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OK so in my roleplaying game (inspired by AAW’s Future’s Past but using Savage Worlds in my homebrew universe) the big bad is a time travelling AI which the party will be chasing back in time. The AI will be trying to make humanity become technological sooner, since sooner the technology is right, sooner the AI is created and sooner it gets to takeover the universe (or as it sees it the sooner it gets to perfect itself which is its prime directive). So what events will the party need to cause to ensure that history follows the ‘right’ path. For instance Ancient Egypt had a form of steam power but never made the step to steam engines, if the AI goes back it could ‘cause’ the invention of steam engines and lead to a much more technologically advanced Egypt and maybe the AI gets built a 1000 years earlier – but what event could I tie this too, something the party could either prevent or cause? And what are a few other turning points?

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closed as off-topic by Renan, 011358 smell, JBH, A Lambent Eye, Gryphon Jul 4 at 12:58

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If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ I'd suggest that you could improve this questions chances to not being closed by making it less about the story and more about a specific worldbuilding issue as defined in the help center. We also have a strict "One question per question" rule here - pick one to ask here. You're welcome to open another question thread though. Yous can edit to fit if you fancy keeping the thread alive. $\endgroup$ – 011358 smell Jul 4 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ A similar question was posted not too long ago, and was closed on the reasoning that, in the history of mankind, every technology didn't came out as a standalone, but massively depending on others. As such the question is quite broad. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jul 4 at 5:23
  • $\begingroup$ "Ancient Egypt had a form of steam power": no, they didn't. And it wasn't Ancient Egypt, it was the Roman Empire. (It's like confusing Spanish-speaking Mexico with the Aztec Empire. Same geographical location, but different time, different language, different culture. Hint: Heron of Alexandria lived in Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander, the Greek-speaking Macedonian conqueror of Egypt.) For an example of how to make it read David Drake and Eric Flint's Belisarius series. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 4 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ Hello Andrew, welcome to Worldbuilding. SE's Q&A model is one-specific-question/one-best-answer. The purpose of the site is to help you overcome specific problems developing the rules and systems of your world. Per our help center, "the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story." You're basically asking us to help you write your story, because the list you're looking for has nothing to do with the rules of a fictional world. In short, you're asking us to research technologically important historical events - and that's not worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 4 at 6:36
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Your problem is protecting history between 1822 and 1940

There are three events that are critical to the development of AI that cannot be altered and which (if they occur earlier) will cause you problems. But, the first two are theoretical in nature meaning that they are unlikely to be formulated beforehand...

1) Charles Babbage designs the Difference Engine in 1822
Charles Babbage is the person who first conceptualises what is to become the modern computer, way back in 1822. Prior to this, the theory of mechanical computation was pretty much unknown, and even after this it takes us more than a century to build a practical implementation of this (but more on that later).

The real limitation that Babbage faced was the lack of a reliable and versatile energy system, which was to come about 40 years later...

2) James Maxwell publishes the Maxwell Equations in 1861
James Maxwell, in 1861, came up with the first model that integrated magnetism and electricity. This was a purely theoretical physics proof at the time, but it is the bedrock of all modern electrical and electronic technology. Without this, Marconi would not have been able to send radio signals, and of course, modern computers could not exist. This theory required years of engineering consolidation to lead to what we have today, and as such was a key and pivotal point in the development of modern computers.

3) Alan Turing cracks Enigma (sometime during WWII)
As much as Babbage initially designed the theory of mechanical computation, Alan Turing was really the first person to actually do it as part of a code cracking exercise during WWII. His first prototype computers led the way into the research avenues which developed into modern computing, and led to further research in to what is known as 'soft computing' as early as the 1950s, which in turn led to AI research.

