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Question

Given an advanced civilization which has the technology to exceed light speed, what plausible explanation could there be for said civilization for being unable to fabricate microchips with transistor sizes smaller than a couple micrometers? (Effectively no smaller than what was being used in the 1980s.)

Notes about the world

The galaxy is essentially dotted with small empires which less resemble empires and more resemble corporations. Each empire essentially is it's own brand and they all attempt to sell a myriad of products throughout the galaxy. The galactic market is highly competitive, especially given the widespread dissemination of technology which can enables almost any large enough group of people to build a small empire ruling over a couple planets within a couple years. In a universe where massive computational grids are required for space travel, a universe where large empires spend double digit percentages of their total budget on microchips, there would be an immense competition to develop CPUs with ever greater performance. Anybody that succeeded in shrinking the transistor size down to, say, less than 1 uM would be able to amass capital incredibly quick and would probably grow into one of the largest empires in the galaxy. And yet, somehow, transistor sizes never really got much below 5 uM. Why?

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    $\begingroup$ making small microchips and FTL tech are do different from each other that just because you technologically progress in one doesn't mean you can't stagnate in another $\endgroup$ – Amoeba May 2 '18 at 4:35
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    $\begingroup$ I personally would not recommend FTL if you are going full sci-fi because they would enable you to travel back in time and that can mess up everything in your story. $\endgroup$ – Lowell May 2 '18 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Lowell If you're going full science-fiction, then that's usually FTL without time travel. That's what the trope says on the tin. No mess for the story. It's science nerds mesmerized by special relativity who worry about FTL & time travel in science-fiction. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 2 '18 at 5:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Xav101 - Before providing an answer, are you unaware of, or unsatisfied by reasons used in existing fiction to explain this. For example, in Dune and Warhammer 40k, where computers are banned for almost anyone, and those that are used are ancestral relics, barely understood, used fearfully and treated with a mixture of reverence and terror, $\endgroup$ – Scott May 2 '18 at 5:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Miech The usual form of that formula is: relativity, causality and FTL, choose any two. Relativity is special relativity. General relativity and quantum mechanics does allow potential FTL shortcuts. Nature always can surprise us. The science in science-fiction isn't real-world science. I am well aware of the science and fiction in SF & the real-world. Unyielding is for the science nerds. Real scientists happily embrace the unexpected. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 2 '18 at 12:59
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It's not really clear from your question what sorts of solutions you are or aren't looking for. It sort of sounds like you're committed to certain ideas and technological details, but then want a way to undermine one part of the assumptions, but it's not clear what you would/wouldn't find satisfying/interesting.

Without such limits, there are SO many possible reasons, because an answer can involve making up so many different things about the science & technology of the people involved, history of ideas, how FTL works, etc.

For example, if the FTL travel involves something that doesn't even involve them developing very high technology, such as wormholes or warp points or ancient warp devices or magic or quantum effects or psychic projection or something, there's no reason for their discovering how to use that to be linked to advanced microchip fabrication.

All sorts of other answers would be possible, involving a variety of areas such as what the people's technology is like. People still write Star Trek fiction, where computers just are large things with blinking lights even centuries in the future.

Another possibility could be that the computer grids used for FTL travel have to be massive because they need real-time data collected from physically dispersed spaces for technobabble quantum mechanical reasons or just fast local readings and response times.

Or it could be that they have developed computer technology that suits their purposes and is cheap but just isn't very small, and no one has thought of a way to make smaller chips. Or, something about the physics in this part of the universe doesn't allow reliable computer chips to be that small.

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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me of an episode of DS9, where they find plans for an ancient Bajoran light ship that used some space winds or another to travel a warp speeds without a warp drive. $\endgroup$ – DqwertyC May 3 '18 at 22:13
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Best answer I can think of is they don't use microchips.

They could use biological computers or optical computers.

The only other reason is they found the technology for FTL and have worked out how to use it but don't have very advanced technology themselves.

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  • $\begingroup$ Someone already suggested this in comments. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 2 '18 at 13:10
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Consider Harry Turtledove's The Road Not Taken.

There exists a hyperdrive and a gravitic drive that have no relationship to the rest of physics. They aren't going to be discovered by normal scientific progress. The flip side is that discovering them doesn't lead to the rest of science--they get you around but won't lead to the rest of the scientific revolution.


Of course we see nothing of what the tech is like but the story starts out in a starship with no electricity.

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Radiation

In addition to creating annoying space-time paradoxes, the FTL travel mechanism results in a very high level of radiation at wavelengths that have significant effects on electronics with features smaller than 5 uM. Radiation hardening of spacecraft systems is an issue today due to cosmic rays. Imagine if it were 1,000,000 times worse.

Passengers and cargo travel inside a heavily shielded section of the ship, but due to the fast reaction time required to navigate using the FTL mechanism, the computers are placed outside the shielded area. If they are in the shielded area, the radiation would travel along the sensor pathways and zap the computers and pose life-threatening danger to any DNA-based lifeforms.

As in 20th century Earth, the space program was a primary driver for electronic miniaturization. Unlike 20th century Earth, the largest market for advanced computing devices continued to be spacecraft due to the discovery of the computationally intensive FTL, so further miniaturization was abandoned in favor of other techniques (e.g., massively parallel computers) to increase processing speed that were compatible with use on FTL spacecraft.

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The FTL isnt their technology but something they found/ were given and so devoloped seperatly to microchips.

Or.

To prevent that massive advantage some group is sabotaging that technological development. Corporate sabotage!

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FTL allows time travel, as we have documented many times on this site. Therefore the easiest explanation is a paradox where the FTL tech was taken back in time before they had the advanced computers needed to work out how to make FTL tech.

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