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Rebooting The World? 501

Posted by Cliff
from the interesting-thought-experiments dept.
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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Rebooting The World?

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  • 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).

  • Sure, microwaves could hose all the CD-ROMs laying around outside, but not the ones in...metal cabinets, not to mention all the CDs stored in those data archives in the mountains of Utah and the salt mines outside of St. Louis (in that big warehouse that has the huge US Post Office sorting center...it was on the Discovery Channel) or the salt mines up in the Rust Belt and the salt mines down in Texas and Lousiana.

    But what would fry ALL the CD-ROMs and HDs and CD-ROM drives and MO drives and Orb and Jaz...Zip drives have the click of death...they'll die before anythnig nukes them...what will fry all of those media that won't kill all the people that'll want to access the media?
  • Actually, I'm a pretty decent shot with either a Mossberg 590, Glock Model 22, Uzi Eagle .40 or a BFG.

    So maybe you should stop trolling here...go teach some IT classes at Bob Jones U and stop generalizing geeks as pizza eating Quake fiends that don't get out much.
  • *today* we store two bytes that way, and the hardware shifting is trivial.


    The machine didn't necessarily have "bytes" at the time. It wasn't even necessarily electronic. Even if it was, it was likely to hold a decimal value as one of ten spots being "on," and adding by decrementing one argument until 0, while incrementing the other meanwhile--though more expensive machines had addition lookup tables in hardware *as an option*.


    And multiplication? Not in hardware, but repeated adds. Division? *shudder*


    hawk

  • Just how much machinery is getting whacked in this catastrophe?


    Do we lose our heavy industry while we're at it? And *much* more importantly, what about pesticide production, seed, and water distribution.


    Without a steady supply of freshly crossbred seed and pesticide, agricultural production will drop rapidly *each* year. The industrialized nations would have nothing left to export.


    The nations currently facing starvation are the only ones whose situaton might improve: In all of those countries, there is more than enough food; the problem is goverment and/or rebel corruption that either stops the distribuiton or steals the food. Over half of the countries with segments facing starvation actually *export* food. Why might they improve? With the collapse of machinery, the armies will have trouble maintaining their hold.


    And then somewhere in all of tehse messes we need to worry about rebuilding the machines. Given a catastrophe that puts us into such a predicament, computers will be the least of our worries . . .


    hawk, economist

  • The Roman Empire fell. Humanity scrounged its way through the dark ages for about a thousand years before the renaissance. Fortunately, the church, with legions of fanatical monks, manged to preserve a significant portion (but not all) of the older knowledge. And we're already looking at the value of a collapse again?


    Why would the lesson stick around any longer this time?


    hawk

  • by hawk (1151)
    Brewing. THat would save me :) Especially it it's at least 200 years, before yeast was understood . . .

    hawk of many hats
  • >Things like chimneys were "invented" somewhere around 1400's in Europe.

    were they? I can't imagine central heating without a chimney. The
    *romans* had central heating. They even used them in Britain. Once they
    left, it was 1500 years before it returned . . .

    hawk
  • >The fanatical monks you speak of were liable to burn anybody and
    >anything that did not fit into the belief system they were
    >'promoting'.

    Is this a troll, or are you really that ignorant of history? You are mixing assorted events from several centuries apart.

    The fanatical monks spent their lives copying manuscripts to preserve the knowledge. It was not the monks burning people in the Spanish Inquisition, to which I assume you refer, but the state. A priest would routinely be present, with the authority to stop interrogations (read: torture), but was not the torturor. ALso, the primary function of the inquisition was civil, not religious: spain had been recovered after a period of non-christian rule, and any remaining (or suspected) non-chrisitian was seen as a threat.

    And Beatles albums, for crying out loud? they're a thousand years after they period we're talking about (whereas the inquisition is only several hundred years later).

    hawk
  • Probably not. I wouldn't smell like the rest of the peasants, my haircut, clothing, and speech patterns would be "all wrong", and I'd be burned as a witch/warlock within a few hours.
    More likely, a foreigner. Whether you would be killed depend on who you meet, and how the view on foreigners was where you arrived. You might get lucky, and be treated like a honered guest.

    You'd probably be considered good looking (tall, healthy) to, which might help.

  • ...would be to forget the entire basis on which most modern PCs are built (seperate CPU & memory, crude parallel architectures) and have integrated RISC CPUs and memory, designed from day 1 to be used in parallel architectures.

    Why would this be the fastest? Because you don't have to rebuild N different chip plants for N types of chip. If everything's on one chip, then you only need the one plant.

    It would also mean that you don't have N different methods of scaling, as two boxes on opposite ends of a network would not be differentiated from two processors in the same box. So, you'd throw out SMP, MPI, PVM, etc, and use a single protocol for everything.

    However, this would mean that the networks would need to be upgraded. Instead of twisted-pair and other relics, you'd have to standardize on the fastest optic fibre you could use. Why? Same reason as for chips. Building one router and one type of cable is much more efficient than !N types of router, switch & hub to support interoperation between all possible network architectures.

    Optic fibre would need to be the standard used, as that's the only way you'd get high enough speeds to make the parallelism work on any scale.

    The CPU segment of the chips would also need to be programmable. It wouldn't require much extra effort or silicon, and you'd be able to make use of a much larger base of programmers, afterwards.

    For much the same reason, Linux and/or one of the *BSD's would become the standard OS. Proprietary OS' would become extinct, as nobody would remember how to write them. Too few people know too little each for any proprietary system to recover.

    But the last part is the killer. With something like this, you've essentially one global virtual super-computer, whose architecture is completely programmable and can be optimized for the tasks currently running on it.

    The reason that this is the killer is that it totally obliterates most proprietary notions of systems. There's nothing to be gained by hoarding, on such a system, as the only way to do so would be to isolate. Since that means a =reduction= in resources, the losses would be too great for anyone to go that route.

    (This is the inverse of the modern environment, where isolation is the default. In this type of situation, breaking out of isolation gains resources but also costs, so proprietary standards can still be "profitable", at least on the short term.)

    When you're forced to reach out to others, living in isolation suddenly stops looking quite so attractive.

    Last, but by no means least, this also forces something that many isolationists dread... The end of seperate nations. You can't rebuild 20th, never mind 21st, century technology on your own. No one nation has all the resources needed, and the risks of any other nation, federation or co-operative getting the upper hand would be too terrifying to allow.

