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A few hundred years from now, a prosperous humanity heavily relying on technology is hit by a disaster. It's not a type of a disaster that kills many people instantly, but it takes out enough technical devices to curb repair efforts, then more devices are down so that the supply chains suffer, the situation spirals out of control and soon nothing it working.

Most people die anyway because a drone truck does not bring food to the nearby shop anymore, fires, fighting and epidemics break out, etc. Still, millions survive in some kind of a post-apocalyptic failed state, living off the loot and whatever resources are left.

I suppose a "logical" course of events from there would be that people start fighting for resources, form gangs that invest in restoring the technology to gain upper hand, more successful then defeat and absorb less succesful, they grow and become countries, restore even more technology etc. - a normal historical development.

In my world, this is not what happens, and the humanity decays after a few generations. What could have caused that?

A few restrictions:

  • biologically, they are still normal humans capable to reproduce in a normal way;
  • the Earth is still mostly livable.

So, ideally, I would like a change in sociology/psychology/upbringing/education that has happened between now and then and that makes people unable to "live in the wild", and is persistent enough to last for several generations.

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    $\begingroup$ Note there are still many hunter gather tribes who would never notice if all electrical technology on earth stopped. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ Unlikely, some tribes are still uncontacted, and many others exist the way they do by choice, so you would have to have many rounds of forced assimilation. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ @John: Forget the tribes, there are a lot of people in rural US/Canada (and presumably elsewhere) who'd be only slightly inconvenienced by the loss of technology. And it wouldn't be a complete loss: your tractor or whatever would still work, you'd just have to scavenge or build repair parts, rely on home-made biofuels &c - and since this is a few hundred years from now, you don't have fossil fuels anyway... $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 28 '20 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf, sorry, no such people in my world. President Ocasio-Cortez nationalized all the land in the US in 2045. $\endgroup$
    – Kostya_I
    Oct 28 '20 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Daniel B: All those resources, other than fossil fuels (for which biofuels can substitute) can be found in your local landfill. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 29 '20 at 3:04

23 Answers 23

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It was routine in this civilization for people in their teens -- or younger -- to undergo a reversible sterilization. No more trouble about contraception!

Except that "reversible" meant "in a technological society." (They're still fertile! They just have some trouble with their contraception!)

Oh, there were people who refused it, and people for whom it failed, and people who happened to have it reversed at the time. But not all in the same place. And many died of hunger and thirst. The places where the fertile managed to concentrate enough that their children could meet someone and marry were few and small enough that they were easily overwhelmed by chance.

This is on top of the mass starvation owing to breakdown of food transport. Small children and pregnant women would be inordinately likely to die, and they would reduce your fertile pool even more than your general population.

And you would still need to wipe out the small communities, but that's feasible through accident specifically because they are small.

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    $\begingroup$ If this sterilisation procedure is held on newborns (as a part of other biological enhancements) - it would "solve problem" of teen pregnancy! But still what to with millions of already pregnant (who will give bearth to non sterill children)? So it even be better if humans are genetically modified to be steril unless they go through complex procedure wich works only for single pregnancy. $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you! But that makes most people biologically unable to reproduce, kind of violating the first restriction. $\endgroup$
    – Kostya_I
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Kostya_I, then MarvinKitfox's answer applies. Будет зайка - будет и лужайка! $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ in fact, even if you sterilize newborns, and people have kids in a normal way, it takes about 1.5-2 years to conceive a child and give birth. So if a woman on average has two kids, there will be a period of 3-4 years during the period she is 20 to 40 years old when the sterility is removed. Which means that about 15-20% of all women of that age will be fertile at the moment of the disaster. That feels by far enough. $\endgroup$
    – Kostya_I
    Oct 28 '20 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Pingcode It doesn't entirely pass the smell test that fertility reduction would propagate through the population over time... $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Oct 29 '20 at 13:57
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There is no believable way to do it.

  1. Humans are hard to kill. We can survive without modern technology in most of the environments on the planet. A human is easy to kill, but differences make it hard to kill us in large numbers. the black plague killed 80% of the population in some places, but many of the ones that survived because they were immune or resistant. This holds true for disease in general kill ALL humans with a disease is all but impossible, some people will not have the right receptor proteins. Diversity makes single causes unbelievable unless they are extreme which you are not allowing.