These are the key events in history; what you want to protect against is the first two happening earlier, leading to the final one being possible earlier. If you can make sure that mechanical computation and EM theory don't develop prior to these first two key events, then you're much more secure. The only other risk is that these technologies are harnessed during WWI instead of WWII due to the implementation of a more concerted encryption or decryption exercise during that first world war.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's apparently some evidence that Turing was unaware of Babbage's work when he was developing his own theory of computation, though years later he did become aware of it and mentioned Babbage and Lovelace in his 1950 paper on testing AI intelligence. So possibly Babbage should be seen as an early anticipation of the idea which ended up not having much historical influence. $\endgroup$ – Hypnosifl Jul 4 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Hypnosifl that's interesting, I didn't know that. It does make one curious about whether or not the difference engine would have been the first modern computer if Maxwell had come 100 years earlier... $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Jul 4 at 4:05
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It depends

If time can be changed, there is nothing you can do to stop it from getting changed. Just by travelling back in time will change time. You breath out modern bacteria and viruses for starters. If you talking to anyone, you delay them so they are not where they were supposed to be thus different people could die in car accidents and others live. Time is going to be changed and it's only a question of by how much and what the change will lead to.

If time is fixed, nothing you do will alter it and everything you do will actually lead to the world being exactly like it is. For example, trying to kill your grandfather fails and actually lead him to meet your grandmother. Killing Hitler as a baby leads a nurse to swap babies with another where the single mother died during birth and WW2 happens as normal.

Giving ideas to ancient societies may or may not result in faster technology. The ancient Greeks had boilers and pistons yet never put the two together to make the steam engine. If they did, it might still end up on a shelf and forgotten. All you can do is wait and see what the change does.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Your last paragraph made me think - the solution is all about power, specifically political power. The OP needs to "take charge" in order to effect change. $\endgroup$ – 011358 smell Jul 4 at 4:53
  • $\begingroup$ Using your knowledge to take charge would allow you to steer society in the correct direction but just making random changes might not have the effect you're looking for. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Jul 4 at 5:01
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    $\begingroup$ I agree, some kind of pre-destination paradox could be at play here, who knows the mind of Cthulu, I mean god. Praise him. $\endgroup$ – 011358 smell Jul 4 at 5:11
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I think it depends on your AI’s resources.

If the AI needs humans to produce the materials it needs to evolve without the humans knowing what they are doing. Like the AI is like some secret society operating in the background, influencing but dependent on the human society, then I think if the AI went back to the Roman Republic.

They say that all the technology for the industrial revolution was available for to the Romans. And, 300 years after the start of the industrial revolution we created the Atom Bomb. But Roman culture and the philosophies they advanced focused on the law and didn’t align well with scientific innovation. If your AI landed in ancient Rome, and introduced the ideas of scientific enquiry and the enlightenment, then it could have kick started our modern world 1800 years earlier. Maybe even faster, if the AI ensured the much of the Teachings of Aristotle were misplaced and forgotten until ideas like freedom and the scientific method were will entrenched in society.

If the AI has the wherewithal to rule a human population, and only needs them as a labor force, then it could go back 40-50k years and the emergence of modern Man. The the AI could guide and educate his human population to be a society dedicated to its perfection. It might take 500-1000 years to bootstrap stone-knives and bearskins to nuclear power plants, but it would come out far ahead even with the added costs of educating humans to build the first cities with sanitation and everything they need to spread across the planet.

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Part of the problem is that there are just way, way too many simple technological advances that could be done on Bronze Age tech and would make huge advances possible. There's nothing about horse collars, or the precise mix of alloys, or gunpowder, or crop rotation, or vaccination requiring an advanced tech base. Beyond that, unless your PCs and the players are tech experts, how could they tell one way or another? Without looking it up, at what point in human history were all those things invented, and which culture was responsible for doing so? (Beyond that, if the AI's at all foresighted, it's going to institute some flashy bit of obvious high tech in Babylon in 1235 BC, all ready for the party to knock down, and seed four other less obtrusive ideas they won't notice.)

I'd say your party has a very formidable task ahead.

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