I'm a long time lurker and while browsing this site, I just got a question:

If all of us humans are replaced with a different set of humans with a different script and language right now, how long would they need to learn our technology as it is today and more interestingly how would they learn it at all?

Some notes:

  • Assume that maintainance is not an issue.
  • I am actually only asking about computers.
  • Let's assume that the new society is at the level of western society around the year 1900.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! We're glad you could join us! When you have a moment, please click here to learn more about our culture and take our tour. Are you asking if something invented by human Americans, if given to human Russians, how hard would it be for the Russians to figure it out? They've been doing it for 200+ years without much difficulty. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH don't you know the Russians invented everything?? :) $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ With the vigorous application of SCIENCE!!! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn, I'm watching through ST:TOS right now with that Checkov habit. It never gets old! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ The only computers around the year 1900 were Babbage-style mechanical difference engines (the most common version was a cash register). Are we talking alternative history? Could someone in the 1900s reverse-engineer a modern computer? If so, consider this question and this question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 14:36

1 Answer 1


Quite a lot of technology is "kind of obvious." A saw is a saw and a hammer is a hammer, no matter what is stamped on the tool. There are a few details, like stainless steel vs. ordinary steel, but that mostly matters for experts in a few applications.

Other technology is based on defaults which are ingrained habit to us, and would be a problem for people. Cars have the clutch, gas, and brake pedals in a certain order, and a driver who has to think about that would have lots of accidents. An expert in the area should be able to figure things out if he is given some time and material for experimentation, but the society in general would suffer.

Yet other technology is completely dependent on written information. You cannot tell a 200-mg ibuprofen pill from a 600-mg pill by taste or look. Problems from things like that would be quite devastating until almost everyone knows the new language. Quite a lot of casualties for many months.

But I would expect that the language barrier would be broken really fast, there is just so much written stuff that with helpful pictures in it. A scientist who gets something like the Handbook of Mathematical Functions would not just deciper our number system (that could be done with a phone book) but also get a Rosetta Stone to the rest of the language.

The problem: could the scientists do the work while society breaks down around them?

And then there are things which are deliberately password-protected. With all password owners gone, who will figure out a smartphone?

  • $\begingroup$ Good Answer... but that last line... you could just have a chinese looking person pick up an iphone with face recognition... Boom! your in! unilad.co.uk/technology/… $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @BladeWraith, the idea wasn't that the same people forget language, it was that new people (with about a century less in industrial development) show up. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ I completely understand that. thats why i said chinese looking. i just wanted to poke fun at the iPhoneX $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 15:59

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