    The result? Well, if you can't allow other nations to develop the technology first, you'd either have to invade or form some kind of alliance. There'd really be no other choices. This would result in maybe two or three "super nations", within each of which there couldn't be any major political in-fighting. (Same reason for the loss of proprietary technology. The costs would far outweigh the benefits, if you =START= from a co-operative stand-point.)

    However, these "super nations" wouldn't be stable for long. In order to trade between them, you'd need to be connected. And once you're connected, you've lost the only border that mattered. You'd end up with one world government, because that's the only stable configuration, once you've sacrificed rigid information borders.

    Information borders are what define physical borders, and physical borders are what maintain the information borders. As soon as one goes, you lose the other.

    Is this the "best" of all possible worlds? I don't know. Probably not. Boundaries are important for individuals to exist, and there's no reason to assume that that won't scale up. Is it inevitable, if we have to start from square 1? Maybe, maybe not. The loss of technology & science has happened before, when the society of the time outran its ability to handle change. And we're no more "global" now than we were 10,000 years ago.

    Is it -likely-, though, if we ONLY lose computer technology? IMHO, yes. The only way to rebuild quickly is to rebuild uniformly and cheaply, distributing information as widely and as quickly as possible. And that means a "world computer", and that in turn means a "world government". I honestly can't see any other solution. The paranoia in today's world would force co-operation, because the fear of anything else would be too great for anyone to accept.

  • By now they also have problems with the multitude of different text formats (WP 5.1 anyone?).

    To ensure value over a long period was actually the motivation behind both Donald E. Knuth's books on computer science (he put in only that stuff that seemed to him have reached seminal status, that would matter in a couple of decades or centuries, like a lot of mathematics does) and his 10year off holiday to create the TeX typesetting system:

    Knuth was frustrated, that in a period where mathematical texts were typeset in a crude way, the typographical quality of his books degraded more and more. So he created one of the early digital typesetting systems, using one of the early laser printers (hm, I should reread that one from Knuth's excellent documentation "Digital Typography", that is a making-of-TeX :-)

    So he got into the art of typsetting, created a program for putting font descriptions (meta fonts) into rendered bitmaps (Metafont), wrote those descriptions (Computer Modern font), wrote a program that could put boxed characters into lines, lines into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages (TeX).

    Even more interesting he did his programming in a way, where he could generate source code and documentation from one common source, something he called literate programming (web/tangle) - a system that put javadoc to shame.

    That documentation is actually a very good commented version of the source.

    So the end result were two volumes with text books that explain the use of the TeX typesetting and the Metafont font generation software, two volumes that list the TeX and Metafont sources (with lot of comments), and the volume, that lists the font descriptions.

    This means, that using these five volumes, that are thought to be kept around a longer time as real books, plus the knowledge of some higher mathematics and computer science (like a pascal definition and some books on programming) would suffice some halfways decent gifted individual in the far future to recreate a simple pascal like programming language, and then bootstrap the whole Knuth TeX system (down to the fonts) from the knowledge and listings in the five Knuth books. If you then have some *.tex sources around, you could compile them on your then existing computer and print them on your then existing printer.

    I want to stress this, because most people think TeX is just some crude high quality math typesetter. No it is about being able to reproduce high quality maths in the far future.

    For truly longish messages into the future (like pyramides or nuclear waste or climate change), I recommend a book by renowned hard scifi writer Gregory Benford about that matter.

  • big companys [...] back EVERYTHING up on paper somewhere

    Dont be so sure. I remember one of Apple's excuses for the delay in Mac OS 7(.?) was the last californian earthquake, blaming the absence of a backup on some woman clerk working there at the time.

    Though, I dont recall anyone biting into it.

    To answer the original question, though, I dont think that humanity could loose trace of any OS out there, schematic diagrams of hardware etc. Surely enough, with the internet soon reaching to Mars (see today's story), there's bound to be illegal copies around the world on file sharing systems like HotLne, GNUtella and others.

    Karma karma karma karma karmeleon: it comes and goes, it comes and goes.
  • 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.

    On the contrary, I think I feel a greater sense of neighborliness and community online with people who share a few of my interests, than with those nitwits, rednecks, and assholes I keep having to encounter in real life.
  • One of the main questions here is whether we could do a better job with the Windows, x86, JCL, etc. if we started over. It's possible that we could move everything to quantum RISC chips, but at the same time we would probably incur the same or worse "industry standards" as we have now.

    For one thing, we can't assume that all the people who use BASIC will perish. At best we can hope that they'll end up on an ice floe somewhere, chipping GOTO's into whale bones. But the fact is, at some point, someone will say "hey, we can get BASIC to run on this", and the game will be up. (I don't mean to disparage BASIC too much; I wrote stuff in it too, but for the sake of argument let's assume that it's undesirable).

    But more importantly, the process of putting together standards would be even more fragmented. Most of the gobbledygook in technology arises from copying functionality from older platforms. This is a process of social replication, that is, people copy things that they know and obtain from other people they know. This same process has been observed in other knowledge-based systems like the web and in patents and academic journals - people don't make *random* links between ideas, web pages, etc., they tend to copy them from other sources, and make small modifications.

    This process depends on communication. By discussing or searching for other people's solutions to our problems, we can avoid duplication of effort. However, if we presumably have lost our computers and communications networks, we won't have the chance to unite to solve particular problems. Many competing standards will arise in areas that are isolated from each other. The ability for a competitive marketplace to weed out the crap will be heavily impaired. At best we will be left with small "communities" which are far more isolated than the current Linux or Mainframe or RISC communities. The process of uniting these groups will inevitably have the same problems we have now - incompatible solutions to similar problems, lack of interest in, or hostility to, common standards, and fights over patents and intellectual property, whether real or imagined.

  • 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.
  • 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? ;-)
  • by ocie (6659)
    We must act now to place paper tape, punch card and hardcopy of all free software in a deep mine shaft. Then after civilization is rebuilt, the only software that will be left will be free software. We can not let there be a source code gap!! Mein Fuhrer, I can code!!
  • geeks? They would be the first ones to perish.

    Many 'geeks' have good general problem-solving skills that would be adaptable and applicable to this kind of scenario. Their inventiveness would make processes more efficient and would help raise the standard of living for everyone. They could design and oversee the implementation of systems that would speed the recovery of civilization. The survivability of engineers, architects, scientists, and computer experts should not be so readily discounted.

    Also, to imply that the destruction of all computer equipment & media would reduce the world's population to hunter-gatherer groups is a huge exaggeration, imho. Although the event would be a staggering blow to society, it would hardly set us back ten thousand years. Many vehicles still exist that don't rely absolutely on computers. Other machines could be rigged with simple makeshift electrical circuits or otherwise modified to work without microprocessors. We still have paper documents known as books. So although our lives would be severely disrupted (and some lives lost), we would find ways to put things back together.

