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Thread: Do we have technology worth trading?

  1. #1
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    Do we have technology worth trading?

    Imagining a society which had been separated from Earth for generations, I was thinking about what technology they would retain, and what they would lose. Today's semiconductors are the first thing that come to mind. If you go back 40 years, we had logic chips with a few dozen transistors. Now we have CPUs and GPUs with literally billions. We can network computers in intricate ways that can make trillions, in some cases even quadrillions, of computations per second, and they're only getting faster. But perhaps more impressive is that some portion of that technology is available to the average consumer, for next to nothing.

    And each generation of computers could not have been designed without the last, meaning that reverse engineering this kind of technology is nearly impossible. We've been building on and improving the same technology for decades. I can't help but feel that perhaps this is a unique development. It seems more advanced than a lot of other technology we have, I mean, we predicted that the great developments of the 20th and 21st century would be in spaceflight and robotics and engineering other big things... But it seems the things we've specialized in are much smaller.

    Now I realize that this may be hubris on my part, after all, I'm sure the man of the 1930s thought his vacuum-tube radio sets were pretty fancy. But it would be interesting to think that we have technology that's something special.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Siguy View Post
    Imagining a society which had been separated from Earth for generations,
    If you're talking about the story mentioned in the Venus thread, I'd think the Venus colonies would have had to retain a great deal of technology in order to keep flying cities aloft and have space travel that could reach Earth. But tech isn't the only thing that can be traded. What Earth likely could have that Venus doesn't is far greater biodiversity-- selling varieties of spices, seeds, meat, medicines, etc. Post-crisis Earth could easily have developed into largely agricultural societies with plenty of room to experiment with new cultivars and breeds*. And they'd have greater diversity of human population, perhaps the Venusians developed from a small population and are worried about inbreeding issues.

    * Especially if they retained some knowledge of basic Mendelian genetics. Look at how far we've developed agriculture in just one century of that information about scientific breeding, imagine if we had a few more.
    Last edited by Noclevername; 2011-Oct-26 at 11:17 PM. Reason: added link to other thread
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

  3. #3
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    And each generation of computers could not have been designed without the last, meaning that reverse engineering this kind of technology is nearly impossible. We've been building on and improving the same technology for decades.
    actually, the inner workings of the chip technology is the essentially the same -- tiny transistors that perform flip flops -- but its the manufacturing processes that have improved to give us tinier and tinier flip flops, heat reduction, and interconnections that make our processors smaller and more powerful. A great acheievement and a monument to our industriousness, no doubt.

    its an interesting question -- Im sure we have something that might interest our reptilian overlords. like maybe The Clapper.

  4. #4
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    To take it in the other direction, maybe Earth has retained the large-scale heavy industry that a society of bubble cities wouldn't have the room or materials for: Venus retains some nanotech and biotech, Earth has become a Rocketpunk world with huge booster rockets launching atomic spaceships. Mighty reactors power factories of metal and concrete, where advanced mass production fills the sky with flying cars and homes with robot maids.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

  5. #5
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    I think it is more sobering to remember the gap between the raw elements and the products. How many people could set about making steel if the intermediaries were lost? Let alone plastics! How many could set out to make gunpowder from scratch? If you lose the intermediate links you can know what a chip is but have no way to make one from scratch.

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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    I think it is more sobering to remember the gap between the raw elements and the products. How many people could set about making steel if the intermediaries were lost? Let alone plastics! How many could set out to make gunpowder from scratch? If you lose the intermediate links you can know what a chip is but have no way to make one from scratch.
    Given the large number of people on Earth who can do those things, it seems unlikely that we'd lose enough population to completely eliminate those links. How many third-world countries still have a villiage blacksmith in backwoods settlements, or people who make their own clothing? Even many of the skills of the stone age still exist today on islands and in jungles where native populations keep up the old traditions. How many hobbyists in more advanced countries deliberately relearn old crafts and skills? In a population of over six billion and growing, there's people who know how to do just about everything mankind collectively has ever done. It would take near-total exctinction to get rid of every mind with knowledge of some level of making things.

    I have a cousin who makes gunpowder from scratch.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

  7. #7
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    Since Siguy clarified in the other thread that this one isn't about the story involving trade with Venus, just trade in general, I have to ask: trade with whom? If it's alien visitors, what level of technology do they have? If it's humans, how have they survived off Earth and under what conditions?

    I still think the most valuable thing Earth offers that wouldn't be available elsewhere is our vast array of living things. Would aliens trade for biomolecules and genetic codes? Would a common dandelion be a wonder drug to them, or would one of their pests be a miracle cure --or an addictive high-- to humans? Or would they prefer humanity's arts, songs, and stories?

    Perhaps the aliens are water breathers or use an alternate chemistry, in which case our chemical products and materials are very different from theirs and vice versa.

    If they are human, they will have no doubt learned more about their particular environment and what to do with it and its products than we stay-at-homes have. They might have their own inventors who have developed a different technological path than we did, or they could become famous for tourism if their environment is particularly beautiful and travel there easy enough.

    There are a lot of factors to consider when talking about the whole planet Earth trading with someone else.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

  8. #8
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    I would think that we have nothing to trade to a technological society that could come here from another star system. I might be able to cooperate on some projects though, so depending on their ethics, we are guaranteed worthless.
    Forming opinions as we speak

  9. #9
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    The basic mechanism of the internal combustion engine was inspired by bamboo compression firestarters used in Samoa. So even technologically advanced societies can benefit from relatively primitive technology at times.

    A star-travelling civilization will be advanced compared to us today (unless they cheat and hitched a ride on a spacegoing lifeform!) but they may have followed a totally different developmental path than we did. Their tech might not work anything like ours, and some of our stuff might seem innovative to them-- technology is a very broad field, or rather many related, barely-related and unrelated fields with a blanket title.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by antoniseb View Post
    I would think that we have nothing to trade to a technological society that could come here from another star system.
    They may find some of our technology interesting in a steam-punk or retro-computing sort of way.

  11. #11
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    Technological development is rarely a straight line but rather a meandering development that is influenced by many factors, like resource availability, political interests, and many others. So whether we would have worthwhile trade goods, who can say?
    Given Earth abundant natural biosphere, spices and other plant and animal based products could be of value to a civilisation that has only had what artificial biosphere with a strictly limited and utilitarian variety to choose from.

  12. #12
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    We could always trade with the aliens our religions in exchange for their tech or the cure for cancer. I mean why wouldnt any alien appreciate the finer points of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism? For all you know, they might even convert to say Hinduism as they will undoubtedly accept the idea that cows are sacred animals.
    Perhaps they too await a messiah who was born unto a virgin on solstice day.

    Or, they might find our TV comedy shows real funny; The Three Stooges is the best example of human behavior in fact. From watching Benny Hill they'll learn how to chase females all over town.

  13. #13
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    Cultural artefacts would yes be a viable trade goods, especially if the other culture was human, basically. From Scriptures Shakespeare to Seinfeld to Sandler, I am sure they would have some value.

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