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Imagine a world where you can talk to anyone at all at any time, and telepathically transmit any amount of information to any select group of people. Why would a world like this ever get to the invention of radio, much less valuing it and transmitting?

Basically, in other words, what other uses could they find for radio?

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    $\begingroup$ Wireless power works via radio. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Jun 14 '18 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ Radio astronomy and RADAR, too. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jun 14 '18 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ radio is not invented it is discovered, radio is part of the electromagnetic spectrum and their are billions of natural sources, once they start experimenting with electricity the creation of simple crystal radios would be all but inevitable. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 14 '18 at 23:57
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    $\begingroup$ Popov work in radios started as he wanted to develop a lightning detector $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Jun 15 '18 at 0:53
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    $\begingroup$ Machines need to communicate too, and they are not telepathic... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 15 '18 at 2:36

13 Answers 13

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Radio direction finding. (RDF) Cooking. (Microwave) Radars, sensor networks for non telepathic infrastructure (radio bouys for example), snooping on people covertly. (telepathy doesn't tell you what they are doing, only what they are thinking) Electronic harassment. Measurement equipment for meturlurgy and other material sciences. Emergency locators would still be desirable, because even if you can connect to somebody, that doesn't mean they know where they are, or are able to tell you. Astronomy (radio telescopes)

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  • $\begingroup$ Added to the Emergency Locators aspect: Radio still works while the operator is asleep or otherwise unconscious. Also, "listener-tunes-in" is a lot less effort/complication than "broadcaster-contacts" for something like a Radio station/news service. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Jun 18 '18 at 7:30
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If they have machines like computers that perform tasks, these may not be able to perform telepathy as they can. Then they would sometimes need a way for computers to communicate wirelessly with each other. Radio isn't usually an ideal way for computers to do this, but it is one way they could have discovered radio and developed communication protocols around it.

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    $\begingroup$ "Radio isn't usually an ideal way for computers to do this" - It's not? But isn't radio the way that the vast majority of data is transmitted wirelessly? There are alternatives (magnetic induction, light, sound), but they all have severe disadvantages (e.g., none of those three can pass through a concrete wall). $\endgroup$ – Tanner Swett Jun 15 '18 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ The alternative is wires $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz Jun 15 '18 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ @manassehkatz The wording says "...need a way for computers to communicate wirelessly with each other. Radio isn't usually an ideal way for computers to do this" Note the word wirelessly immediately before saying radio isn't ideal. $\endgroup$ – Jerry Jeremiah Jun 15 '18 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ Wireless = radio = wireless = radio $\endgroup$ – DaveBoltman Jun 15 '18 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @EricNolan lasers produce light, which is electromagnetic radiation (aka radio) of a very high frquency (or a very short wavelength). In fact the L in the word Laser stands for Light. Visible light is in a band from about 700 to 390 nanometers (red to blue), which is roughly from 430–770 TeraHertz (1THz = 1000GHz, and 1 GHz = 1000MHz). If you could tune your FM radio up from 88MHz to 108MHz where is normal receives, a bit higher to 500 THz, you would pick up visible light on your radio. Light = radio = wireless. (No difference in principle, only in frequency). $\endgroup$ – DaveBoltman Jun 15 '18 at 14:05
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Mass Media

The answer comes from the question, specifically select group of people. Radio has two purposes:

  1. Two-way communication between select groups of people. This ranges from individual-to-individual communication on up to shared communication both structured - e.g., emergency responders, air-traffic control - and unstructured - e.g., CB Radio. The telepathic method would work great for individual communication and plausibly well for small groups - you just need a way to identify the group.

  2. Broadcasting. Radio (and over-the-air TV) lets anyone, anywhere within range, receive broadcasts where the sender has no advance knowledge of who is receiving the broadcast. Telepathy doesn't (in my understanding of your world) work that way - the sender needs to (a) have a mental image of the recipients(s) and (b) the telepathic channel is always 2-way.

If I look at a stadium of people (too large for voice communication without amplification) I can instantly telepathically send to them, but I have to be prepared for the mental pressure of all of them (or even a small percentage) sending to me at the same time.

All the more so, if I want to communicate with anyone willing to listen, anywhere within hundreds of miles - including people I have never seen or been introduced to - I can't open the telepathic link, and if I can get past that (send me your picture and address?) then I have the fear of thousands of people trying to talk at one time.