  • Well aren't you the master troll fighter ... he did make a point, which you, ah, seem to have subsequently proved by refusing to address it. Geeks don't seem to acknowledge the existence of a world outside their sphere of interest, which would make them pretty ripe for the plucking once that world falls.

    That wasn't a religious fundie troll he posted, and I don't think anyone is impressed by your grasp of slashdot history.
    --
  • by scrytch (9198)
    Sad all right. You learned assembly, were unable to take it further, and thus deride anything more abstract than your little circle of specialty. When you learn how to program in pure lambda calculus or S&K combinators, then I'll be impressed with your bare metal hacking abilities. All you come off as is merely antiquated instead.
    --
  • > For much the same reason, Linux and/or one of the *BSD's would become the standard OS.

    Er ... starting with a clean slate and you want to go back to UNIX? The mind boggles. Clue alert: ACL bits, singly-rooted hierarchical filesystems, numeric userid's, and concepts like "controlling tty" are showing their age.

    Might be time to revisit the notion of "operating system" entirely, but if you want to enshrine the Unix way, at least Pick Plan9.
    --
  • 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.

    You don't even need to be that clever (besides, blacksmiths can fashion pipes). Just convince them that bathing regularly prevents disease, that rats carry plague (time to teach germ theory), and that there's a big chunk o' land over west across the ocean that's bigger than all of europe that you might want to grab a good chunk of, pronto. Assuming you haven't been put on the stocks as a fool who bothered the king or burned at the stake for heresy, you might make a real difference.
    --
  • Presumably the phone network would also die in this computer cataclism.

    I'd rebuild that thing as a packet network, not a switched network. That would be a big improvement.

  • Personally, I would much rather contribute to the "great rebuilding" than find some line of work I can do without sitting behind a desk getting fat.

    You'd rather work in the computer industry than do something where you'd sit behind a desk and get fat? :-)

    -

  • But could you fend off the dirty unwashed masses who percieved you as the cause of their inability to download porn?

    You've obviously never run a firewall or a proxy with filtration software running on it. ;-)

    D.

  • Such places are very unusual these days, especially in the developed world. Though it is probably true that those that grow up in a rural environment know a bit more about agriculture, what most of them know is today's agriculture, with technology and the rest of the world contributing to their efforts. Unless your community was some kind of idealogical effort, I doubt the extent of what you say. If you have time to spend on slashdot, _mess_ around with computers, or what have you, you in all likelyhood are well removed from the day to day toils that is involved with the production of food and other essentials at a subsistence level. I dare you to show me one low tech farming community that, without _any_ physical contributions from the outside world (such as machinary, pestisides, fertilizers, water, etc.), has truely prospered. In other words, name your community or any other. 80 years was a long time ago technologically and developmentally. Even if your grandparents understood what this meant, doesn't mean that you truely know that existence.

    I think you're kidding yourself.
  • You might be able to survive, but being able to thrive by any means, means that you need a lot than mere intelligence and modest understanding. Even if your possess all those skills, greater society creates these things for you at such a level of efficiency that you simply take for granted how much effort they would take to create on your lonesome or with a small group of people. Such conveniences, are as a rule, created by large and developed societies, not by small groups of so-called geniuses. Even people 200 and 300 years before, who were far more acquainted with the land, could not just be set down somewhere and make a healthy existence. There are numerous examples of failings like this throughout history.
  • This is the topic of two recent scifi works.
    Silverberg's "The Alien Years" is about an
    alien conquest via an EMP pulse. Aliens control
    the earth for a century, but they don't interact
    much with humans.

    The new TV show Dark Angel is post-EMP apocalyse.

  • The magnetic field never goes to zero.
    The overall intensity may go to about a third of
    current. Several "mini-poles" may appear
    and move about relatively quickly, making
    compasses basically useless.

    This is known from (1) measurement of volcanic
    eruptions that occurred and became magnetized
    during reversal periods. I believe there are two
    cases. (2) Supercomputer simulations of earth's
    magnetic dynamo.

    Field strength fluctuates between 0.3 and 1.0
    Gauss over past ten millennia according to
    volcano and pottery measurements. We are now about
    0.45 Gauss, having dropped 8% since 1800.

  • Germany, Bosnia, Chechnya, all went rural during
    the height of war.

  • I wonder how much of this stuff kinda-sorta works with existing hardware. For example I am aware that many CPU's have more than two permissions contexts in their MMU but since UNIX only has kernelspace/userspace and root/non-root as its security these extra MMU bits aren't used (correct me if I am wrong, please). I am not aware what kind of stuff you can do on, for example, an x86 box when using ring 1-4 but I bet you could do something useful. Then again, maybe not, the hardware support probably only exists for backwards compatability purposes and isn't actually useful because of some unknown (to me) caveat.

    While a registry system seems good on paper, the MS Windows implementation should be seen as a skull on a pike for anyone else wishing to implement similar functionality.

    1. Should be human readable, at some point somebody is going to have read it and with today's CPU speeds there is no excuse for obtuse config options.
    2. Should also be machine readable, most of the time it will be edited with full-featured tools. File should be in a standard format (XML?) and should have all the meta-data required to understand it accessable. Anyone remember IBM MCA .cfg files?
    3. Should be _very_ lightweight and the absolute rock bottom, lowest common denominator of tools should be able to edit it. Can't fix a configuration when all the config tools require the system to be up and functional to work. (Even a journaling FS has fsck!)
    4. System should scale from single machines to huge networks. The network is the computer (or some such, look at Plan 9 for ideas on network/computer relationships).

    Uh, I'm all out of rant. Move along. 8^)

  • Clone Seymore Cray

    Unfortunately, Seymore has been dead a couple of years... I don't know if there is a viable DNA sample available to clone him.

  • ...and Bill Gates wanted to make people pay him for it.

    Yea, and that wasn't the way things generally worked in those days. His spleen venting rant about it has been legendary during since those homebrew computer days...

    I wonder if he offered any of that money back to the actual creators?

    Not a snowball's chance in hell. He actively tried to squash their company TrueBasic, actually, as they are clearly a competitor to his products.

  • Fortran was actually good for its time. COBOL, on the other hand was designed by a committee. Even if all the people on a committee aren't idiots, few good things come out of committee designs.

  • The question would be whether a two year dead and embalmed corpse would be viable as a source for clone DNA. I dunno.