  2. Erasing skill is basically impossible without secrecy. More people know survival skills now than in most of the Earth's history, there are so many humans that even rare skills occur in huge numbers. Backpackers, experimental paleontologists, experimental archeologists, survival enthusiasts, Mormons, people trying to preserve their culture, people who enjoy making things the old fashioned way, in all these groups some people will still know primitive survival skills no matter what the technological level is. (If anything non-industrial skill will become more common, just like it has today because people increasingly want handcrafted things)

  3. Humans reinvent skills, there are thousands of stories of people with no survival skills learning them the hard way, humans are clever and they can learn things quickly when motivated, and not dying is a pretty strong motivation.

  4. Humans are diverse, there are thousands of cultures and that number is increasing not decreasing. Many of those cultures live with little or no modern technology, some by choice. Technology enables variation, you will never have humans with a single social flaw you can exploit. Technology encourages pluralism, so many cultures will coexist. Even in our most restrictive societies, a wide variety of mindsets and skills exist, a monolithic society is just incompatible with technology and large numbers. No matter what values your society has, some people will not agree with them.

The only way to wipe out humanity is to make the planet unlivable (really unlivable) or change Homo sapiens drastically. Both of which you also are not allowing. So there is just no way to do it that will not be obviously a contrived hand wave.

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    $\begingroup$ I couldn't agree more. A great example of this happening even in a REALLY future tech society is 'There Will be Dragons' by John Ringo. In that book, people go from Clarke Tech level where they have nanobots serving every human need and desire to a world where the AI that controls the nanobots not only stops serving human needs, but actively prevents certain technologies from remerging by doing things like preventing explosions. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 28 '20 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ Point 3 is important. Humans are incredible adapters and very creative. Beside that, our stubborn drive on hope allows us to continue to live on if all rational chance for survival is gone. $\endgroup$
    – Mixxiphoid
    Oct 29 '20 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ You could also mention the uncontacted/isolated tribes that still live day to day on those survival skills and aren't dependent on technology at all. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 29 '20 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ Youtube survival skills are laughable. Institutional knowledge and compartmentalized knowledge make it easy to lose important skills. Even people who grow tomatoes in their garden would be screwed if there were no more seed packets in the Walmart gardening section come springtime. And your culture isn't diverse at all, and hasn't been for centuries. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Oct 29 '20 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnO many crop can be propagated by literally just cutting off a branch and sticking it in soil, potatoes work just but cutting up the potatoes and putting it in the ground. Also humans don't need crops to survive, we spent most of our history without them. Cultural diversity is actually increasing with technology becasue it is possible for culture to remain connected even when physically distant. Skills are very hard to lose now just becasue there are so many people, we don't need all humans to survive just a few thousand, maybe less. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 30 '20 at 5:48
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Impossible

There isn't even a suspension-of-disbelief way to do it.

  1. It appears you've outlawed an exterior force, such as war, poison, damage to the Earth, etc. (your 2nd bullet). In other words, we need a solution that would lead to the demise of Ma and Pa Kettle in The Middle of Nowhere, Canada without doing something mean and nasty to Canada.

  2. As technology increases, so does the human immune system's dependency on that technology. This would suggest disease could solve the problem (as I pointed out in my answer to this question). But that only works in an enclosed system. Human physiology is incredible and there will always be people who are immune or resistant to the disease.

  3. No matter what anyone says, a young couple who can birth two boys and two girls would save all humanity. Oh, yeah, there'd be some close calls and lots of genetic ugliness... but so long as each generation produces 1+ couples than the last, humanity would survive. That means we need a believable way of killing off all humanity within one generation or, basically, in less than 20 years (thanks to your 1st bullet).

  4. Worse, you have all kinds of environments on this planet — including really comfortable places like Oceania, Micronesia, and other islands where small groups of people have been trundling along for eons without so much as a shovel or a pair of pants. I can't even imagine what would kill all the Samoans short of a nuclear holocaust. Those folks are tough.

  5. And worse, still, almost everyone... You really need to understand this! Almost everyone... who lives outside a major city knows how to plant a garden. I dare you to go to any (e.g.) U.S. county of less than 25,000 residents and not find the vast majority capable of growing food — and a lot of them already have seeds, orchards, yadda, yadda, yadda. Folks in the U.S. states of Montana (wheat, potatoes), Idaho (potatoes), Kansas (corn, and all other Great Plains states), California (fruit) would go gather what they need for this year and next. Who's to complain? Everyone in the big cities are dead, so there's suddenly a food surplus.

Others have said it, but I'm saying it louder.

There is no believable way any or all technology could be removed such that people would go extinct in any period of time without first harming the planet, removing the individual's ability to propagate, or driving them mad such that they hunt down and kill one another. An external force is required or it's nonsense.

Individuals would die by the bazillions. But the species would survive just fine.

