (#395770)

Suppose YOU had a time machine and got stuck in some medieval time. Would you survive more than a day? What of your advanced technical knowledge would be of any use to you without the advance tools that you honestly couldn't replicate? Would you live like a king or a beggar?

For instance, if I was thrown in the past, I feel that I could live comfortably if I could improve the life and health of a king and his court. Perhaps by building a plumbing or central heating system for his castle. But this always begs the question of where would I get pipes, pumps and ventilation ducts. I usually end up feeling dumber that I like, so I quit thinking about it.

As to the question at hand. The truth is that much of the problems with legacy systems would be reproduced if we had to start from ground zero. How would we produce a transistor without the knowledge and equipment to produce a diode? Once we have the equipment set up to produce transistors and diodes, how quickly do we abandon a machine full of discreet transistor and diodes which is used to make integrated circuits? The problem with legacy systems is not a technological one. It is an economic one, much related to the problem of do you remodel a building or tear down the old and build it new.

Re:I think we'd have more important problems (5)

sesquiped (40687) | more than 13 years ago | (#395775)

> The typical *nix sysadmin or Perl hacker has a
> very specialised set of skills that only counts
> within the narrow environment in which they are
> confortable operating in.

I'd tend to disagree: although the body of knowledge used by a sysadmin is admittedly specialized, that is true of almost any modern profession. However, to be a competent sysadmin or programmer requires lots of general intelligence as well as problem-solving skills, and in general, the ability to think rationally about things and find logical solutions. A hacker would not be "like a fish out of water" at all. He would simply transfer his skills to his new environment, just like everyone else would have to do. And there's a good chance he'd be more successful at the transfer too.

Your assumption that hackers' skills would not transfer, and your unfair generalization of their lack of social skills shows that you have a very limited (and inaccurate) idea of what a hacker actually is.

I'm optimistic... (5)

adubey (82183) | more than 13 years ago | (#395777)

Unlike some of the other posters, I'm optimistic.

After the great earthquake, San Fransisco was rebuilt in a matter of months. Why? Although all the buildings were totalled, the people (well, most of the people) with the know-how to rebuild it were still around.

Fortunately, in the computer business, many of the people who built the first computers are still around. Even if they were gone, humans often strive to greatness in the face of necessity - engineers, physics and computer scientists could work together for once (ie no "sorry, that's a hardware problem..." ;) to rebuild knowledge of the basics.

How would we do it? Well, I probably don't know enough about hardware to say for sure. At the worst, we could go through the stages we went through the first time, to bootstrap ourselves to the next level, relearning lessons that we didn't think we'd need to know. At best, we can skip some stages (I think basic photolithography could be done without going through the transistor stage).

What would be different? Well, some serious architectural mistakes were made for historical reasons - path dependence and all that (ie the best choice in 1981 may not be the best choice today, but we are locked in by yesterday's decisions). All our chips would probably be RISC VLIW. All COBOL code would be rewritten in Visual BASIC, Java or C++.

However, if we happened to be attacked by aliens while we were rebuilding, well, then all our base would belong to them.

Things to do before starting coding (5)

SpanishInquisition (127269) | more than 13 years ago | (#395778)

1. Put Bill Gates in a rocket
2. Send the rocket to Pluto
3. Triple the worldwide production of coffee
4. Make sure Bill Gates is still on his way to Pluto.
5. Ask Damian Conway if he could rewrite Perl in Latin (again).
6. Ask project SETI to not listen to the area of the sky near Pluto.
7. Ask Linus Torvalds to rewrite MacOS using only
a piece of wood and some rock.
8. Tell Larry Ellison that if he wants to be as big as Bill Gates, he has to go to Pluto too.
9. Make Richard Stallman the new pope.
10. Make sure those damn monkeys don't get too intelligent.

Archives (5)

mortenf (191503) | more than 13 years ago | (#395780)

This is actually not just something to speculate about - it's already a problem!
Archiving services and institutions have problems with 5 1/4 inch floppies, old cassettes (can YOU still read that old code from your C64?) and tapes from extinct drives.
By now they also have problems with the multitude of different text formats (WP 5.1 anyone?).
Maybe platform independent formats like XML will be the cure...


Pretty much the same, I bet (5)

OlympicSponsor (236309) | more than 13 years ago | (#395782)

"...fries all microprocessors and scrambles the contents of all existing ROMs, disks, CD-ROMs, and any other machine-readable media in all computers. And the same fate falls on all high-tech manufacturing equipment."

Got it. All computers and related machines and materials are toast.

"What would we do differently if we didn't have fifty years worth of legacy systems to continue maintaining?"

THIS is your question?? What would we do differently?? A better question would be HOW. With no computers, try designing (let alone manufacturing) a chip.

Which is why my answer is: we'd be pretty much in the same boat. Things like high-level languages and XML are luxuries afforded by cheap, high-speed computing power. If we had to start over, we'd have to go back to a hardwired computer to design/build a "machine code" one, then use that to build a compiler, etc. It might take less time, but we'd still have to build all the same infrastructure that we build the first time around.

Remember a lot of the "new" technology around today was invented decades ago--but only now became cheap or popular. Computer people in the 50's weren't idiots--they just didn't have computers to help them.
Non-meta-modded "Overrated" mods are killing Slashdot

This may come as a shock... (5)

whanau (315267) | more than 13 years ago | (#395784)

But the majority (75% of world population) would notice little or no effect. These are people forgotten by the "tech revolution". Their day to day struggle is finding clean water, not debugging lines of code. People seem to forget that only 1% of the world owns a computer, and computer reliant services (eg. telephone, water treatment) would go largely untouched, as again these services reach a desperate few.

Living in a third world country I see this everyday. This event would probably bring a mild blessing- hopefully the western world would see it as a chance to redirect its goals

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