Even worse if I am saying something inflammatory - the opposition would try to get in on the conversation and "mess with my head".

In addition, as @JBH pointed out, radio also allows nonverbal communication, particularly music.

So radio as mass media is the key use. Development would have to take a slightly different path from the real world as much of the initial development was as a wireless telegraph - replacement for a point-to-point wired connection. But it could definitely be done and would definitely be useful.

Machine communication? As in the real world, this will come later, possibly much later. While there are some very basic methods (e.g., radio controlled toy cars) that can be done without computers, the vast majority of what we think of as radio-based machine communications relies on computers. And not just any computers, integrated circuit based microcomputers. This requires advances in a number of different fields, far beyond what you need to have a big vacuum tube transmitter and crystal receivers, which is all you need to get radio functioning as mass media.

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If They have Science They will Discover Radio

Radio is part of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. EM radiation includes radio, infrared, visible light, x-rays, gamma rays, etc. As they seek to understand the natural world, scientists will classify and quantify the portion of the EM spectrum that we call radio.

Applications

Any species that discovers radio will use it - they just might not use it the same way. Some useful applications include:

  • RADAR - Radio is integral to RADAR (it's right in the name - RAdio Detection and Ranging) - all kinds of aircraft and self driving cars are using radar today.
  • Wifi - Wifi is a type of radio wave. If we eliminated broadcast radio we could expand Wifi bandwidth into this space.
  • Machine to Machine comms - same as above, only use the frequency space for backbone internet traffic instead of edge internet traffic.
  • Long range comms - If there's any limit on the range for telepathy, radio could come into play. Can you speak telepathically to astronauts in orbit around your world?
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  • $\begingroup$ This is a great point. They'll discover it whether they need it or not. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 14 '18 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ "Wifi sits between radio and microwaves" - Nope WiFi uses, and is completely dependent on microwave radiation. WiFi uses a frequency of 2.4GHz, the same frequency used by microwave ovens. Of course microwave frequencies range from several hundred Megahertz to several ten of Gigahertz (including 2.4GHz which is absorbed by water (and thus heats food), and used by WiFi. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microwave $\endgroup$ – DaveBoltman Jun 15 '18 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ All we really use radio for, besides RADAR is machine-to-machine communication. Some of those machines just happen to tell us what it's picking up. $\endgroup$ – Clearer Jun 15 '18 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveBoltman - updated to be... more vague. $\endgroup$ – codeMonkey Jun 15 '18 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Space isn't all that far away… I have to concede though that orbit is a bit further away, depending on which orbit. $\endgroup$ – MvG Jun 17 '18 at 11:50
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You're assuming basically godlike telepathic abilities

And that's unrealistic. Can you imagine the problem of having 7 billion people broadcasting to 7 billion people 24/7? That's unrealistic in the extreme. A 7,000 mile range is unrealistic, too.

Which means your people have the same need for radio as everyone else

What they don't need (possibly) are megaphones, microphones, and other near-space sound amplification for personal communication.

Which brings up another point...

Telepathy may obviate walkie-talkies, CB radios, and cell phones, but not radio

Because people love to listen to music! I suppose you could have one telepath listen to a lovely vinyl record and simultaneously broadcast what he/she is hearing, but that's a burden... that person would welcome the freedom radio would bring (if they could do it at all).

And then there's the need for computers to talk...

