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Sci-Fi Medicine

Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful? 737

An anonymous reader writes: "Young people, when choosing a profession, are often told to 'do what you love.' That's why we have experts in such abstruse fields as medieval gymel. But let's talk hypotheticals: if there's a worldwide catastrophe in which civilization is interrupted, somebody specializing in gymel wouldn't provide much use to fellow survivors. In a post-apocalypse world, medical doctors would be useful, as would most scientists and engineers. The bad news for Slashdotters is that decades without computers would render computer science and related professions useless. What do you consider to be the most useful and mostly useless post-apocalypse professions? How long would it take for society to rebuild enough for your profession to be useful?"
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Ask Slashdot: Are You Apocalypse-Useful?

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  • Farming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:04PM (#46736411)

    People can survive quite well without the care of physicians. Going without food is more difficult.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:08PM (#46736431)

    At least it will be cool for a big EPM to take out your student loans

  • WHAT? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NettiWelho ( 1147351 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:08PM (#46736435)

    The bad news for Slashdotters is that decades without computers would render computer science and related professions useless.

    Says who? Are we talking about a magical scenario where all technology just stops working?

    There is a massive cache of existing technology which can be repurposed to rebuild society. Whos gonna do it if not Slasdotters?

    We can individually maintain libraries billions of times larger than that of ancient alexandria and provide that wealth of knowledge to others at the cost of suns rays.

  • by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:08PM (#46736441)
    I have a neighbour who is a weaver. She most certainly has skills worth sharing. The post-apocalyptic world would also need blacksmiths, potters, carpenters, farmers and so on. Not to mention someone capable of swinging a sword and lopping the heads off marauders intent on dragging off the young women and torching the village. The challenge is that scientists and engineers do not necessarily have the skills most critically required in the first decade or two of a new civilization, but their knowledge is critical to helping a society advance rapidly later. Hence, we'll need monks well versed in the scriptures of science.
  • Re:Medical doctor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chikungunya ( 2998457 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:11PM (#46736469)
    Visit an ER or an ambulance with paramedics for half a day, you would be surprised of how much can be done for people even when you have no time or access to equipment and most drugs.
  • Re:Farming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:16PM (#46736503)

    Beyond that, most modern medicine requires pharmaceuticals and technology. Most doctors would be pretty bad off post-apocalypse.

    Also, my career is irrelevant. I can build a house. But my career is in technology. So I would have to turn a hobby into a job.

  • Soldier (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:16PM (#46736507)

    Knowing how to shoot and shoot well would be an invaluable skill.

  • Problem solving (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MpVpRb ( 1423381 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:18PM (#46736519)

    Although my main profession is software, I also do circuit design, construction, metalworking, carpentry and most of the other building trades

    I find that even though the specifics are different, the fundamental skill is the same..problem solving

    Software, circuit design, carpentry or any of the other disciplines seem more similar than different

    The steps are the same..clearly identify the problem, look at the tools and materials that are available, then find a solution using what you have to work with

  • Re:WHAT? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NettiWelho ( 1147351 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:20PM (#46736541)

    >There is a massive cache of existing technology which can be repurposed to rebuild society.

    None of which works when the electricity dies.

    ... And who exactly is in the best position to figure out a way to produre more when that happens? There wont be a need to run a whole datacenter but only the required equiptment at a time which should be doable even with salvaged solar panels and batteries. And besides nuclear plants dont need refueling any time soon, heck, you could even use nuclear power to grow food indoors if we are in a nuclear winter scenario.

  • by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:23PM (#46736559) Journal

    no skill involved

    uh, haven't gotten around much, have you?

  • by StonyCreekBare ( 540804 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:23PM (#46736561) Homepage
    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:28PM (#46736593) Homepage Journal

    Which, it turns out, has very little to do with actual computers.

    The intellectual skills involved in CS could, with not much difficulty, be turned to other kinds of problem solving such as operations research. Seriously, you're going to leave questions like how to most efficiently distribute scarce resources such as food to someone with a *business* degree? As a computer scientist, I'd create a model of the underlying problem, develop alternative algorithms, then show how those algorithms and model apply the real world problem. I use computer science every time I come home from grocery shopping. As I remove items from the bags I stage them by where they are eventually going to go. Why? Because efficient sorting algorithms eliminate lots of entropy early on. Consequently I only open my refrigerator *once*.

