In a a previous question, I asked about making a rune-based magic system. The system strongly resembles a computer programming language, and that got me thinking, what sort of thing would an ancient culture do first once they discovered this magic system?

The magic system, to save you a few clicks, works as follows:

  • The magic format is Trigger-Power Source-Effect-Modifiers, and anything included in the modifiers can be omitted and left to will by masters, but if a novice tries to do it, they will most likely end up injured by runaway magic.

  • A power source can be anything that stores or produces any sort of energy. A battery for example. For extrasensory magic, many Runecasters prefer to use their metabolism as a source of energy.

  • Runes can be written to write and trigger other runes, and the language is Turing-complete.

  • Energy is conserved, so perpetual motion is out of the question, and machines do require some sort of power source.

I will also make some modifications to the system as described in my other post, like:

  • While there are still gods and spirits in this world, the rune language is not their language, specifically, and runes actually work as a result of complex geometric and mathematical interactions within the angles of the rune. Therefore, more complex runes can have more complex effects, for those who don't want to use the space required to write a more complex spell to achieve the same effect.

  • You don't actually need to be able to read any part of the rune to use it; you only need to fulfill the trigger condition, purposefully or not.

  • Prior to the discovery of runes, the discovering civilization was roughly equivalent to Rome circa 100 CE. So they have a pretty good knowledge of engineering and mathematics, for the time. (I am aware other civilizations, like China and regions in the Middle East also had a pretty advanced knowledge of engineering and mathematics, but I don't know as much about them.)

I, personally, think that the first things to be automated would be to increase the efficiency of things like agriculture, or in the case of Rome, the aqueducts. They may create a machine to plough the earth or harvest crops faster, and may even use the waste created by their vast population as a power source.

To be specific, my question is: What would a civilization that resembles Rome circa 100 CE do first with the ability to essentially program matter?

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    $\begingroup$ At least 99 times out of 100, it only looks like energy is conserved, until you examine the details (the other 1% are entropy violations). Anything that allows for a change in mass, movement of mass or energy across a potential without interacting with it, among many other things, provides an energy input. Which isn’t really a problem; after all, we get “free” energy from the sun at a certain rate. As long as you don’t let it feed back into itself (e.g. letting people use magic to keep themselves fed ad infinitum, then casting runes from metabolism) there won’t really be an issue. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Feb 27 '18 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Obie2.0 That's a good point, and I hadn't considered some of those ideas. I was hoping to conserve energy by forcing any interaction that moves across a potential (say moving a block up a hill) to use an amount of energy equivalent to that gain in potential, from any source. So levitating a small rock could be done from metabolism, but you'll want some chemical or other source of power for a heavier rock. $\endgroup$ – Jetscooters Feb 27 '18 at 2:14
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    $\begingroup$ That’s entirely fine! Just be aware that this won’t really be conservation of energy as such, but some limited analogue that will undoubtedly introduce at least small amounts of energy into your system. Which again, is not something to worry about, because as with external energy sources in the real world, what matters is how much. Perpetual motion machines rely on feedback (which is why a solar-powered vehicle, even if it could run until the sun burnt out, doesn’t qualify). Just disallow that (ideally through limitations on runes per time) and you should be good. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Feb 27 '18 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Obie2.0 Thanks, I'll take that into consideration. $\endgroup$ – Jetscooters Feb 27 '18 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ I was worried this could get flagged as opinion-based. Is there a way to edit it to be more objective, like a specific goal? Or is the basis of the question too broad, and I should take it down? $\endgroup$ – Jetscooters Feb 27 '18 at 2:37

What has literally any civilization that recently discovered a weapon that places them technologically head and shoulders above their neighbors? The answer is "use it to dominate those neighbors." When Rome developed professional soldiery and skilled engineers they translated it directly into dominating pretty much anyone they could. When the Europeans developed guns and deep-water navigational navies they used it to... dominate pretty much whoever they could. When the USA developed thermo-nuclear weaponry they..... you guessed it, used the threat of it to dominate pretty much anyone they could.

History is pretty consistent in humanity's uncanny ability to rapidly weaponize new technology and use it to conquer whoever they can reach.

  • $\begingroup$ Counterexample: The chinese first used gunpowder for fireworks, then only 400 years later did they use it for weaponry (fire arrows excepted). $\endgroup$ – JSCoder says Reinstate Monica Feb 27 '18 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ @JavaScriptCoder The Chinese did try to weaponize gunpowder early on, but their formula wasn't good enough to make effective explosive weapons. I'd also review your linked site. I'm not sure an unsourced accumulation of information by eighth graders is of high enough quality to use as evidence here. $\endgroup$ – svenvo7 Feb 27 '18 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Correct, until the chinese figured out how to actually purify sodium nitrate it wasnt really an explosive so much as another incindiary compound of which the chinese used several. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Feb 27 '18 at 17:03

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