Because your computers aren't telepathic and the computer controlling the assembly robot needs to talk to that robot. Wires are so old-fashioned! Wireless machine-to-machine communication would by itself be a driver for radio. Could you imagine a telepath-based OnStarTM system? Hello, have you recently had an accident? Could you tell me where you are please? Hello? I think they're unconcious. Hello? Wait, is anyone even in the car? What do you mean you're going to the ba... Oh... sorry.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm confused by this objection. Once we've accepted telepathy, "realistic" is already out the window. $\endgroup$ – mattdm Jun 15 '18 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ @mattdm, How does accepting telepathy make "realism" irrelevant? Experienced authors know that godlike people are nearly worthless as characters. They cannot grow and cannot be overcome. They make the story stagnant and the reader cannot relate to them, even as a "I wish I was like them" fantasy. Without practical limits, they make it difficult if not impossible to balance a story. Thus, unrealistic. Ancient man would consider today's educated chemist to be godlike... and yet the chemist has substantial limits. No, realism is not out the window (were this not so we couldn't dream). $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 15 '18 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Good point (and good answer). Realism occurs on a spectrum. You don't throw it out the window as soon as you have moved a bit towards the unrealistic end of the spectrum. $\endgroup$ – John Coleman Jun 15 '18 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ Just adding that if you found a cool way to present telepathy so people can suspend disbelief, then you don't need to go that far to explain rediscovery of radio. Research and asking questions in wb can't hurt either. $\endgroup$ – Hatoru Hansou Jun 15 '18 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ +1 and I agree with almost everything in this answer. However, if we accept the premise of telepathy, I don't think a 7000 mile range (or even any range) is unrealistic. It depends on the explanation given for how the telepathy works. It may even be a metaphysical explanation, not dependant on distance. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw Jun 16 '18 at 6:50
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If you want to make this telepathy scientifically plausible -- make it via radio waves. On this planet beings have evolved which are able to communicate via radio waves. This is not completely implausible since on our planet we have things like sharks sensing electrical currents and birds navigating by sensing the magnetic field. Of course, the beings that have evolved this ability to communicate via radio don't originally know that they are doing this -- anymore then we knew much about how our own brain and nervous system worked until very recently (and even now, there is much to learn). Perhaps it is their biologists rather than their physicists who discover radio. They might think of it as "artificial telepathy" much the way that we think of computers as "artificial intelligence". Just like radio in our history was fairly unreliable for the first several decades, artificial telepathy would seem like a fairly poor substitute for natural telepathy at first (highly evolved natural radio communication is likely to have evolved things like error detecting codes and things like frequency hopping to resist jamming by predators). But just as AI is finally becoming competitive with humans in many areas, sooner or later artificial telepathy (radio) would start to outstrip natural telepathy in things like bandwidth. An intelligent species who all of a sudden understand the underlying physics of how they communicate could doubtless do much with that knowledge.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is the answers that makes more sense. Just because humans are capable of something, that doesn't mean that they won't develop a machine that does it better. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez Jun 15 '18 at 13:47
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Because people have blocked telepathy

Billions people all capable of making you listen to whatever suits their whimsy is an absolutely terrible environment to live in. If even just a dozen abuse that power it's a miserable time for all; but more realistically the abusers will number in the thousands or even millions.

Technology that is capable of blocking, or at least limiting, telepathy is going to be developed pretty early in your civilization's history!

So, your civilization will still have the need for forms of communication that can happen without removing the block.

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The answer can be pretty easily derived by looking at what issues are likely to be present that alternative communications methods would solve. Note that if you end up in a situation where verbal (or visual) communication is superior to this telepathy, you will still end up using radio for long-range communications, as it's the easiest means of long distance transmission of visual or verbal communications).

Looking at this as objectively as possible, given a very pessimistic interpretation of your description, you have a vast majority of the same issues here that you do with radio (interference, non-selectivity of transmissions, easily intercepted or blocked, shared media requiring regulation, etc), except all of those are much worse, because you can turn off a radio, but can't turn off your mind. In a case like this, it's very likely that people will either quickly find a way to block telepathy and then use some other form of communications, or, more likely, develop into a slightly more restricted form of collective consciousness akin to the Borg (and thus not need radio for communications at all).

Given a very optimistic interpretation though, you have a system very similar to a computer network as viewed from the application layer, and thus not many significant issues, and as a result radio would likely never develop as a means of direct communication, but would probably end up being developed as a means of broadcast communication, and possibly for things like music.

In both cases, it's likely to be developed for non-communications purposes such as radar, radio astronomy, and electronic communications.

It's probably worth noting that that pessimistic interpretation is the more likely one if this telepathy evolved before the development of sentience (coordinating a pack as a single unit is a huge advantage when hunting), while the optimistic interpretation is much more likely to be the result of an ability that was developed intentionally by an intelligent species (either through self modification, or through some form of external meddling), and something between the two is the most likely case if they developed it after developing sentience, but it originated naturally.

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Scientific curiosity. All it takes is an eccentric mind to create something, there are many things invented that have no pressing need.

It seems to me that why or how he created it could be explained in many ways, perhaps he was trying to communicate with some other world or realm.