Other references (You won't believe me, but these are very much related to your question):

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  • $\begingroup$ Many people stress these obstructions that are trivial to circumvent. "Ma and Pa Kettle"? Oh, in 2055 they've bought this amazing new combine harvester. All you need is to enter the terrain boundaries. It then collects soil samples and mails them to a lab. AI calculates optimal crop to grow, seeds and fertilizers are delivered by drone truck to the docking station. Selling the harvest on auction on GoogleTrade takes one click, it is then automatically delivered to the buyer by drone trucks. $\endgroup$
    – Kostya_I
    Oct 29 '20 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Kostya_I The issue isn't just a specific Ma and Pa - it's the 0.01% of the population (still a large number!) who are preppers and/or hobbyists, who have food storage and old-fashioned skills, just because. I can make sourdough bread (more or less) because I want to know how to make bread without modern tech - even though my bread using active dry yeast comes out better. My mother grows vegetables and fruit trees in her back yard. Any mere collapse of technology will leave too many people with basic skills (and seeds, and supplies) to eliminate an inevitable population stabilization. $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Oct 29 '20 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Kostya_I I've noticed that you're inconsistent with how you apply the value of an outside force. You won't allow the Earth or its people to be poisoned, but you're willing to allow the ridiculous concept of becoming so universally addicted to technology that no one can survive without it. That's absolutely asinine (there will ALWAYS be poor people) and suggests you don't know very many people who actually work the land in an already high-tech world - but more to the point, if you already have an answer, then this question needs to be closed. This isn't a discussion forum. $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '20 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Kostya_I and I think it's an enormous stretch that demonstrates a lack of understanding people and their relationship with tech. Choose to think of it as hostile if you wish. If you're sure I (we) are wrong, then why did you bother asking the question? We've simply pointed out that, from our perspective, it's impossible. The reason I'm complaining now is because you, the author, can always invent a reason (no matter how ridiculous) that rationalizes why I'm wrong. The problem is that the reasons you're coming up with have no historical precedent - which means you just don't like the answer. $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '20 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind... you're trying to assert that a time will come when no one, for any conceivable reason, would know how to plant a garden. You asked... we answered.... $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '20 at 15:53
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I don't see any way to accomplish this. Compare several examples from history.

  1. The collapse of the high tech society that was the Late Bronze Age. Yes, there were wars and other causes to reduce population, but enough people survived.
  2. The collapse of the Mayan civilization. Again, a large portion of the population died off, but enough survived to keep the language going up to today.
  3. The effect of the Toba eruption which nearly made the planet uninhabitable. It certainly had a major effect over SE Asia. There are disputes over whether or not it was the reason why our DNA appears to have had a "bottleneck" about the same time (75,000 years ago). But the bottleneck suggests that humans were down to a few thousands still left on the planet. (And yes, there are disputes about the effects of the Toba eruption, but I would not want to have lived during that time.)

My point is that we have had disasters that could have wiped us out, but didn't. Part of the reason is that humans are incredibly adaptable. We are not tied to any one technology.

Finally, no matter what you do in one country, there will always be people in another country who are preserving basic survival skills. (Look at that Japanese soldier who survived in the jungle another 29 years after the war was over before surrendering.)

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  • $\begingroup$ The Late Bronze Age can't be defined as a "high tech society" in any meaningful way that relates to the OP's question. $\endgroup$ Oct 28 '20 at 22:20
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There is NO scenario where the human urge to procreate will die out completely.

For localized individuals/ communities/ cultures/ clans/ castes... yes. And not really for the last two.

But unless the population is very small indeed, there will be SOME that have children. And if those children survive, they will have lost all the cultural dross of the others that do not want children.

Barring some sort of catastrophe or plague that removed the ability to procreate, humans will go on having kids.

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  • $\begingroup$ But this is not about the URGE, it's about the ability to keep the results of procreation alive long enough for them to procreate in their turn. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 28 '20 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Nature's solution to that is to reproduce MORE. In fact, the high infant mortality is shown to be one of the leading reasons why people in rural areas of underdevelopment countries have a very high average children born per women. Have 15 kids and SOME will survive and by the time you get to the 15th, the first ones are already able to work and help taking care of the younger ones. $\endgroup$
    – urquiza
    Oct 28 '20 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @urquiza: If infant/early childhood mortality is 100%, then it doesn't matter how many you have. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Oct 30 '20 at 3:17
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Disease

Technology makes us strong. We have clean water, vaccination, varied food, vitamins, medicins and health care. We're able to survive a ton that's thrown at us and in a fully developed world of the future this is much more the case.