  • the original Fortran 68

    Eh? What is Fortran 68? Are you getting it confused with Algol 68? There was a Fortran 66, but it wasn't the "original" Fortran, as its predecessor was Fortran IV (which was in turn preceeded by Fortran I, II and III one would assume). Fortran's original development was in the late 50's, not the late 60's.

  • No... BASIC was designed by two college professors as a dumbed down Fortran for teaching.

    You can find these guys now at:

    http://www.truebasic.com/ [truebasic.com]

    "John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz invented BASIC in 1964 for use at Dartmouth College. They made it freely available to everyone who wanted to learn how to program computers."

  • 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.

  • Ever thought about just what technologies are neede to build a CD-ROM? It's surprising how much is needed to be known, and how many tools have to be built before the CD-ROM can be built.
  • SO everything would be dones in base3?
  • Well, if we follow the example of "Spacehounds of the IPC [sfbookcase.com]" 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.
  • I would go so far as to say that hacker/engineer types would actually be the ones best at surviving. They are the ones who have the smarts to actually invent and build things that are useful to survival, e.g. crude weapons and traps. I suspect that when the bow and arrow was first invented, it wasn't by the "popular jock type" primitive caveman with an IQ of 50 - it was the "nerdy weeny type" caveman with an IQ of 70. The same goes for guns, just up those IQ values a little.

    Take a look at every major invention of mankind that "regular" people use and rely on every single day (from cars to books to computers to phones to TV to electricity to reinforced concrete to planes) - virtually every single one was invented by the smart "nerdy" type people - the other 99% of us have (throughout history) just been "riding along" on the inventions of others - never actually creating anything new, just using other peoples inventions.

    If survival was primarily about physical strength, then it might have been true that hacker/engineer types would have a tough time. But for the past 10000 years or so, physical strength has played a secondary part in human survival to intelligence. Dammit, why haven't women's instincts caught up yet? :)

  • Well, you take your machine and build a simple input device for it - something that has a busfull of switches (8 in the case of a nice old CPU, or more otherwise) and one debouncer tied to a button. A little more hardware later, and you have a bit of hardware that can encode a word and put it, one word at a time, onto the bus. With this, you code drivers for an output device. I chose (once upon a time) an LCD panel which was easy to interface with.

    Then, you use the same box and the output device and code up keyboard drivers so you don't need that damn box any more.

    Then, get an EEPROM and save the results of your labour onto it so you can boot to this state later.

    Then, you use the keyboard to code up drivers for a storage device, and you SAVE! YOUR! WORK! onto the storage medium and onto the EEPROM. Now, you can boot to the storage medium instead of just the EEPROM.

    From there, you can work on an OS and a compiler and a better FS than the POS you probbaly had to hack together in the first place. Should take you a good while.. Then I guess you start on Tribes 3 (Let's face it, not everyone likes Quake). I never got to the storage medium part, I got bored after I got the EEPROM booting the system up.
  • Suppose YOU had a time machine and got stuck in some medieval time. Would you survive more than a day?

    For those of you who don't know it already, Timeline by Michael Crichton is about that subject. It's worth a read, IMHO.
  • They made it freely available to everyone who wanted to learn how to program computers.


    ...and Bill Gates wanted to make people pay him for it.

    I wonder if he offered any of that money back to the actual creators?

    :-)*
  • Why not consider what it'd be like if we lost ALL our cultural infrastructure, and had to go back to stabbign cows with pointed sticks, and butchering them with chipped flints (now there's a lost skill).

    Think about what it'd be like if we lost EVERYTHING.

    No sawmills, no saws either for that matter or axes.

    No mines, no smelting facilities.

    No cars. No railroads.

    No cloths. No cloth. No mills. No electic sheep shearers. No electricity either.

    All the libraries and electronic records of our cultural know-how gone.

    It's not going to happen, as neither is your scenario, but it's staggering how much of our lifestyle differs from that of cave men due to infrastructure rather than any advance in us ourselves.
  • i think he answered it in a way. if the event were to happen developement of computers would be secondary at best to main concerns of people (food, shelter, etc). because of this people probably wouldnt worry that much about redeveloping computers. which is a good answer to the original question:

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

    we probably wouldnt do anything with computers at all, but rather worry about the problems created by not having computers. there is a point at which we would redevelop computers. since all digital information was destroyed (cdrom's, disks etc), and most dead tree stuff would have been long decayed/burned for fire at this point, we would probably not have much of the mistakes of the past to learn from.

    use LaTeX? want an online reference manager that


  • 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!

  • OK, this thread really begs a response.

    First, I find it difficult to believe that only 25% of the world population would feel its effects. Granted, not much of the world has seen a computer, but how close does the world live to sustainable, locally grown farming? This could just be buying US marketing hype, but I seem to recall that the US exports a significant amount of food to the rest of the world. Remember, without electronics, we don't have the advanced shipping planning that we have today, most of our ships won't work fully, and sailors would be relegated to using a sextant and a clock to determine their location on the sea! Also, without the infrastructure to transport feuls, farmers can only produce what their own manual labor will allow.

    So, what whanau is basically saying is that 75% of the world population lives (or could easily switch to living) entirely on food grown locally by muscle power. Given how much the world is populated, I just can't bring myself to believe that. But, I'm no expert on that.

    Second, as for the people telling whanau to move to better land: be very, very happy you were born in a land that doesn't oppress you! The idea that you can easily pick up everything and go to where opportunity is better is really one of the luxuries of the 'Western' world. Perhaps going to the better land would force you to cross active warfare. Perhaps there *is* no worthwhile land in your country, and all your neighbors don't feel like taking any immigrants. Perhaps you *could* go yourself, but that would mean leaving your family behind. Perhaps your family could all go, but you face the probability that one of you will starve during the journey.

    I'm not saying that the people in these places haven't caused some of their own problems - such as political corruption and embezzlement, warfare and subjugation, etc. - but I am saying that the attitude of "why don't you just go somewhere else" is a luxury, and one I tend to associate with people who were born well off and never think about anything else. (If you want to put it into really simple terms, think of Simba in the Lion King asking for a whole gazelle - he just doesn't realize that he's that spoiled!)
  • Actually, I think that recovering the current state of the art might take a few years, but assuming it was something like a giant EMP pulse that didn't destroy manufacturing equipment, it would be quite easy.

    You would need to build analog control equipment first - this could be made from vaccuum tubes, which are easy to produce. While primitive, you could get a decent CnC machine setup to produce the majority of the parts and tools you'd need. Chemistry isn't affected, and much of chip design has a LOT to do with chemistry and lithography, which is dependant on controlling light. Once you can produce extremely primitive microprocessors, the process becomes exponential. You wouldn't need to do a LOT of the stuff that came along the way in the current development cycle; The knoweledge and engineering is there.