I was also thinking you could incorporate the eccentric into the story somehow later, make finding them a quest, or use as a mentor figure because of some deep mystical understanding.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would you mind putting some more "flesh" on this interesting concept? As it is now it looks more like a comment. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jun 15 '18 at 15:47
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If telepathy is only possible when you know who is on the other end of the connection (and it likely is because otherwise prank "calls" are going to be a problem), anonymity could be a large driving factor. A person could pick up a walkie-talkie from a dead drop and they wouldn't know who's on the other end. Very valuable if you're a member of the resistance.

Traditional vetting would eventually lead to using intermediaries to telepathically communicate (and direct telepathy for highly trusted people) but it would still retain value for recruiting new members.

Security might be lower than optimal for such a fledgling system, but if radio is a fairly esoteric means of communication it might be considered obscure enough that no one will figure out how to snoop. Or the resistance may simply be desperate enough. Or it could just be that the foreign state sponsor of the resistance has actually made the radios secure.

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The simplest answer and probably the answer you want to hear is:

They want to be heard

  • They will never invent a radio if they can directly (telepathically) communicate the spicies bajillions light years away from their planet.
  • They will definitely invent a radio if they somehow find boundaries of their telepathic power, being it a distance, willingness of the recepient or something else (like not being able to telepathically transmit thru water/foil/vacuum).
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  • $\begingroup$ They will invent a radio in both cases. The internet is not entirely for human-human communication! $\endgroup$ – forest Jun 17 '18 at 2:28
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They would discover it for the same reason we did - because it's there in nature, pretty much everywhere in the universe (for practical purposes), and is possibly an inevitable discovery once you get exploration of basic physics (17 - 19th century equivalent could probably make it a very likely/almost inevitable trajectory).

They would make use of it for almost identical reasons to the uses we have, assuming similar technological directions. Telepathy wouldn't change it much:

  • exploring objects and spaces that can't be seen (air radar, ground radar, object detection/tracking)
  • interpreting the universe (astronomy)
  • technology and research (some devices and research involves electromagnetic waves such as radio being produced and directed at some object or space)
  • domestic and industrial appliances (microwave/radar ovens, sterilising, heating, GPS, RFID or equivalent)
  • data transmission (you might have telepaths but can they mediate a Bluetooth or other wireless mouse, for example, or handle gigabit/second WiFi between servers or in campuses/hospitals/houses, or supply long distance networking such as remote buildings/villages using parabolic/other shape antennae?)
  • one to many area broadcasting (this is everyday entertainment such as TV and radio channels, and public safety channels where anyone in an area with the required equipment can receive the message. You might think telepathy would do the job, but if there's a tsunami warning and you're asleep, will telepathy always wake you up or would you prefer a loud alarm and flashing light?)
  • Telepathy disabled persons (some people lack sight or hearing; almost certainly some people will have reduced or lacking telepathy due to genetics, age or accident, they may need radio-based technologies as disability support aids)
  • other?
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In truth: we do not invent "radio waves", it is as stupid as to say that we invent the light, since it is the same thing.

First thing: the radio waves exist whatever happens, except to create a universe without photon, but in this case, nothing is visible, the eyes have no function.

Second, even with telepathy, there is a maximum speed of information transfer in the universe, which is a constant that has been wrongly named: speed of light.

So radio waves go at this speed in a vacuum, in other words, nothing can be faster.

If you want to create a universe that violates Einstein's relativity, I wish you good luck on the coherence ;)

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  • $\begingroup$ How does it answer the question, actually? If you want to argue semantics, do it in comments or do not do it at all. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 15 '18 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ Trivially not false, but a totally useless distinction. Second without a [hard-science] or [science-based] tag being not inline with the current understanding of physics isn't a problem. And third relativity is an incomplete theory, there seems to be room for quantum weirdness to work around it, even if we have found no examples yet, and as a theory it might be just plain wrong in some context we haven't yet imagined. Just because the math looks right doesn't mean physics is constrained; see Aristotle or Newton. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Jun 15 '18 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot this answer is good answer because the question can't be ask like this... "why invented radio signal" as no sens ;) $\endgroup$ – Matrix Jun 18 '18 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ the question is really badly posed because its premise is that the radio signal would have been invented by the Man, while obviously this is not the case $\endgroup$ – Matrix Jun 18 '18 at 10:47

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