Since they don't use sight to relay information to their brains, how would information on a computer screen be displayed in a meaningful manner? Would this hinder the advance of my civilization?


Assume that my creatures have two arms, eight fingers per hand, and otherwise are physically very similar to us.

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    $\begingroup$ Are they developing these from scratch, or using adapted devices that were originally sight-based? $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Mar 17 '15 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ From scratch preferably. This is going to be the setting for a human invasion of the planet---an relatively new twist to the old tale of alien invasion. Tech should be 1990-modern level. Anything more futuristic might not be a valid solution to my priblem. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Mar 17 '15 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ I think you're going to run into problems developing electronics in the first place. How do they make or research anything microscopic when they rely on echolocation? Is there a way to magnify their 'vision'? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Mar 17 '15 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think the fact that of higher order creatures virtually all are sighted lends itself to the idea that yes, this would limit your sentient creatures or at least slow them down significantly. Sight is a very efficient and accurate (for those with good eyes anyway) sense. Echolocation is impressive but (obviously) only works in a 3d setting and that is not an efficient way to pass information unless you are also telepathic. LOTS OF POP-UP books. :) $\endgroup$ – James Mar 17 '15 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel A big plus (but not totally required) for the accepted answer would be if it includes how they would develop it. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Mar 17 '15 at 19:16

No Screens At All. They would use sound devices that create echolocation signals that they can then interpret and work with.

Since these are native to this species, there's no reason that they'd even consider screens to start with. Instead they'd just adapt and expand speaker technology once they developed it - even if they were behind us in other areas, their sound tech would probably be extraordinarily advanced compared to ours (audiophiles rejoice).

So rather than a display, or a screen that changes shape so they can detect movement, they'd just have speakers that send out signals that they interpret as information/displays. Basically they'd cut out the middle-man - instead of devices that reflect sound, they'd just generate the sound directly.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 OP mentioned elsewhere "verbal communication," but this is not the same as echo-location. Using echo-location, an animal's brain builds a representation of the world around them using sound-waves, in the same way (albeit much less efficient) we do with light. So these creatures could invent speakers that invoke images they can "see", the same way we do with pixels. $\endgroup$ – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Mar 17 '15 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ We sort of already do this for our ears with 3D surround sound. $\endgroup$ – slebetman Mar 17 '15 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure this would work. In order to precisely control the return, I don't think simple speakers would cut it. At the very least, everything would be headphone based to properly generate the depth field. $\endgroup$ – Nick2253 Mar 17 '15 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Nick2253: I can clarify in the answer, but I'm certainly not expecting that this would be anything as simple as regular speakers. It would almost certainly be massively more complex than anything used on Earth - imagine a bank of several thousand small individual "speaker" units, each capable of precision sound generation. Probably very similar to how we do visual resolution, where you have rows and columns of generators. An audio version might be 3D, though. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Mar 17 '15 at 23:19

If you wanted a direct correlation, I would suggest instead of pixels, your computer screen would have a matrix of little needles that get pushed out or pulled in in order to create a 3-d representation of whatever information is being relayed. This system would probably not be able to match the resolution of modern monitors, and its usefulness would be directly proportional to the accuracy of your aliens' echolocation abilities, and it would probably be very hard to build/maintain/repair, but I think it could work.

For something a little different, I'd suggest looking into computers for the blind; I'm sure there are many solutions that people have already thought up for visually-impaired sentient beings.

EDIT: Another solution would be to fool the echolocator's senses. Much like how a pixel is just a red light, a blue light, and a green light placed next to each other to give the illusion of all colors, your echolocators' 'screens' could be special stereos that play sounds that 'look' like images. Basically, they return sound from different directions at different rates, just as you would hear when sound bounced off of real-world obstacles and came back to you (in this case, the obstacles would be virtual, like virtual images on a screen). This might take some training to do, and ambient noises would throw the whole thing off, but if you're used to this technology from birth you could probably just throw on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and go to work.

  • $\begingroup$ Modern computers for the blind mainly use text-to-speech. I still can't see a technological society running totally on a computer system that has to verbally communicate to them what they are touching. I can see an undesired resentment for technology arising from the software developer who accidentally typed: javaz instead of javax. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Mar 17 '15 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @DustinJackson your comment just made me think of a better answer. I'll be editing. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 17 '15 at 18:57

In short, you couldn't use a 'screen' since they don't have the ability to perceive colors, and so the information displayed on a computer screen would be completely useless to them. You need to invent a different kind of display.

Depending on the granularity of their echolocation, what sort of display they need is very different.

If they have standard Earth-animal echolocation and use a 'ping' in order to echolocate, then they will have very basic echolocative acuity that can tell how far and in what direction something is from them. In this case, you need a completely different way of communicating information from a machine. You could use sound to 'tell' what is happening, or possible a tactile display (information rendered by altering the texture and shape of something they are touching).

If they emit a drawn out burst of sound, then they may have a finer degree of acuity in what the 'see' with echolocation (think Daredevil-like 'sound vision') If that's the case, then the texture/shape design I mentioned for something they are touching could be expanded for their echolocation to view.

That said, the amount of information that could be transmitted that way would be vastly inferior to the information acquired by sight.

So, yes...I feel this would impair their society's ability to build computers. In fact, it would impair a lot of things for the society. A sightless race would have no real way of comprehending outer space as any echolocating signals they sent 'up' would simply vanish.

That said...an echolocating race would not focus on 'seeing' things as their means of communication. They would likely focus on hearing things. Given that the amount of information that can be communicated by sound is much denser than the amount of information that can be communicated by scanning the texture of your surrounding area...it makes sense that all of their means of communication would be focused towards that. The information density of texture is very low until you start getting into microtextures...which would be hard for echolocation to reliably read.

EDIT: Here is another option if you still want something 'visual'. Use a dense array of speakers that are timed to project sound to the viewer in such a way that their echolocation perceives the sound as being something physical...basically allowing for sound-based holograms. Again, you are limited by the granularity of their echolocation, but it's an idea.

  • $\begingroup$ You don't need a dense array of speakers. 4 will do. It's what we do today with 3D surround sound. With the correct transfer function that models their ears and some software they can even get away with 2 speakers for low-res "display". $\endgroup$ – slebetman Mar 17 '15 at 21:22

If I were them, I would do it like this:

enter image description here

Of course you would need to remove the front face plate, stop the pin backs to prevent them from pushing through and put tiny actuators behind each pin. Not easy, but actually, still not as hard as making a working television screen/tube.


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