    The big ones - the understanding of the physics - is what matters. Back in tha day, we didn't know you could make laser diodes. We didn't know how to mass produce ultra-fine chips. The simulation tools would have to be rewritten, yes, but that would take one or two years, not 10 or 20. The microprocessor has only been around for 30 years! People forget about that.

    In short, I'm not worried.. I know how to write a compiler :). Most of the old analog tech could be made from scratch in a few months - much of it was, during World War II. Microwave communications, radar, were all developed at rapid paces once the physics were understood - and we know all the physics now, nasty as it might be.

    And, just in case you needed a reason to take EE/Comp Eng over Computer Science! :)

  • 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).
  • 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

    Jon,

    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?
  • You may think you're some kind of 1337 killing machine because you can hit a 3D representation of another player over the net whilst maintaining low ping times, but you're not. Sorry.


    Hahahahaha! Unlike you, I can separate reality from fiction. Jesus! I'm kidding! I'm making fun of you! I'm not really trying to counter your moronic, irrelevant argument! Ask a few of those English chaps to explain humor to you...

    - - - - -
  • I've been on /. for quite a while, and I don't remember him. So I looked up his bio [slashdot.org]:
    I was born in Kansas 31 years ago and was educated at Bob Jones University and am proud to be a decent, God-fearing Christian who
    firmly believes in the inerrant nature of the Bible and Conservatism as a way of life. After becoming disgusted with the degenerate nature of modern America and the insidious control of Liberals in the American Government, I moved to London where I work as a top-flight IT consultant for NPO Technologies advising businesses on setting up their mission-critical enterprise platforms for b2b and b2c solutions.
    Hmmm... after becoming disgusted with American Liberals, he moved to London! Oh, yeah, they're certainly less degenerate and liberal there. England is way more of a welfare state than the U.S. ... But that's okay, he's a top-flight IT guy! Not to mention that a substantial percentage of Brits are athiest -- hardly a conservative, god-fearing nation. Lol.

    - - - - -
  • What happened to your tolerence of other peoples values?

    Heh. He's a Bob Jones University Alumnus. What do you think happened to it?

    - - - - -
  • We try because we care

    Pavin' that road to hell, aren't you?

    - - - - -
  • [amazon.com]
    The True Believer : Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements



    - - - - -
  • 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!

    - - - - -
  • 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!

    - - - - -
  • Anyone who finds this question intriguing should certainly read Walter M. Miller Jr.'s wonderful book [amazon.com] about the aftermath of nuclear war.
  • One comment I haven't seen is this seems to assume everyone will want to work together to get things back to where they were.

    For some reason, I don't buy it.

    I mean look at all the big players out there. If technology just suddenly died away, what makes you think that all the geniuses out there will want to sit down and design a single chip, or work together to come up with a single solution for everything. There are too many ego's to stroke and conflicting ideas to expect everything to work together seamlessly.

    Granted, it'd be nice in a utopian society to have all computer architecture answers now, and develop the ultimate computer architecture to get society back to where it is, but don't forget that people are greedy and will want you to buy their computer and their components.

    Besides, do you really want one solution to solve everything? Just like Windows is your single solution to the OS. In other words, one solution (perfect or not) is a monopoly.

  • So, do you mind if I exploit a loophole here? The question was what would happen if all microprocessors were destroyed. The first microprocessor wasn't built until about 1970; there were plenty of big-transistor and core-memory machines around before then. And the paper tape and punch cards were very common storage media. So all you need is a generator build before 1975 or so and a computer built before 1970 or so and a programmer born before 1950 or so and OBTW back in those days the manuals were printed on paper so they're still intact...

    Junk yards are chock full of point-ignition gasoline engines, so transportation could start happening before too long. And as long as I'm exploiting loopholes, you said "microprocessor" and not IC, and from 1970 to about 1985, most "electronic ignitions", including fuel injection controllers, were based on circuit boards that featured very thick traces and no chips of any kind. A lot of those cars and trucks and busses are still going strong.

    My biggest concern is that the cities may starve to death within a few weeks if it takes that long to get food coming back in.

    Water, gas and electric I'm not so worried about--even though power plants are computer controlled, the computers are just there to coordinate the throwing of great big switches and those can be thrown by people. The lights would be on and the water would be flowing and the refrigerator just might keep running too. The furnace, though, is another story.

    After the humanitarian disaster of riot and starvation, whoever's left has another huge hurdle to overcome: the world's communications infrastructure is now complete trash and untrashing it will take an amazingly long time, but ghod willing, "they" would settle on some standards this time around.

    Speaking of humanitarian disasters, I don't know how well the third world will survive all this. If the nations in question aren't very dependent on outside food, they will probably manage better than the modern world, because their infrastructure, including communications, are still based on non-microprocessor technology. So they'll still have phones, and radio, and drivable vehicles. Most of the medicines they need are ones that are pretty easy to make, like polio vaccine and antibiotics.

    As for us programmers, the vast majority of us will have to get real jobs, because ubiquitous computing will be another twenty years away.

    P.S. I hope you have cash and a gun, because your bank account's fucked. Then again, your credit card balance is back to zero as well. It will be interesting to see who the new rich and powerful are now that all the virtual-representation money has disappeared.

    --

  • "Concerned Christians" are reponsible for the Inquisition, Apartheid, Fascism and Nazism, the conquest, domination and extermination of native peoples all around the globe and the Mad Cow Disease.

    And don't forget baby-eating. Where the hell do you get this stuff?

  • No, he's saying that it would be impossible to design/manufacture a modern computer without the help of existing computers.

    Which is completely beside the point. The question didn't have anything to do with modern computers. It was a question about how we would design differently if we could go back to the beginning with the knowledge we have now. IPv6 implemented from the ground up, firewire on everything, etc... etc... What if we could redesign the whole system with the knowledge to avoid the current pitfalls? What would we end up with....?

    Kintanon
  • But that's just my point. In order to create blueprints, manufacturing facilities, infrastructure and the chips/computers themselves, the scientists NEED computers.



    Hrmmm... So what you're saying is that computers can't exist because there is no way someone could have built/designed a computer without having a computer? I'm pretty sure there's a flaw in that position somewhere... if I could just put my finger on it....>:)

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

    ----
  • Hear hear! :)

    I'm a pretty smart geek. I wouldn't call myself a hacker. I know what the word means, and I know that I'm not one ;) However, you stick me down in front of anything technological(and give me unrestricted access) and within months I'll have it figured out, from the hardware components to the UI.