    Computer science is essentially about figuring out the resources needed to accomplish things. If you want to figure out how much fodder it would take to move your draft animal powered army over a certain distance, you *could* consult a historian who specialized in the logistics of pre-mechanized warfare who'd tell you how Viscount Howe did it in the New Jersey Campaign of 1776-1777. Or you could find some CS graduate who pulled at least a "B" in algorithms to figure it out for you.

    As for experts in gymel -- a technique for singing polyphony with one voice -- it's worth considering that the technique was developed in a period of human history that would be considered apocalyptically awful by modern standards. Even when times are violent, disordered, and desperately poor people still need art and music, and if we're stipulating that apocalyptic == "no computers", that means no iPods either. So it seems quite plausible to me that experts in gymel might find their services *more* in demand in a post-apocalyptic world.

  • Re:Medical doctor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:30PM (#46736603)
    A larger point to make is that a number of occupations require problem solving skills. Most of these fields fall in the science or engineering category. Even if the problems of the day were to change to align more with survival and rebuilding civilization, I want a glut of people who are good at problem solving over those who are only good at things which would not be useful - like moving large sums of money around and taking a cut or staring at paint on a wall or canvas.
  • Re:Soldier (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:30PM (#46736607)

    Knowing how to shoot and shoot well would be an invaluable skill.

    Bullets can't grow crops, filter water, or patch up a broken limb. All they can do is provide those things temporarily at the expense of others until a bullet ends up in you. Even if someone with a gun manages to be a protector of sorts it will only be a matter of time before everyone else decides that they aren't pulling their own weight. Someone with no skill tilling a field will do more for the survival of their group than the best soldier.

  • Re:Medical doctor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <{moc.proc-cnimsd} {ta} {salis}> on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:40PM (#46736645) Homepage

    No electricity means your failing at basic engineering. A coil and a moving magnet is not that hard to come by.

  • Re:WHAT? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:46PM (#46736689)

    Even without computers. Computer Science is a damn useful skill.
    Computer Science is the Science of Computation.
    So in this theoretical world where technology is gone, which will mean that we won't know how to make electricity by spinning a magnet in a bunch of wires, or how to make a battery with Zink and copper in an Acid. Then sending this electric current threw some sand to make a transistor. Then we arrange these things into Not gates, And Gates, Or Gates. We seem to know quartz can vibrate so we can remake a counter.... We can save stuff with magnetizing it on rust suck on something sticky.

    So the idea were we cannot have a computer made from scratch within a few years, as we already know about them and how the basic components work, is rather silly.

    However in the mean time, these computer scientists can use these skills to manage a labor work force. Giving them simple jobs, aligning them so they can perform complex actions. For example in college cafeteria. I found there was a long line for the utensils, Because all the forks were group together, the spoons were grouped together then the knives were grouped together. The computer science people saw that this line was being inefficient as only 1 person was at the table at once because they almost always needed the fork. So we moved the forks, spoons and knives into clusters next to each other and were able to improve the line speed threefold.

    Computer Science disciplines the mind to think of things in terms of efficiency, and patterns, as well figuring in the unpredictable actions from people, and their more predicable actions in masses.

    So in this theoretical Apocalypse work the computer scientist is still a useful person in such a world.

    Now this said, in order to get such an world, you will need to kill off all the information and including the smart people. So you will need to kill of all the computer scientists, engineers, and other educated people to really create such a world.

  • contingency plan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:47PM (#46736699) Journal
    If it is a true apocalyptic scenario, 99% of us will be dead anyway, so my plan is to not prepare at all. It's worth making preparations for scenarios that are more realistic, like bottles of water in case the water gets cut off after an earthquake, or food for a few days when transportation is interrupted. Those kinds of things happen in real life.
  • Re:Medical doctor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:48PM (#46736705) Homepage

    If she could reduce a fracture and sew up a wound; if she could diagnose the most common ailments and give the best advice you could get with the technology available, she'd be about 80% as useful as a modern doctor.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:51PM (#46736723)

    As long as you've got some distance, that plan will work. I'm always amused by the people who live 20 minutes outside a major metropolitan area spouting off with the "I'll shoot them if they come after my _____". There's a couple million people 20 minutes from you who don't know how to do anything other than pick up the phone and order food... You don't have enough bullets...

  • Re:WHAT? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 12, 2014 @08:15PM (#46736835)

    >And who exactly is in the best position to figure out a way to produre more [electricity] when that happens?