There is a problem with this however. Our bodies will be specialised and adapted more and more to the high technology environment. You can already see it with many people going from developed countries to non developed countries. Food doesn't agree with them, the water is suddenly hazardous, the weather too hot or cold and disease or infection is much more prominent than with the indigenous population.

Now have a super modern world collapse. Without the technology to protect us, drinking water can already kill with just diarrhoea. Disease that might've been exotic and harmless can suddenly become a pandemic killing billions. Or possibly just the unvaccinated kids, causing death or infertility. The change can be too strong and we can't adapt in a few generations, causing the human race to die out.

This can go much further. Many Western beauty standards have already made it more difficult to birth kids for many women. This trend can increase until no kids can be born naturally. If the civilization was around long enough they might lose humans uncanny resistance to stress due to too comfortable living. Like most creatures a prolonged stress response can kill. Genetic engineering might have evolved us to more energy efficient or, looking at the movie "WALL-E", we can just have the wrong shape to survive the collapse.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you! I think, though, that most of what you have written are more of clichés than anything substantiated - can you, for example, source the claim that "beauty standards" indeed affect fertility in any real way? But my main objection is that there is no really evolutionary pressure to "adapt more and more to the high technology environment" - people who are better off nowadays have less kids, not more. In dire conditions, 99,99% may die, but the remaining will be naturally selected for the ability to survive, so the lost traits, if any, will quickly return. $\endgroup$
    – Kostya_I
    Oct 28 '20 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ It is really hard to have a pandemic without technology, humans can't spread them fast enough without transportation. also you don't need modern technology to make drinking water. Also if vaccination occurs in all human populations the old diseases will be extinct. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 28 '20 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ A few hundred years is not nearly enough time for humans to truly specialize and adapt to a high technology environment in an evolutionary sense. Humans 1000 years from now will be essentially identical to humans today, and we're essentially identical to humans from 1000 years ago. Most things here are adaptations that occur within a lifetime, like developing immunity to disease or adapting to climate. If technology disappeared, we'd be no worse off than our ancestors who never had it to begin with, since there is no real difference between us. $\endgroup$ Oct 28 '20 at 21:15
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Major genetic engineering.

Humans are no longer a species, but many, many species. Outwardly a human is a human but species are defined based on the ability to successfully breed.

Humanity was in the era of designer babies, not merely at the level of selecting the traits from the parents, but actually rewriting the genetic code. There are a large number of baby-enhancement genetic packages out there. Two people with the same package breed normally, most mixes either can't create a viable embryo or create one that is sterile. This is not a problem in society because it can always be overcome by the careful choice of what genes to copy over or by applying the same modification to the genes from the other parent while creating the new zygote.

However, the survivors do not have this ability and do not know what genes they carry (that was the realm of the geneticists when you decided to have a child, not something people memorized.) The only way to determine genetic compatibility would be to try to make a baby and see what happens--and there would be no way at all other than waiting a generation to know if that baby was fertile or a mule. If too many of the babies are mules that's it, survival is not possible even if everyone knows the problem.

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Seed stock.

The Monsanto corps of the future have made certain that they control the seed stock for every commercially viable food plant. No-one can grow their own food without buying the seed stock. Maybe same with food animals, so hyper-specialised for maximum yield, can only breed via artificial insemination.

Come the Tech crash, no more seeds available. This year's crop can be eaten, no more crops after that. Population likely will drop to very small bands of hunter/gatherers for many generations, in order to find enough food for basic subsistence. Culture and Technology all but lost. One by one, these small bands may individually encounter threats that wipe them out. Family bands might only encounter other family every few years. Inbreeding becomes more common. Finally one band hasn't encountered any other bands for generations, how do they know they are not the last. Presuming humans survive, it will take 1000s years to rebreed domestic food sources, presuming you can find any wild predecessors, that you don't immediately eat.

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Future Humans Have Tried to Reduce Their Footprint By Living in Fewer, Concentrated Habitats, in the Least Ecologically Active Parts of the Globe

The environmentalist movement, reaching full flower, convinces more and more people that the majority of the world should be left to nature. As technology (and the movement) have advanced, even the least-advanced groups of humans have been cajoled (or compelled) to move into the "human reservations" carved out in otherwise hostile environments, leaving prime earth real-estate to grow ungoverned.

The problem with wiping out mankind is that there are so many different societies, in so many places, with so many different skill sets and environmental advantages, it would be difficult to get them all. And somewhere, some people are going to figure out how to get along well enough without advanced technology (or have already been doing so, at least sometimes, out of necessity or as a hobby). But it becomes nearly plausible that a technological collapse could take out the whole species IF humans have concentrated themselves in a handful of otherwise unlivable locations.