    And I'm joining the army :) Sure, I'm going to be a tech guy, but first I'll have to go through Basic Training. And I hope to get a year or two of honest-to-goodness fieldwork in.

    More than one person has sadly kept the "geek" stereotype in mind when dealing with me. They rarely came out of the encounted unscathed(most of the time they were verbally beaten; but for a few arses, whos thought they were strong, they got a sound thrashing of the physical persuation).

    Anyways, my point? I'm not some kind of superman, but I can beat the crap out of 95% of the people I see. The 5% I can't are the people that are *both* bigger than me, and smart enough to realize that I'm not some skinny, pimpled freak that doesn't know how to use what body parts he's got.

    Dave

    Barclay family motto:
    Aut agere aut mori.
    (Either action or death.)
  • Most of us reading this could lead a very comfortable life. We all have extensive knowledge that could make us useful advisors to somebody's court. I'm not talking about foreknowledge of events. How about a good knowledge of geography? Or enough math to be able to do polyalphabetic encryption in a world without good secure communications. Just having the concept of certain kinds of bows before they were developed could provide an edge in warfare.
  • 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?
  • Just a simple question.

    Do *you* know how to make soap?

    I have vague recollections, but in a bind I don't think I could make soap.

  • I was hoping to write a sci-fi short story, many years ago. The thrust is on this topic, as well as on the "Anticryptography" theories employed in the SETI project.

    In this, a SETI-like project was trying to make the Encyclopedia Terra. The media had a casing made of a hardy metal, engraved on the inside with the introductory materials that would explain how our language worked and how to read the denser media protected within. The media, graduated into denser and denser volumes, then described our technologies from simple to complex, as well as other scientific data about Earth.

    Shortly afterwards, a nuclear holocaust wiped out pretty much all Science on the planet. A working sample of the Encyclopedia wasn't launched in a space probe; it was instead found by some of the progenic humans on Earth.

    Encyclopedia Terra would bootstrap Earth. How would our world religions be shaped if "how-to" were the focus, instead of our current religions' penchant for espousing "thou-shalt-not"? Our Restrictive God's society torn down by Science; the next society's Instructive God torn down ultimately by Faith?

  • by XiRho (91952)
    640Gb should be enough for everyone.
    --Bill Gates, post de-computerization apocalypse
  • Mark Twain addressed this very hypothetical issue a while ago in a book you may have heard of.

    Basically, someone with solid basic knowledge of mechanical (NOT digital) concepts would probably be much more important in "rebooting" society.

    Someone with an abacus, some ropes and pulleys, and the skills to use them could go far in such an environment.

  • 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?

  • "In the real world - planet Earth, Reality - there are somewhere between six and ten billion people. At any given time, most of them are making mud bricks or field-stripping their AK-47s. Perhaps a billion of them have enough money to own a computer; these people have more money than all the others put together. Of these billion potential computer owners, maybe a quarter of them actually bother to own computers, and a quarter of these have machines that are powerful enough to handle the Street protocol. That makes for about sixty million people who can be on the Street at any given time. Add in another sixty million or so who can't really afford it but go there anyway, by using public machines, or machines owned by their school or their employer, and at any given time the Street is occupied by twice the population of New York City. That's why the damn place is so overdeveloped. Put in a sign or a building on the Street and the hundred million richest, hippest, best-connected people on earth will see it every day of their lives."
    --Snow Crash

    Completely uncalled for, I know...but I thought it was topical. :-)

    --Just Another Pimp A$$ Perl Hacker who'll be First against the wall when the revolution comes
  • by hawk (1151) <hawk@eyry.org> on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @09:21AM (#395761) Journal
    >and bypass the known problems like
    >- using short-lived designs like 2-digit years in computers

    But, contrary to all the hype, that was *not* an error.


    While the cleanup cost was huge, an estimate was done as to what the costs would have been to use 4 year dates from the beginning. The present value dwarfed the costs of fleanup; it was by a factor of 3 or 4.


    Early on, an encoded date wasn't a serious option; you had to store the
    date you wanted as you wanted it--converting a binary digit to two decimal digits still had noticable costs. Consider also the additional storage requirements. Punch cards had, give or take, 72 usable columns. 4 digit dates cost two of those. Also 2 more punches by the operator per card--a 3-5% increase in labor. Then there's storying the date in memory. A buck/byte/month for main memory was a breakthrough when it happened.


    Like other things that look like errors, this one just plain wasn't.


    hawk

  • by BeBoxer (14448) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @07:14AM (#395762)
    Actually, you don't need computers to make the blueprints for a microprocessor. Sure, you wouldn't want to design a PIII by hand. But, how do you think they designed early microprocessors? It was done by literally drawing the design on big ass sheets of clear plastic. Different colors for each layer. Drawn by hand in marker. These sheets then got photographically reduced to make the masks for the actual manufacturing process.

    It's actually the same process today, just with better tools. The layers still get (at least partially) drawn by hand in a CAD program. Sure, the CAD program has nice things like cut and past to make the job easier, but it's still the same basic process. Quality simulators make it easier to verify that your design will probably work as intended when you manufacture it, but they are not any more necessary than a spelling checker in your word processor. At least not for simpler designs. It's probably true that something like a PIII with it's RISC/CISC hybrid structure would be almost impossible by hand. But, I bet you could design a reasonable RISC 32-bit processor by hand without automated tools. You might want to ditch the floating point portion. There is probably a reason that hardware floating point came along fairly late in the development of microprocessors.
  • by CodeShark (17400) <ellsworthpc.yahoo@com> on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @07:21AM (#395763) Homepage
    How to create a survivable knowledge base. Obviously the ability to recreate an electronic world is based on the ability to re-create the fabrication technologies required to build the circuit boards and chips. Wiping the slate clean of current systems doesn't allow a quick restoration, because the fabrication technology is based on those current systems and the very intelligent people who designed them, current limitations and all.

    So the real questions become:

    • How do we isolate a system capable of holding the fabrication knowledge base (to survive all but a world-ending catastrophe). A concrete bunker outside the catastrophe zone with a powered down system, generator, and fuel accomplishes this.

      Obviously the right software needs to be available to the system, with the right i/o devices: we might as well be able to create the litho masks for current transistor technologies rather than returning to the circuit densities of the '60's; C++, Java, and other web tech instead of Cobol and CICS); scanners with OCR as opposed to keypunch machines, etc.)