    Not computer scientists or programmers. They wouldn't have the faintest clue how to produce regulated 120 VAC @ 60Hz.

    Next asinine rhetorical question, please.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @08:27PM (#46736901)

    In either a sudden collapse, or gradual decay, much will be lost. Let me remind you that when the Roman civilization decayed, technologies as simple as the making of cement were lost.


    Not exactly what we'd consider "high tech." It demonstrates just how fragile our scientific advancements are. They can be wiped out by a few generations of relative illiteracy for the great mass of survivors. In three generations, electric lights are a distant legend and those ubiquitous round copper disks find their most frequent use as quick, easily made arrowheads.

  • Re:Medical doctor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FatdogHaiku ( 978357 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @09:00PM (#46737107)
    Agreed. I have a magnifying glass that will heat a soldering iron... In fact a little tip for you is if you EVER see a rear projection TV sitting on the curb, GET THE LENSES!!!
    I can also use a manual mill, lathe, drill press (all of those used to run on belts from water wheels, they are that old). People solid in science or engineering often have a grasp of the history of technology, having a grasp of historical technique is way more valuable. Problem solving is great but remembering HOW it was solved in the past is infinitely better. If you are serious, find old books and protect and store them... I wish I still owned the encyclopedia set I had in 1965... it had everything from gear cutting details to gun cotton recipes...
  • Re:Medical doctor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @09:14PM (#46737181)
    Forget coils and moving magnets - In a post-apocalypse world there are alternators under the hood of every abandoned car. Some diodes, a windmill or waterwheel and you're in business.
  • Re:WHAT? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by leonardluen ( 211265 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @09:44PM (#46737347)

    every abandoned car on earth would have an alternator. just need to rig something to spin it and you have electricity, say make a windmill.

    heck all the cars also have batteries i would have to imagine at least some of those would still work as well.

    electricity wouldn't be too hard to get.

  • too many bad books (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @09:50PM (#46737375) Homepage Journal

    Submitter has read too many bad books.

    Remember, in stories, the world works the way the author needs it to work for dramatic purposes, not necessarily the way that it most likely would in reality.

    The typical Mad Max scenario is unlikely. Just like SciFi authors thought we'd have flying cars and take our vacations on the moon, but didn't forsee the Internet and mobile phones, the real scenario will very likely be quite different from the movies you've seen.

    Which basically means: Who the fuck knows which skills will be useful and which ones won't? Maybe computers will be worthless and shooting is important. But maybe supply of ammunition runs out a lot faster than electricity which we increasingly generate decentralized with solar and wind farms.

    Maybe something entirely unexpected turns out to be the most important skill to have.

    Also: Looking at history, civilization-destroying catastrophies are incredibly rare. Most civilizations enter a phase of decline and slowly fade away.

  • by RabidReindeer ( 2625839 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @11:05PM (#46737675)

    In the 1700s, people started seriously experimenting with electricity, magnetism and general chemistry (as opposed to alchemy).

    By the late 1800s we had thermionic valves and semiconductor rectifiers.

    In 1949 we figured out how to combine semiconductors in order to make a "transfer resistor" (trans-istor). Followed rapidly by integrated circuits and avalanching into sophisticated nanometer circuitry.

    There are still people alive who grew up on farms thinking that diodes and triodes were pretty neat new technogy and you can almost construct stuff like that using bear skins and stone knives. The hardest part, in fact, is the glass-blowing technology required, assuming you don't opt for some other similar vacuum-tight container.

    A lot of modern civilization wouldn't be that hard to re-construct if we had the resources available. The knowledge is what took us so long to get here, and unless we lose all the knowledge and the knowledge about the knowledge, recovery wouldn't be a problem. What would hurt more is if we lost our transportation services. Most of what goes into modern electronics is not locally produced where I live.

    So one of the most valuable professions might very well be landfill-miner, since the easiest way to get materials would be to extract them from what is now often buried as garbage.

  • by jgotts ( 2785 ) <jgotts@gmail. c o m> on Saturday April 12, 2014 @11:08PM (#46737687)

    Here's my opinion on apocalyptic planning. You're wasting your energy. We've been predicting that the apocalypse is right around the corner since the dawn of civilization.