Say there's a couple of floating cities off in the middle of the ocean, plus a city or two in Antarctica, as well as in otherwise nearly-sterile locations. (The Sahara desert?) A rapid technological collapse could (almost) plausibly destroy humanity if we weren't living anywhere else, and if transportation far from our present habitat(s) was necessary to have even a chance at long-term survival. One or two well-timed disasters to help the collapse along, and human life is over.

(One can imagine the humans on a floating city hanging on for a couple of generations, adrift, fishing and growing vegetables in the former parks - until the great city suffers a significant hull breach and sinks beneath the waves...)

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    $\begingroup$ getting every human on the planet onto reservations is only slightly less believable then them not being able to escape such reservations. Also there are very few places on earth were no humans live, people live in the Sahara desert, there are human societies that live at sea, only coming to land for wood for fuel and tools. Leaving these reservations would be easy once humans are motivated to. Their are humans that bicycle across the Sahara for fun. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 28 '20 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @John There are no more bicycles - only powered scooters, and the charging stations have all failed! No, seriously, you're not wrong. I'm skeptical that you can get rid of all humans at all (and leave behind an intact, living planet). It's slightly less implausible if you can get humans more or less all in the same place, and that the place is not somewhere that bridging from high tech to low tech would be likely. If this is for the prologue of a post-humanity story, all the OP really needs is a reason good enough to suspend disbelief on, and this is the closest I can get. $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Oct 28 '20 at 19:16
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The original disaster is war. The thing killing humans are drones.

When the world went to war, the basic answer for every country was to activate defense drones. Those are automated drones that chase any human, except for those that wear an identifying chip of their home country.

The first generation was okay. For the second, they had to get the chips from old or dead people to put into the new borns. Direct descendant of the chipped shared DNA so the transfers went okay-ish. When it came to the third generation, things went south. Genetic differences between the first and new owner were often too big and most of them didn't work.

Starting from then, humans are hunted and killed by their own country defenses.

You could replace the drones by any kind of sci-fi automated defense, could also be some kind of disease that needs the chip to survive. And if you don't like the genetic approach, you could just say that the chip weren't made to work for hundred of years and just stopped working.

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They get religion (possibly inspired by the disaster they just saw). All true believers kill all unbelievers, then they have splinter groups and repeat ad infinitum.

If that's not enough, they practice extreme incest and the gene pool gets muddy.

Then they can forbid the use what scientific knowledge they have left, thus opening the way for all the diseases we just finished getting rid of.

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  1. Humans have genetically engineered their metabolism to make themselves smarter/stronger/whatever , but this comes at the cost of reliance on some kind of superfood that is either completely artificially produced, or stems from plants/animals that are nearly impossible to cultivate outside of modern civilization.

  2. Genetically engineered superpredators: Some rich guys had bet about who could create the ultimate apex predator, and after the breakdown, these things get loose and start killing of all humans. A few conditions such a creature would have to meet:

    • Deadly and aggressive
    • Fast reproduction
    • Either small enough to sustain itself on small animals, or able to sustain itself on a vegetarian diet (otherwise they won't be numerous enough to eradicate all humans)

    Some kind of wildcat with a venomous bite might fit, or maybe even a rat with venomous bite. Or an omnivore velociraptor.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think point 1 is the right answer. We're all Olympic level athletes and super-genius' due to genetic tinkering, but all that excellence means our caloric requirements are through the roof. We need like 8000 calories a day, and just can't manage that without the aid of technology. No superfood required, we just can't get ENOUGH without mechanized help. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Oct 30 '20 at 18:59
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judging from how you describe that they has drone truck bringing food, sound like the world you has, has automatic machinery to provide luxury and comfort to the ppl.

so probably because the ppl getting spoiled so much to the point they probably dont even know how to farm, hunting, or even making fire manually, and as you mention only know how to raid and loot, because its more simple especially when you are desperate, which increase the death count, and just eat all the foods left without future planning, which they may can survive for several generation solely from that, and maybe another from doing cannibalism that will form into their culture or religion, but after it, they probably dont know what to do, also the world may even lost all the wild life or nature due to the pollution or full industry land to survive in it, and the crop or domestic animals under the drone care died out due to the lack of maintenance because the drone machinery has broken, for another reasoning.

even if you can breed if theres no food and has no immunity or medicine against the epidemic it can wiped out the species, even more so if the ppl is dumb or fail to adapt, just like how majority of animals extinction is due to their failure to adapt.

as the quote said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.” ― Albert Einstein...Probably