    • What is the required publication technology, so that the needed information can be reproduced in a non-electronic matter? A small web-press with appropriate paper supplies, ink, and water would accomplish this, with the appropriate supporting bindery equipment (to make leaflets, brochures, magazines, and books).
    • Highly intelligent, ethical people willing to look at and seek to avoid past mistakes (including those inherent in the powered down system, supporting agriculture and trade (for raw materials), and a defending army to allow them to restore the tech base.
    Say, sounds something like David Brin's novel The Postman doesn't it? (not the movie version, btw).

    Hey, I'll provide the cave and the backup systems. Anybody want to lend me a few bazillion dollars to do the rest? *grin*

  • by hugg (22953) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @08:05AM (#395764)
    It's easy to recover -- just reinstall Win98, MS PowerPlant Controller 2000, MS NORAD 68, and MS Refinery. Instant civilization!
  • by tbo (35008) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @03:22PM (#395765) Journal
    can YOU still read that old code from your C64?

    Yup. I tried it just the other week on my sixteen year-old Commodore 64. Some of the 5 1/4 floppies were dead, but my dog had a good time playing with those.

    Spy Hunter still worked, but it was far, far easier than I had remembered... Maybe there actually is a reason why we stopped playing all those games.
  • by British (51765) <british1500@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @07:00AM (#395766) Homepage Journal
    All those 3.5 inch floppes would make great armor. Get some knives, and you can make ninja throwing stars out of AOL CDs.
  • by baitisj (64922) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @07:29AM (#395767) Homepage
    Didn't you learn anything when you saw what Ash did in Army of Darkness? Yes! He kept a spare physics book in his trunk of his car.

    He also had a shotgun and chainsaw. Clearly, these are important tools for any post-apocolyptic event or survival in medieval times. Would these devices, too, be wiped out by a giant catastrophy? Unlikely at best. There is hope for humanity after all!

    But you might ask yourself: "What can I do to help prevent the mass-extinction of all scientific knowledge on the planet?"

    The solution is easier than you think: go out this very moment and buy a spare physics book and put it in your car! The key is to be proactive! I suggest schools install physics books in special recepticals with labels that say "Break glass in the event of comprehensive technological erasure." Remember, educating society starts with the education of the minds of the young.

    Thank you, and we now return you to your previous ill-concieved brain spew.
  • by XiRho (91952) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:48AM (#395768) Homepage
    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.

  • by streetlawyer (169828) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:50AM (#395769) Homepage
    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.
  • by Shotgun (30919) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:31AM (#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.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @09:50AM (#395771) Homepage
    Back in the 1950s, there was a serious attempt by the U.S. Government to address the issue of restarting civilization after a nuclear war. One product of this effort was a set of microfiche and a reader, containing all the basic information needed to reproduce 1950s technology. Large numbers of copies were made and distributed to fallout shelters around the US.

    If anyone knows of the whereabouts of such a set, I'd be interested in buying it.

  • by LAI (166400) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @07:19AM (#395772) Homepage
    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.
    True -- to a point. The rebuilding would be much faster, though, for several reasons.
    • We would still have paper media, and other non-digital archives. The principles behind modern chips and circuits do not have to be reinvented, just rebuilt.
    • Only prototypes need be built. We don't have to mass-produce a series of Babbage engines, then vacuum-tube colossi, then generation after generation of PCs. We would need only a few older computers in order to develop newer ones.
    • Lots of manpower would be used. Think about the number of IT professionals today who would want to contribute in some way to the effort. Personally, I would much rather contribute to the "great rebuilding" than find some line of work I can do without sitting behind a desk getting fat.
    • Think about how much support the project would have from Those In Charge. Whether, post-reboot, this turns out to be a new feudal-style ruling class, the storm troopers Bill Gates has been gathering in his basement or the usual gang of idiots, the members would very likely be interested in putting resources into getting their iMacs back and playing some solitaire.
    I think the real question here is not how long it would take to rebuild what we have now, but what we would do differently. Would we keep configurations as they are, or would we pay more attention to forward-compatibility? For instance, I doubt any of the new machines built would have a 5 1/4" floppy drive. Perhaps 3 1/2"s would be pre-empted too, in favour of something along the lines of ZIP or even DVD-RW.

    The most interesting question to me is, what fundamental changes would be made? Right now there is quite a bit of research done into quantum computing, and into biotech. (I know, because I read it on /.) Would these emerging technologies have any sort of impact on rebuilding our computing infrastructure, or would humanity keep the blinders it's worn for so long and doggedly continue along the same path it was on?

  • by Masem (1171) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @07:07AM (#395773)
    I think trying to 'force' this change by a sudden silicon-affecting-only catastophy is a bad way to put it. Let me try another:

    Hypothetically, if you did not have to rely on supporting any existing standards, and the resulting computers, software, etc, had 100% acceptence by everyone, and ignoring any problems with implementation of such a system including financal ones, how would you build the computers/hardware/chips/software/network for maximum efficiency, usability, and customizability? Further assume that anyone involved in the production of equipment or software for this 'new' computing system are doing it for the benefit of mankind and not to maximize their profit.

    Unforunately, if you ask this question now, then again in a year, and then a year after that, the responses would continue to change drastically, because new computing features continue to evolve every year if not sooner. Three to 4 years ago, the concept of Java's virtual engine took hold. XML as a way for extensible data exchange was big, this year peer-to-peer networking is large. Hardware moves just as fast, from chips that know when to run into idle mode, to USB or Firewire devices, to LCD/flat panel monitors. With the Big Reset as the question above poses, we'd definitely want to include such features in the hardware/software design. What's to say that next year, technology "Foobar" will be the next big thing, and then we'll want to include that? But generally, when you include something new on existing standards, it's typically a hack, even if the standard attempted to allocate space for new innovations (The current discussion on the ATA spec and content protection is a good example of this).

    The other thing is that while designing such a system 'for the benefit of mankind' is certainly not a problem, the manufactor of hardware and development of software would be controlled by corporate interests in which the last thing on their mind is "for the benefit of mankind". Again, if the standard is written to allow extensibility, no doubt some manufacture will add their extentions without documentation to try to lock the user into their product, or such that two separate products work effectively links but with other vendors, the products are not as effective -- in other words pulling what MS did with Windows and IE. No matter how much talk we do to try to set Big Reset guidelines, companies will do what is best for their bottom dollar.

  • by Shotgun (30919) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @07:41AM (#395774)
    That's right, Man!!