    Prepare yourself for _likely_ (mathematically probable) scenarios. If you're 40 or under, prepare yourself for the possibility of dying or being seriously injured in an automobile accident. Buy the safest vehicle you can afford, because this is your leading cause of death. If you're over 40, take measures to prevent yourself from dying of heart disease by eating right and getting more exercise.

    A cache of guns and a bomb shelter full of provisions won't do you any good if you're obese and you die of heart attack at age 55. Nor will it do you much good if you're in your late 20's and you die in a car crash on the way to Wal-Mart to purchase rifles and canned food.

    Continue doing whatever you're doing because if something serious like an asteroid hits Earth, you're already dead. Anything serious like that will completely rewrite all the rules for life, and you can't predict what you will need. Maybe the only thing you will need is genetic resistance to the diseases that will run rampant. Or the ability to hide. Or the ability to relax and not worry. Or the ability to accept death.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @11:31PM (#46737793)

    Being a bum.

    No, I'm dead serious. In a post apocalyptic world, you won't need woodworkers and blacksmiths. We're not suddenly back in the middle ages. Everything we had will still be around, but society will break down. And that doesn't mean you have to learn how to make bow and arrows so you can go hunt for deer. It means find the shotgun so you have an upper hand over the other looters in the local Wal Mart.

    Why everyone thinks that "post apocalypse" means that everything we did in the last 500 years goes poof over night and we have to fall back on feudal technology is beyond me. It's very likely that at the very least most of what we have will still be there. What will be lost is probably everything that requires some kind of central organization. I.e. don't expect gas, water, power, sewage or any other municipal or other central service still to work. But the stuff will still be there. Your car will still run at the very least as long as there is gas in it. You might not get to refill at the next gas station, but there's still gas in your tank! You might not get power from the power grid anymore but batteries still work. And while you might not know how to build new firearms, there's still plenty of them around along with ammo for them, so there's no need to rely on the ancient art of war. By the time you need this, chances are that YOU won't need it anymore.

    Because until we have to fall back on "old tech", I'd guess that a good portion of us would no longer exist. The first ones to go would be the ones that rely heavily on medical treatment. Like dialysis patient. They'd be gone in a week or so. People with severe allergies won't last long either. If society as a whole breaks down, I would not rely on surviving if you're by some stretch handicapped, i.e. if you can't move or if you can't survive on your own. People who need hearing or seeing aids might get by, depending on their disability, but one thing's certain, your glasses better not break. My guess would be that about 5-10% of the population in our "civilized" world is simply unable to make it without said civilization.

    Another 10% loss is to be assumed for looting, pillaging and general "I don't like you and no cop can force me to" behaviour. This would of course depend on the amount of firearms that are around. The more, the merrier. Yes, if both sides are armed it means that the other one can shoot back but face it: When you have food and a gun, and I have hunger and a gun, I will attack. Whether I die of hunger or by your bullet, do I give a shit? Attacking you gives me a chance.

    So with fights and accidents, I think it's conservative to assume a total loss of personnel of about 50% before we have to think about moving away from living "off the land" (i.e. sustain ourselves by looting and pillaging) and actually have to pick up ancient skills like farming.

    So the most apt "profession" to even GET to that 50% phase is, oddly, bums. They already know how to do that. They don't have to learn anything. They know all that is necessary. Where can you scrounge successfully. Where do you find stuff you need to survive. How do you approach others and how to gauge their reaction. How to get the hell outta some place if things get rough.

    It's nice if you know how to plant fruits and vegetables, how to build your own tools and how to hunt game, but unless you somehow manage to GET there it's moot.

  • by lister king of smeg ( 2481612 ) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @12:15AM (#46737977)

    In either a sudden collapse, or gradual decay, much will be lost. Let me remind you that when the Roman civilization decayed, technologies as simple as the making of cement were lost.


    Not exactly what we'd consider "high tech." It demonstrates just how fragile our scientific advancements are. They can be wiped out by a few generations of relative illiteracy for the great mass of survivors. In three generations, electric lights are a distant legend and those ubiquitous round copper disks find their most frequent use as quick, easily made arrowheads.