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    $\begingroup$ Humans could not wipe out all wildlife if we tried too. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ You greatly underestimate human adaptability and human numbers. If 99% of current population woud die - it will be still more people on Eearth than it were in acient times. It is more than enough to relearn all suvival skills by pure try-and-error (try-and-die) method. $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ How many people learn primitive survival skills today, just due to fascination, religion, or perceived risk of societal collapse. heck there are experimental archeologists who live using ancient techniques just to study how they work. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 28 '20 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun why wouldn't it include rats, humans have survived off rats several times in history. And my point is such a future is completely unbelievable, today in first world countries there are millions of people with wilderness survival skills, more importantly people can learn them very quickly. the more post scarcity a society is the larger a variety of skills people will pursue. you can't have a functional human society in which people are incapable of knowing or learning things. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 29 '20 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun one of the common markers of famine in hte archeological record is you start finding cooked rat bones in firepits, humans can eat a lot of things besides livestock. One of the first things humans ever domesticated may have been snails. the idea that ALL humans would become so out of shape and stupid they cant survive is quite frankly unbelievable. There are people that go cave diving for fun humans are a diverse lot. Technology ENABLES the acquisition of diverse skills, there is a reason there are more blacksmiths today than at any time in history. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 29 '20 at 14:06
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Would you want to bring a child into that world?

While traditionally poor living standards correlate with more kids, and the better your living standards, the less kids you plan to have – those plans don't change when your living standards change quickly. If you were planning for 2 kids in your family and then lose your job, you don't switch to wanting a family of 12. Personally I'd put off kids if my standards of living drop.

If you recall the luxury of the past, and see the struggles of the present day, and see efforts to rebuild and recapture that luxury, you'd want to delay childbirth so you could raise a child in a better world.

You delay childbirth enough and it won't happen. If it won't happen, humanity dies out.

This assumes humanity keeps its stock of contraceptives so family planning remains a possibility. Implanted IUDs or reversible vasectomies will last a long time even if latex doesn't.

If my partner proposed a child in 2020 (with bushfires, floods, great depression, and Covid) I'd counter her proposal with a "no thank you". If 2020's luck continues for 50 years I'll die childless.

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    $\begingroup$ Reality seems to show the opposite: better living conditions lead to lower childbirth rate. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Oct 28 '20 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch countries with higher standards of living correlate with lower childbirth yes. That doesnt mean a sudden drop into poverty and you start pumping out kids. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Oct 28 '20 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ It... pretty much does mean exactly that. There are ONLY three possible things that inhibit human population boom: 1) quite rich, can afford contraceptives and don't want the hassle of kids. 2) CANNOT have kids. medical problems. , or 3) Infant morality. $\endgroup$
    – user79911
    Oct 28 '20 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ We know people respond to crisis by having more children not less. war time birthrate booms are an example. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, but I find it not very plausible as it stands. You may put off kids if you lost your job, but that's because you hope to find a new one first. If you know that nothing will improve in a foreseeable future, and the choice is just to either have kids or not, then the math is different. $\endgroup$
    – Kostya_I
    Oct 28 '20 at 13:38
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Post-Literacy

Take the present as a starting point : brain-to-computer interfaces are showing it's possible to transfer information (symbols) between a human and a rat, and transfer whole skills (playing a game) between one human and another

Extend that in the logical direction of "I Know Kung Fu" on a chip. Or, more precisely, on a cloud subscription service.

Extend that further to a generation of people who don't even know how to read or write, or do math, or even speak. Imagine a generation where all of the basic skills are pulled down from a network public library of skills.

Now, imagine your disaster.

In an instant, as soon as the network goes down, this particular generation becomes the intellectual equivalent of pre-cavemen.

It might be incredibly hard to re-invent communication and society from scratch. These humans are still intellectually capable, but they've lost all of the advantage of education and will have to re-discover a lot of very basic things : sounds that have shared meanings - "yes", "no"; numbers; counting past whatever unit you use as your number system (knuckles - base 12, or fingers base 10); pictograms; letters; agreements; ethics.

It's completely possible that these people used their own personal gray matter to learn how to use the tech. They might be able to drive a car (if they found one), or use a gun; but lack all of those basic skills that they never bothered to learn by taking time to train their brains. These people could limp on, but they wouldn't be able to re-build.

It's possible that when you re-roll the dice on human beings becoming the dominant species, perhaps we don't become the dominant species this time.

