How far ahead of where we are could we be?

Mirannan

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As in the thread title - specifically in terms of technology. This train of thought was started when it occurred to me that float glass could easily have been invented in the Middle Ages (or maybe earlier) if someone had come up with the basic idea; that of floating molten glass on molten metal to get a flat surface. True, earlier it wouldn't have been as efficient as today's continuous-flow methods.

By extension, there are quite a number of technologies which could have arisen much earlier than they did, given a random genius or slightly different social conditions. The steam engine is a fairly obvious one; after all, a very basic steam engine was built in the very beginning of the Christian Era by Hero of Alexandria.

Other technologies could have arisen much earlier, given some luck. (Telescopes, for example; other ones include horse collars and stirrups.)

So, the question is: On an alternate timeline in which technologies were invented at the earliest possible moment that was reasonable for the time, how far ahead of RL could that timeline be in terms of technology? (And presumably science, as well.)

Bonus question; would such accelerated development actually be a good thing, or not? After all, our current level of social development is barely sufficient to hold off Ragnarok.

PS: I think this post is in the right place. Mods please move it if you disagree.
 

Ray McCarthy

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The steam engine is a fairly obvious one
Steam needed the economic impetus of a manufactured and fuelled machine being cheaper than people / animals / wind / water etc. It was ever deeper mines that needed pumped that spurred development. As you say some people had known about the idea for a very long time.

Some advances can happen separately. Some are dependent:
Telegraph and Radio needed Batteries (Volta 1799).
Any advance on 1896 radio needed the Valve (Tube), available from 1905, but that needed the good vacuum pumps (the mercury based one). So valves could have predated Radio.

Electronic TV idea existed 1905, but not till 1935 did RCA & EMI figure how to make an efficient camera.
Transistors suspected, semiconductor diodes existed prior to 1900, but the delay to 1947-48 was lack of pure enough materials.

A Victorian atomic bomb might have been possible if people had investigated Radiation when photographic plates were invented.

Victorian was the Electric Age, not Steam. Steam age started in 1650s!

Float glass would have needed huge volume and been horribly expensive compared to Crown glass in say 16th C.

Liquid Hydrogen / Oxygen rocket engines tested in 1930s. A Moon probe with radio (all valve) could have been made by 1941. By 1941 robust miniature valves existed. Very low power valves (tubes) of 1.5V filament battery and 45V HT battery existed from 1938, but these were quite large about x6 size the 1941 type. By 1941 lunch box size portable radios in USA and from 1942 pocket size covert radios and transmitters.
 
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BAYLOR

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Hero of Alexandria invented a steam engine around 10 BC , but its potential was never really recognized. This one could have had a huge impact on all of history . It might well have sparked an industrial , technological, scientific revolution centuries earlier .
 
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paranoid marvin

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There are may technologies and ideas that went up in flames in the fire that destroyed the scrolls in the library at Alexandria. There are also many inventions and ideas that have been lost with the rise and fall of empires. Centuries have passed since the Egyptians built the pyramids, yet we are unable to find out how they managed to be constructed so quickly.

War is the mother of invention. If the Chinese had invaded Western Europe in the 9th century after the discovery of gunpowder, it is quite conceivable that we would be 2 or 3 Centuries further advanced than we are today.

Having said that, considering that we still have half the world starving whilst the other half has some much food it has to be destroyed, considering that 90% of the world's wealth is owned by less than 10% of the population, considering that we prioritise making weapons that will destroy all life on earth instead of building more hospitals and schools, considering that man is the only creature that kills simply for the sake of it, and considering that we are doing our best to make the only planet we can live on uninhabitable for the sake of short-term monetary gain, we are no more advanced than when we climbed down out of the trees.
 

BAYLOR

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There are may technologies and ideas that went up in flames in the fire that destroyed the scrolls in the library at Alexandria. There are also many inventions and ideas that have been lost with the rise and fall of empires. Centuries have passed since the Egyptians built the pyramids, yet we are unable to find out how they managed to be constructed so quickly.

War is the mother of invention. If the Chinese had invaded Western Europe in the 9th century after the discovery of gunpowder, it is quite conceivable that we would be 2 or 3 Centuries further advanced than we are today.

Having said that, considering that we still have half the world starving whilst the other half has some much food it has to be destroyed, considering that 90% of the world's wealth is owned by less than 10% of the population, considering that we prioritise making weapons that will destroy all life on earth instead of building more hospitals and schools, considering that man is the only creature that kills simply for the sake of it, and considering that we are doing our best to make the only planet we can live on uninhabitable for the sake of short-term monetary gain, we are no more advanced than when we climbed down out of the trees.


Caesar may have been a great military mind but, he was really of no benefit to human history, what he did in Gaul during his time there and causing the destruction of the scrolls in the Library of Alexandria. His rule as absolute dictator of Rome pretty much help sealed it's eventual fate.
 

BAYLOR

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I have a bit of soft spot for the Roman Empire. It had problems galore ,but it also so much potential too. They were such great engineers builders.
 

Extollager

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A Victorian atomic bomb might have been possible if people had investigated Radiation when photographic plates were invented..