    Yeah they were knocked back a couple hundred years you knock us back a to 1800 and we would still be able to make electricity Ben franklin was playing with it a decent part of his life. Beyond that the average person in the roman era was illiterate and there has very little written down as apposed to today where every town has at least one public library, the elementary and middle school libraries have a set of one set of encyclopedias each at least, then there is you high schools with chemistry, biology, physics labs and a often a auto shop each with all of the information and much of the equipment need to to bootstrap your way into the early 1900s. Then there are the community colleges which would bring you up to say the 1950 level of tech. Anywhere with a state college or descent sized privet college could probably push you back up to the 1970s if not mid 80s. We despite all of our educations systems failing have at least enough literate people and redundant copies of most enough knowledge to boot strap our tech fairly quickly. Hell anyone with a couple of TB hdd and a few solar cells could mirror more then info information to preserve at elast our access to knowledge.

  • by kevlar_rat ( 995996 ) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @12:40AM (#46738069) Homepage Journal

    someone capable of swinging a sword and lopping the heads off marauders intent on dragging off the young women and torching the village.

    I doubt a post-apocalyptic world will be much like the mediaeval times portrayed in Game of Thrones. In fact the medieval world wasn’t much like that.
    Swords were very expensive and used only by the nobility. The peasants use staffs or slings - i.e. sticks and stones, or long bows at certain periods.
    As others have pointed out, there can be expected to be plenty of rusting machinery available, so the economy & warfare would be different. It's a lot cheaper to get iron by melting a car engine block - no matter how rusted - than smelting it from iron ore.
    So maybe weapons would be different, too. Perhaps with more metal available everybody would have a metal bow, or perhaps with fewer forests and less firewood, metal would be more expensive and nobody would have swords.

  • Re:Medical doctor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tuidjy ( 321055 ) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @01:03AM (#46738145)

    This is all true... But people with a grasp of the history of, well, history, will know that the people most useful to themselves while be the ones (1) with familiarity with whatever weaponry still functions and (2) with a glib tongue to unite likely minded people.

    It won't be an apocalypse if we can feed everyone. When we cannot feed everyone, there will be violence. When there is violence, the people will be triaged into three groups:
    - the tough and glib (lords)
    - the useful professionals (craftsmen)
    - the manual laborers, when needed (serfs)
    Those who can't cut it as thugs, and do not know something useful will be lucky to be allowed to pick at the dirt and retain enough to feed themselves. In highly populated regions, about one in a hundred will be lucky to be needed as a serf.

    This does not apply to regions where the population is sparse enough and the land productive enough so that food is not an issue. But without modern tech, there will not be enough food for the everyone... and big cities will be littered with the dead and dying within a week.

    Twenty years ago, I would have tried for lord. Today, I think I may still qualify for 'craftsman'. Twenty years from now, I probably will be a good fit only for 'dead'. So can we not have an Apocalypse, please?

  • Re:Medical doctor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ponos ( 122721 ) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @02:53AM (#46738487)

    I am an MD, PhD. For many, many situations the diagnostic performance of an expert clinician with basic tools (stethoscope, diapason etc) is up to 80-90% with all the rest of the technology bringing this up to 95-99% (diminishing returns). Furthermore, in an apocalyptic scenario, the very hard, very complex medical conditions would not be a priority: people dying from cancer at age 78 or from complications of diabetes at age 68 would not require the huge resources we can afford to give them in modern society. We would probably be much more preoccupied with helping women give birth, protecting neonates from infections and hypothermia and doing all that stuff that could save millions of lives in the third world today (like hydrating infants with rotavirus infection).

    Obviously, modern doctors are not perfectly prepared for such a scenario, but the basic training is there. So, yes, I think a significant part of medical knowledge would be useful in a post-apocalyptic world, even if the infrastructure is not there.

  • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @05:02AM (#46738799)

    In either a sudden collapse, or gradual decay, much will be lost. Let me remind you that when the Roman civilization decayed, technologies as simple as the making of cement were lost.

    The Romans didn't know how to make cement. They knew how to make concrete by using a specific volcanic sand from a particular area, mixed with lime.

    They didn't know why it worked, nor how to identify other sources, nor how to make it from less pure sources. They were cooks who knew how to use flour, but didn't know how to make flour once their initial supply ran out. Cut off the trade in magic sand and the concrete made from other sources was weak, worthless for building.

    Plenty of communities across post-Roman western Europe knew how to make cement mortar. It just wasn't anywhere near as a strong as Roman concrete because no-one else had the right magic sand either, nor knew why less-magic sand worked, or didn't work, hence the right way to cook it to make it more-magic. So it tended to be restricted to things like mosaics, not entire buildings.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."