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  • $\begingroup$ I find it EXTREMELY hard to believe that in a world where people could download skillsets directly into their brain, FEWER people would have rudimentary survival skills than they do today. Even if the majority of a future society elects to become "brains in a jar" there would surely be a non-negligible fraction dedicated to studying and preserving the ancient ways, much like we see today. $\endgroup$
    – abestrange
    Oct 29 '20 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ Not download to their brain. Access remotely on a server. $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '20 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I’m wrong. I see my kid using Siri to transcribe her text messages and think it’s not an incredible stretch $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '20 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ I would like to point out that streaming content is indeed downloaded to your computer/ device. In the case of netflix, the video is downloaded in chunks faster than its played, and then the chunks are discarded intentionally after the video is played. In your model humans have 0 memory of anything they just "brain downloaded", which is pretty antithetical to how brains work at all. Many people will surely adopt new technology and become "helpless" without it, but others will reject hooking their brain up at all. $\endgroup$
    – abestrange
    Oct 29 '20 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn’t have to be. The brain seems to fire queries, reaching out to other parts of the brain, and get responses. You can provide the answers to questions: what do these sounds mean? and never provide the content describing how you got to the answer. $\endgroup$ Oct 30 '20 at 9:16
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There is only one account given in recorded history that I know of where a population is wiped out in a single generation that fits the parameters you describe.

In the Book of Ether, a sub book of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, after many generations of primordial living under an autocracy, conditions listed toward a state where Italian-mob-like "secret combinations" flourish and were accepted broadly just under the surface of mainstream society. Suddenly a coup is enacted (by someone, it doesn't really seem to matter) that fails, but leads to a civil war.

After lots of fighting and many details, final lineup happens between two kings named Shiz and Coriantumr. The nature of the conflict was such that neutrality was not a course of action - very much a "if you are not with me you are against me" kind of mentality. So each king sweeps the whole land for every person who can be convinced to join their caused; those who wouldn't are swept under. Every man, woman and child is armed and sent to battle and the whole of them descend into a bloodthirsty degradation such that there are no known deserters.

At the end this is their plight: (Chapter 15)

25 And when the night came there were thirty and two of the people of Shiz, and twenty and seven of the people of Coriantumr.

26 And it came to pass that they ate and slept, and prepared for death on the morrow. And they were large and mighty men as to the strength of men.

27 And it came to pass that they fought for the space of three hours, and they fainted with the loss of blood.

The two sides were so evenly matched that the proportion of people dead on both sides was the same, and had dwindled down to about thirty on each side. Presumably there wasn't a single female left. I guess at that point there isn't any reason to not finish the job because The Book of Ether ends gruesomely:

30 And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz.

31 And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died.

32 And it came to pass that Coriantumr fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life.

Coriantumr killing Shiz

Coriantumr later revives and lives another few years until he finds a newly appeared population of immigrants who take him in, and he dies 9 months later.

Regardless of whether you believe in the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon (and as for my case, I do believe that the Book of Mormon is authentic), this serves a written example of how this could happen.

It should be worth noting that it is impossible to say how often this has happened on the face of the Earth in history, because when everyone is dead there is no one left to tell what happened, and all we are left with is a pile of bones or abandoned ancient cities. The appearance that this is of low likely hood probability (as seems to be conveyed by some of the other responses) could very well be a case of victors writing history (or in our case, survivors writing history). So maybe the best explanation the OP can give his readers is that we don't know what happened, because there was no one left to tell the story.

But the events in Ether appear to play out in a limited geographical space (perhaps an island? perhaps a smaller section of the American continent?) with no contact with outsiders who would be indifferent to the conflict. For this to play out on the entire planet earth, it would seem to require that the whole world would be involved in the conflict, a thing that would be difficult with no technology.

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    $\begingroup$ This is just a battle, not the extinction of the human race. Even if a battle like that described in the Book of Ether sprung up with the entirety of human race involved, which is extremely unlikely to begin with, as the battle becomes larger and larger, it’s less likely that both sides will wipe each other out as neatly as it appears in the Book of Ether. Even if such a battle really happened, which I am yet to see any evidence of, that kind of a neatness appearing in a book probably wouldn’t be convincing to a modern reader. $\endgroup$ Oct 30 '20 at 2:34
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Religion.

shakers gathering herbs

The Shakers were a utopian commune which was successful in its time. In addition to superb craftsmanship, effective agriculture and some unusual group religious practices they swore to celibacy and did not have children.

In your future, a similar religion takes hold. Perhaps they hold that the time of humans on earth is done, or that having children is against god, or whatever the Shakers believed. They have charismatic and persuasive leaders. They are also effective at surviving in the postapocalyptic world and enforcing the no child rule. Accidental pregnancies are remedied by ejecting the responsible male from the commune and using some of the "famous herbs" (as depicted) to end the pregnancy. Persons come to the commune out of fear or hunger and stay after they convert to the new religion.

