According to Moore's law, the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles about every two years. Therefore, a modern household computer has the computational capabilities of a supercomputer several decades ago.

If one took a modern (2019) very high-end gaming computer (see exact specifications below) and somehow managed to send it back in time one hundred years, how would science be able to advance as a consequence?

We are going to assume that the computer lands at the MIT-campus, including modern peripherals and ample instructions for the OS and a few popular programming languages.

The computer would have an Intel Core i9-9980XE processor and Nvidia Geforce RTX 2080 Ti graphics card, accompanied by 128 GB RAM, 1 TB of SSD- and 14TB of HDD storage. All this in an ATX form factor, powered by (for example) a Corsair AX1600i power supply. The OS is a dual-boot setup with both Linux and Windows. Both operating systems have software installed to run the most popular programming languages.

Which fields of science might advance thanks to this computer? What kind of simulations/calculations would be possible decades earlier thanks to it? Could (vastly) increased computational performance have enabled earlier breakthroughs in some fields?

Even though LSerni posted an excellently written answer about the consequences of the fact that the computer traveled through time, I am less interested in the implications of time-travel and more interested in what could be done with the computational capabilities of the device (complex simulations for example). I am also less interested in the possibility of reverse-engineering the computer. I want scientists of the time to essentially treat it like a black box, with no knowledge of its inner workings.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How much instructions and software are you going to send with it? Just a bare Windows? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 3 '19 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ How long can it be used before the batteries die? Or are you sending solar chargers? $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Jun 3 '19 at 21:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Cyn That's not going to be a big problem. In 1919, all major cities in US and Europe were electrified with voltages not very different from today ones. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 3 '19 at 21:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (1) The question is way too broad; it essentially asks the community to come up with a plot for your story. (2) The question is woefully underspecified. First of all, the i9-9980XE is not a computer, it's a processor, and the RTX 2080 Ti is a graphics card. Please tell us something about the actual computer -- form factor, operating system, power supply etc. Then tell us how it gets there -- is it alone, or does it come with a cubic meter of books? It would be nice to know where is arrives -- revolutionary Russia, assertive Japan, the West Point military academy, Oxford? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 3 '19 at 21:56
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If it's a typical gaming computer, not much. Now if you got rid of the games, and replaced them with a bunch of scientific & engineering programs, and their on-line manuals, you might have some effect. The problem is that only a few people could use the machine, or read the manuals. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 4 '19 at 4:43

Very little, I'm afraid. The computer is not really the important thing - the mathematical models are. One hundred years in the past it's 1919. The computer will remain a one-of-its-kind device since the transistor is a good twenty years in the future, at best.

There is not the knowledge required to fully make use of the device. Yes, it could run very long calculations with great accuracy, but in 1919 the "added value" of the calculations was not very much compared to the initial data. And the time required to enter the numbers in the first place would be impractical. A team of eight human computers would run circles around a single human clerk with a supercomputer, because they could operate in parallel.

It could probably be used to decrypt codes, once some programming language has been learned by the recipients. For those tasks, the "added value" is the greater part of the job.

But a more interesting set of consequences arise from the computer itself. First of all there is a powerful message: the past is reachable. Can we trust the future? Can we trust all the polities in the future? Can people be sent back? We daren't believe otherwise, which means that we've got a problem - spies. The existence of this computer is proof that the past can be changed, and They have a purpose, which means that the future can be changed too. It follows that future people have an interest in making us adopt those choices that will be best for them -- with "them" possibly being a fractious lot of rival nation-states. So, for example, the future French might be tempted to sabotage past Prussia, or... the political implications are simply immense. And the computer has not yet even started working.

Then there are the components. Forget how they work. Look at them. Half of the chips are made in South Korea. Wait -- South Korea? Or in China. China. Really. Or in Japan. Japan was more or less a medieval backwater up to fifty years ago. How is it they have progressed so?

The marks are in English, the measurements are mainly based on the Imperial system, but the firms' names are Japanese, Chinese, or Korean. Some components, not many, are made in Germany, some capacitors are made in Austria. What is happening in the future? It is 1919, World War I has played itself out, and nothing points to this new world equilibrium. If 2019 Germany and Austria are independent states, if the East has developed such a manufacturing power -- all this points to Europe getting itself smashed somehow, and the East being on the roll.

Being in possession of this intelligence might literally change the world, even if the computer doesn't.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1 for discussing the implications of the components' manufacturers! $\endgroup$ – bio Jun 3 '19 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander yeah, sorry, was updating the answer all over and I still missed most points, as you can see from the other comments :-( $\endgroup$ – LSerni Jun 3 '19 at 22:02

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.