    I may be a tech geek, but I'm also 230 all-American pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal. If it all ended tomorrow I would run butt-wild naked, kill you all for food and mate with your women. Then I would make me a 733t machine from beach sand that I purify over the campfire that I start from rubbing two sticks together. Doping. We don't need no stinking doping. I would just make up a new type of PN just using leaves from an oak tree or something, just like they do on all those Star Trek episodes. Tech geeks are 733t I say, especially us suave, muscled, manly type.

    For the clueless: doping in the process of adding specific amounts of certain impurities to purified silicon in order for it to be a semi-conductor. It's also the process of adding impurities to the human body in order to get fucked-up, but that is a different post.

  • by sesquiped (40687) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:41AM (#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.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @09:36AM (#395776)
    >Suppose YOU had a time machine and got stuck in some medieval time. Would you survive more than a day?

    Probably not. I wouldn't smell like the rest of the peasants, my haircut, clothing, and speech patterns would be "all wrong", and I'd be burned as a witch/warlock within a few hours.

    > 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.

    And if you didn't get burned as a witch, this would clinch it :)

    But speaking hypothetically - if you could avoid the stake - yes, this would be where to start.

    > How would we produce a transistor without the knowledge and equipment to produce a diode?

    Read "A Canticle for Leibowitz", probably the best "manual for rebooting civilization" ever written.

    You've glommed onto part of the problem, but not all of it. The real key is "why would you want to make a diode?" To want to make a diode, you need to understand semiconductors. To do that, you need to understand "conductor" and "nonconductor". To do that you need to understand electricity.

    I'd start by using a steam engine (the "big sphere with two jets sticking out of it" from Greek times) to turn a wheel. I'd ask the blacksmith to make me something that approximated metal wire, wrap some around some wooden dowels, grab some lodestone for magnets, etc...

    If (again, building a generator would likely get you burned as a witch - look, the witch makes lightning from a spinning wheel! Unholy!) I didn't burn at the stake for it, I'd have electricity.

    Electricity gives you better smelting capabilities, electroplating, and opens up lots of cool physics - radio, etc. as well as motors to drive pumps. Radio would give my King superior communications, and superior communications would allow him to defend the Kingdom against opponents.

    The rest would take care of itself - pump-vaccum-tube-semiconductor. Semiconductor-diode-transistor. Throw in the notion of the Turing machine and programmability (no software, just the idea that state machines can be made to do things), and you've got computing again.

    To rephrase the question -- would you rather that a hyperadvanced alien species give you a device that could communicate faster than light? Or would you rather they give you the physics breakthroughs that explains how to build such a device.

    If they give you the device, you have a nifty toy.

    If they give you the physics textbook, you've just advanced your civilization by $BIGNUM years.

  • by adubey (82183) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:46AM (#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.
  • by SpanishInquisition (127269) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:30AM (#395778) Homepage Journal
    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.
    --
  • by ogre2112 (134836) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:53AM (#395779)
    "But geeks? They would be the first ones to perish. "

    Bullshit. You're assuming all geeks are pimple-faces kids, 6 feet tall, weighing 120 pounds, right?

    Just because I sit in front of a terminal all day doesn't mean I couldn't hunt you down and
    rightiously kick your ass to feed my newfound cannabalism.
  • by mortenf (191503) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:23AM (#395780) Homepage
    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...

    --
  • by crgrace (220738) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @08:48AM (#395781)
    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.

    Actually, people used to design chips without computers all the time. Computers are used to make the process more efficient. They are necessary now only because of the extreme complexity of current chips, not because of any inherent need of computers.

    Basically, we would re-populate the world in a very similar way that we design a compiler. We would design a very simple computer using very simple gate-level chips that don't need computers to be designed. Then, we would build the computer (it would be as large as a mainframe). We could then use this computer to design a more powerful computer. And so on. This is like compiler design in that a very rudimentary compiler is implemented and then used to compile its own components.

    I'm a professional integrated circuit designer, and I can tell you that there are a lot of useful circuits that I could design without a computer. For high performance stuff, of course I would need a powerful computer for extensive simulation, but designers could easily design simple analog and digital circuits without them.

    As for the semiconductor processing needed to make these simple chips, a lot of manual fab equipment exists, mostly in university teaching and research labs. While we would have to put the sub-micron fab lines at Intel in storage, I can tell you that we could build simple 2 micron chips by hand at UC Santa Barbara TODAY.

    In summary, this is not something to worry about. Because, presumably, human knowledge would not be erased, I think we could bootstrap outselves back to modern technology in about 10 years. It would take that long only because of the many generations of simpler computers used to design more powerful computers required.

  • by OlympicSponsor (236309) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:23AM (#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
  • by Faulty Dreamer (259659) <dreamer AT faultydreams DOT org> on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @07:00AM (#395783) Homepage
    Even though we all know that Bob (or Mr. Abooey to the rest of the trolls) is completely full of shit, he does bring up an interesting point.

    The fact is, it would take one hell of a devestating event to cause complete destruction of ALL computers and computer systems. We have government offices/shelters all over the world built deep, deep underground to save the 'important' people in the event of nuclear attack. I would think there would also be at least a few computers present in these shelters. Nobody can imagine living without computers nowadays. And if the end times come, and humanity is wiped out, we want to make sure that the important government officials can still create massive amounts of paperwork in their locked-away shelters. What better way than with computers?

    Take that, and the fact that we have a (at least semi) permanent space-station which is probably filled with computer equipment, both high-grade industrial type stuff and commodity PC hardware (don't a lot of astronauts have laptops with them?), anything short of a full-on Earth destroying event (and one that destroys the space station with it) would probably not be able to completely wipe out all computers.

    But, if we are talking theoretical, I think it would be a good thing if we had to go back to the beginning. It might make people a little more concious of the fact that there is life outside of computers. Granted, we would all be too busy hunting and fishing to worry about recreating our computers. If all electronics were wiped out, there would be no electricity (aren't all power plants computer controlled?), no cars (how many cars don't have computers in them now?), no TV (OH THE HUMANITY!), no radio, and basically we would be thrust back into a sort of dark ages. The ones to survive would be the ones that can manage to hunt and gather on their own. There would be no massive transports, there would be no infrastructure for government to 'sieze control' in a situation like that. It would be, um, interesting to say the least. And it would serve to clean up the current gene pool a bit.

    But, what sort of event would it take to selectively remove all electronics completely from the Earth in such a way that there would be no way to quickly recreate them? I'm having real problems coming up with a possible scenario that doesn't include extinction of all life, at least all human life.

  • by whanau (315267) on Wednesday February 28, 2001 @06:28AM (#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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