The novel Queen Victoria's Bomb has been worthy of two readings so far, and I expect I will come back to it. I don't buy much sf, but this was a keeper.
18299258._UY200_.jpg
 

BAYLOR

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The novel Queen Victoria's Bomb has been worthy of two readings so far, and I expect I will come back to it. I don't buy much sf, but this was a keeper.
18299258._UY200_.jpg

I haven't seen that one on the shelves in the bookstore. :unsure:
 

Temperance

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Hero of Alexandria invented a steam engine around 10 BC , but its potential was never really recognized. This one could have had a huge impact on all of history . It might well have sparked an industrial , technological, scientific revolution centuries earlier .
Provided there was the political and social theory to remove slavery from the economy.

Western liberalism refusing slavery is up there with the printing press as revolutionary ideas plenty of people could have had but never quite did.
 

BAYLOR

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Provided there was the political and social theory to remove slavery from the economy.

Western liberalism refusing slavery is up there with the printing press as revolutionary ideas plenty of people could have had but never quite did.

With lots of easily replaceable slaves to do the work , there was no incentive to invent labor saving devices of any kind.
 

BAYLOR

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The steam engine in 10BC wasn’t economic. It wasn't about slavery. Steam engines began to be economic long before slavery was abolished.

Based on the It was simple spinning ball with two steam exhausts .

Thomas Newcomen came up with steam engine around 1712 and it was used for things like pumping water our mines and Robert Fulton's who gave us the steamboat in the in the 1770s .
 
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Ray McCarthy

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Thomas Newcomen came up with steam engine around 1712
It was commercially successful. But there some built from about 1650s.

Indeed the first successful commercial application was pumping water from mines. The first marine steam engines were only on lakes, rivers, harbours, as they were not efficient enough for ocean use. The amount of coal needed was have been impractical till the engines became much more efficient. Amazing that at the end of the 19th / early 20th century there where cars SIMULTANEOUSLY in use with Steam, electric (Iron - Nickel Edison battery), petrol internal combustion and Diesel Engines.
 

Dave

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Regarding "chance" there are two schools of thought. The first is that all of history is a series of chances and blunders, which is why history has no practical value in predicting future events, because there are no patterns or models to describe complete randomness. The other school of thought is that it is all a question of probabilities and that if you wait in the game long enough you will always win, or lose. The real skill is knowing when to place a bet and when to leave the Casino. That means that there is a kind of predestination or fate regarding all events. Chance will win a battle but the outcome of the war is predetermined from the onset.

Invention and discovery are not merely the subject of chance, they just appear to be. There actually needs to be a whole series of circumstances and earlier discoveries or inventions in place before something new can be invented. Once these prerequisites are met, then if one person doesn't invent/discover then you can be sure that someone else will quite soon after. History is full of people arguing over inventions made almost simultaneously. Once someone has invented something it is easy to teach others. The hard part is the original thought all on your own.

However, there is one other thing that no one has mentioned and which is the most important of all. That is that it doesn't matter whether or when something is invented, it also has to be at the right place at the right time. Two things that have already been mentioned already - Stirrups and Gunpowder - why no one invented stirrups earlier is not known, but some tribes north of China were using them long before the Chinese caught on, so it wasn't hard to invent. It was only when people realised you could have cavalry slaughtering foot soldiers that it spread all over Europe. The Chinese were also using Gunpowder in firecrackers for yonks without ever thinking of canons and guns. The steam engine to a lesser extent, as there were quite a lot of tweaks necessary to make one efficient enough to pull itself aswell as a train, but that is another valid point. Just because someone invented the theory, it doesn't necessarily mean that the engineering, precision, and materials were present to build the machine.
 

Ray McCarthy

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Just because someone invented the theory, it doesn't necessarily mean that the engineering, precision, and materials were present to build the machine.
Or the economics were right. Or culture.
The Chinese did occasionally make gunpowder based weapons.
Smart phones existed from 1998, and in theory possible in 1986. (I designed one in 1988 and worked in a startup to develop it in 1989-1990) But it was cheap data plan that made the iPhone a success, long after Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Ericsson and others made them.
Materials and efficiency delayed use of steam nearly 200 years for Ocean going ships (couldn't carry enough fuel). Before that economics was the issue.
Babbage's computing machines was example of lack of engineering and precision. He advanced Machine Tool industry in UK massively simply trying to do it.
lack of material purity and success of valves (tubes) held back semiconductors/transistors for 50 years. Electronic TV was proposed in 1905, but the stumbling block was the photo target in the camera, which otherwise was almost 1895 technology. EMI and RCA jointly solved that in 1935 with breakthrough by a Russian working in RCA.
Everything else +1 etc on what you say.
Invention and discovery are not merely the subject of chance, they just appear to be. There actually needs to be a whole series of circumstances and earlier discoveries or inventions in place before something new can be invented. Once these prerequisites are met, then if one person doesn't invent/discover then you can be sure that someone else will quite soon after. History is full of people arguing over inventions made almost simultaneously. Once someone has invented something it is easy to teach others.

Absolutely.

The first cave painter was a genius. :)
 

Nick B

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If Byzantium had not been sacked... The libraries there held tremendous amounts of accumulated knowledge.
 

BAYLOR

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If Byzantium had not been sacked... The libraries there held tremendous amounts of accumulated knowledge.

Had Byzantines only crushed the turks when they had the chance to do so.
 
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