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Understanding advanced technology

  1. Jul 31, 2014 #1
    The scenario is the following:

    A society that is less advanced than the one producing a certain technology is exposed to the latter. The person who finds the device/fragment in question is either a A, layman, a B, trained engineer or an C, inventor/visionary, and the technology might range from a working consumer product to a fragment. Lets stay at todays/the near past's technology and backwards in time, the point is to see a pattern!

    For example, if we imagine that an iPhone dropped down onto the table where Jack Kilby in the late 1950's were experimenting on semiconductor technology, would he and his team be able to discover that the CPU-technology involved is a derivative of their work? Might they figure out how it was made from studying it?

    Another example: would a turbine blade from a modern fighter jet dropped in the 1930:s lead to advanced jet fighters showing up earlier?

    Do you think any general rules can be gleaned from such theoretical scenarios?

    (I wasn't sure where to put this - here or in General engineering. I chose here, but I would want qualified speculation rather than "just make something up")
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    This reminds me of the Star Trek scene where Scotty interacts with a modern day computer by speaking to it and when that doesn't work speaks into the mouse before realizing the mouse true function.

    Familiarity with the device metaphor makes it easier to figure out its function.

    There was a historical case when modern science determine that some ancient mid eastern artifact was once a battery. So it seems that the science you know will help you determine what the mysterious device can do.
  4. Jul 31, 2014 #3

    Char. Limit

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    If an iPhone dropped down onto a table, then I imagine the iPhone's screen would shatter. Go Android instead, drop down an LG G2 or a Google Nexus 5. :tongue:

    I wish I had more to contribute to this thread than a pithy joke, but I'm simply here to watch, I'm afraid.
  5. Jul 31, 2014 #4


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    I doubt that many manufacturing processes could be worked out from an example of the finished product. It might give you an idea of what's possible and some rough pointers but that's all. An iPhone is packed full of technology that didn't exist in the mid-twentieth century, could they even identify most of the components bearing in mind the transistors are sized on the order of tens of nano metres?
  6. Aug 1, 2014 #5
    Perhaps it would indeed be no small task to figure out how it was made.

    We'd get three levels of understanding, right?

    1. What it does
    2. How it does it
    3. How it was made

    Is there any modern technology that people just a short span of time earlier wouldn't understand much of, apart from computers?
  7. Aug 1, 2014 #6


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    A smartphone springs to mind. Taken out of the supportive infrastructure of transmitter towers and the internet and it essentially becomes a lump of glass and plastic with a bunch of odd capabilities like playing games, writing or calculating. With most of it's major functions disabled it may not be that easy to figure out what it does. Especially when the battery dies and it really does become a lump of plastic and glass.
  8. Aug 1, 2014 #7


    Staff: Mentor

    Before the advent of the telegraph people wouldn't have understood its use. Operationally you see some guy tapping on a single key repetitively and thats it. Its mechanical maybe he's punching holes in something but what. They wouldn't notice the battery or wires as doing much.

    Before the advent of the vacuum tube, people would've seen a tube light up like a light bulb so it makes light but its not as bright as Edison's light so why make it. Seeing it power a radio would have been magic.

    Before the advent of the transistor, people understood vacuum tubes but there's no light from a transistor and you can't see inside so while its hooked to various electrical components, its function would be a mystery. Seeing it in a radio would still be magic but you wouldn't know how it worked.

    Before the advent of the IC, people understood transistors and circuits and while they could grasp the idea of miniaturizing a circuit board with all components transistors included into a single package figuring out how the pins worked would be very difficult without destroying it.

    These are only the electronic inventions of our age.
  9. Aug 6, 2014 #8
    I think here about hydrogen bomb. That time Soviets failed to steal blueprints, but had rough idea what Americans were doing and had certainty that this idea worked.

    One more idea - unknown metals. Before discovery of aluminium, all scientists (natural philosophers ;) ) might be delighted by this metal weight, but it would not speed up discovery of this metal.

    Mobile phones: I think that my phone battery has written required voltage, so I'd give some chances of a guy from a century ago to replicate that. However, I see one problem to get to my phone - he would need my PIN number :D :D :D
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