How similar (or different) would alien 'small tech' be to our own?

Astro Pen

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Jan 24, 2020
Wales UK
I've been thinking a lot about alternative alien tech. Not the huge Dyson sphere and singularity stuff, but the small things.

Were we to capture a ship of theirs, how would it be held together? Would they go down the same inventions and refinements path as us because it is the most logical methodology or would they have used something completely unthought of by us?

Would they use, for example:
Nuts and bolts
Semiconductor logic
Insulated wires for carrying electricity
Liquified gasses
Gear mechanisms
Cooked food

Would it all be uncannily familiar, or would we have to think right outside the box?
Even on Earth you have very different technologies being used for the same purposes.
I’m always amazed at the multi-storey bamboo scaffolding you see in parts of Asia and wonder strange metal scaffolding must look to someone from there.
If the aliens were “Star Trek” different from us [all about the same size and build, and from similar types of planets], then I’d guess that their solutions to problems would look a lot like ours.
I’d also expect there to be thing that are wildly different because they didn’t have X to do a job and had to think of a different way around it.
Or they have access to something we don’t. I’d love to see the effects on a world where Spider’s silk can be spun and woven as easily as Silkworm’s silk.
I think it would depend a lot on physiology but I do think there will be common areas. Nuts and bolts might not work if they didn't have fingers like ours (how would they hold a spanner). On the other hand, maybe they could develop super strong adhesives as an alternative.

The harnessing of electromagnetism, I would guess, would be an important stepping stone for any advancing civilisation. With that in mind, I'd say that insulated wiring could be a common thing.
Harry Harrison's West of Eden, had dinosaurs that didn't go extinct and they developed a mixed level of tech in his story. Almost all there tech was organic and grown.

from the wiki -The Yilanè, having had millions of years of civilization, have a very advanced society primarily based on a mastery of the biological sciences, especially genetic engineering, so much so that almost every tool and artifact they use is a modified lifeform. Their boats were originally squids, their submarines are enhanced ichthyosaurs (here called uruketos), while their guns are modified monitor lizards which eject projectiles using pressurised gas.
Foxbat suggests that electromagnetism has to be a common science, but actually there is no reason why any form of energy couldn't replace electricity in circuits.
We are all taught, at an early school level to think of electric circuits in terms of water system, so that we can "see" how they work. Indeed the idea of electric current even borrows the name from the idea of a river or pipe system, and we are taught to think of resistors in terms of thin pipes, a waterfall as a large potential difference, where the water at the top has more potential energy than that at the bottom.
Alien technology may well be based on giant hydraulic systems where ours is based on electronics.
So semiconductor technology:
Diodes are replaced by one way valves, batteries by water towers etc.
All sorts of stuff that I've seen in sewage works or steam engines seem to mirror electrical capacitors or induction coils.
Has anyone ever built a waterflow transistor? I don't know but it must be possible.

However electrical and electronic systems do seem very convenient.
Who knows. Some aliens may well find it appallingly primitive.
Has anyone ever built a waterflow transistor? I don't know but it must be possible.
Yes indeed. @farntfar. I recall in he seventies done work was done on fluidic logic.
Here's a description of fluidic logic gates
I think automatic transmission valve blocks make use of it too

Just found s nice video by Steve Mold :cool:
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Look at a boat now compared to one made 2000 years ago. Look at computer now compared to one made 60 years ago.

The Universe is (probably) more than 13 BILLION years old. Imagine the disparity in gear made within only a fraction of that time frame.

So I would say that alien technology will likely look very , very different to anything we currently use.
I'm not sure where it might lead, but perhaps the aliens didn't develop a strong sense of sight and instead relied on echo location similar to bats. They wouldn't rely on light for indicators, perhaps a combination of vibration, braille-like displays, and audio. The interfaces to common devices would be much different. A white noise generator might be used to camouflage movement.

Another direction to explore would be if the aliens didn't develop a strong sense of audio. In that case light-based indicators and tactile indicators might be heavily utilized.

Perhaps electrical shock isn't painful to the aliens. Again, that would change the indicators on devices. Instead of vibrating to gain attention, devices might give off a repeated electrical shock. Perhaps the aliens could even sense electro-magnetic radiation and use that as opposed to light and sound indicators.
It's hard to comprehend exactly what aliens may be like. The chances of them being bipedal, 6 foot mammals with hands, eyes, mouths is pretty slight. For all we know they could be aquatic 600 foot dolphin-like creatures, or the beings the size of ants.
You could replace almost every kind of technology with some biological equivalent - grown to shape or modified by programmed "termites". You could have culture completely unused to thinking about technology as something assembled from smaller parts.
Foxbat suggests that electromagnetism has to be a common science, but actually there is no reason why any form of energy couldn't replace electricity in circuits.
I suggested this because electromagnetism is one of the fundamental forces of the universe and arguably the easiest of these forces to be harnessed by a civilisation. It will not be dependent on planetary conditions - unlike, for example, hydraulics or fluidics.
Let us consider chemistry for a moment.
The periodic table is a surprisingly new device. For example, below is an arrangement by Walter Russell from 1926.
Scientists have continued to look for ways to "discover" the elements with the appropriate number of electrons in order to fill the gaps since mid 19th century. When chemists got done with "stable" elements they went on and created a bunch more in laboratories (118 total now!)

I suggest that visiting aliens base material science on a more basic understanding of the universe. More basic than bosons and quarks. The result is material science that provides them with materials with the precise qualities they desire, opacity, thickness, density, tensile strength, flexibility, etc. etc. And one that can start with any passing asteroid for base material.
The notions of materiality based on "electron count based elements" is as silly to them as what we think of materiality based on Aristotelian physics. (This tree is part earth, part water, part fire...)