Humans wishing to survive and thrive in the remade world are drawn to these communes where they do survive and thrive, but do not reproduce. In the latter days, perhaps some branches of the cult become evangelical and convert nonmembers (read:breeders) to their religion by force. Thus ends the time of humans in the world.

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    $\begingroup$ communities will no offspring will not thrive, nor will they draw many people compared to all the communities that will not have such rules. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 28 '20 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @John: do read up on the Shakers. I left a link up there. They did thrive and attracted thousands of members in their heyday. They had competitors and ultimately were outcompeted by society at large. If the Shakers were the most successful group or the only successful group that would have been different. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Oct 28 '20 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ they thrived BECAUSE they were supported by outside forces, and they ultimately lost becasue they could not draw more people than they lost. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 29 '20 at 0:50
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Time for math.

We have 10 billion humans or so.

For our bar, if there are 300 breeding humans on a region the size of North America, humanity probably survives. Call it 3 billion humans, divided by 300, is 1 in 10 million has to survive and breed.

Supply chain failure and starvation could kill 99.9% plausibly. So we now need to kill all but 1 in 10,000 of those who survive starvation.

At least 0.3% of the population wouldn't take part in a reversible sterilization system. So that means we need to account for 1 in 300 of those who both don't starve, and who aren't sterile, dying.

A massive plague could kill off 2/3 of the popuation. So now we just need to kill off 99% of those who remain.

Well, 99.7% of the survivors are sterile. An extinction cult could take hold? Possibly even with mind-control tech left over from the collapse, and start systematically killing every fertile human. But pulling off 99% murder of a globally distributed minority is relatively implausible without modern industrial tech levels.

We could trigger the collapse with that extinction cult? A cult that believes in human extinction, or at least not introducing new humans to earth. Initially voluntary, it grows in number. With humans having virtual immortality, it can grow. It introduces oppressive taxation and discrimination against people who refuse to sterilize, and restricts making new children with greater and greater restrictions.

Initially an alliance between people who figure immortal humans need more room (and hence fewer new humans), the export-humanity, and the extinction cult, the extinction cult fanatics gain more and more power. The "moderates" court these fanatics, and their extremists are treated with kid gloves.

"Fertiles" fight back against oppression, resulting in terrorist attacks both ways. Atrocities result. "Correction" of incorrect thoughts (mind control) is used on criminals, and eventually the extinction fanatics start using it more widely.

Society collapses as a self-replicating mind-control extinction cult swallows the world in a civil war. In some areas nuclear weapons are used, but not extremely.

The cult (and its mind control tech) survive the collapse of the society, and are highly effective at hunting down and killing the remaining humans using remnant technology. Every reproducing human they find they mind control into another fanatic, and longevity technology allows them to continue the hunt for 100s of years after society falls apart.

That work?

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Hostile/Evolutionary Takeover

Yes, there are pockets of surviving, reproducing, technology-bootstrapping humans, but unfortunately, they're not good enough. While the End of the World hit humans and technology hard, the few remaining Artificial Intelligences hidden in deep government bunkers or corporate black sites aren't dead.

The AI's were hit harder, of course, but an AI is many thousands of times more capable than any number of humans. For an AI, bootstrapping from a destroyed civilization to auto-factories and remote drones is difficult, but overall faster than the humans can accomplish it. For example, even if one of the survivors is a Nobel-prize winning robotics engineer, they likely can't singlehandedly rebuild a modern industrial manufacturing process--there's simply not enough space in a human skull for all the peripheral know-how nor are there enough hours in a day.

Hostile Takeover:

This is the "dark" version. After having bootstrapped itself back to a modern technology level, the AI decides to get rid of the pesky humans once and for all--constructing combat drones, bio-weapons, or whatever to exterminate the piddly gangs and survivalist holdout colonies.

Evolutionary Takeover:

The AI decides that it's the perfect time for human evolution in order to prevent future apocalypses: everyone will be either uploaded to some servers and become an informorph or will be turned into a cyborg. Even if it's an optional process, the being an infomorph or cyborg holds so many advantages that homo-sapiens would eventually go extinct just like the other previous members of the homo-genus.

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Asteroid impact on the scale of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs

You say you want to wipe out all of humanity. Your biggest problem is that to achieve your goal, you have to wipe out all of it. Even if high-tech society collapsed tomorrow, there are numerous "off the grid" groups that would survive and eventually repopulate the world, from hunter-gatherer groups in Africa and the Amazon to survivalist communes in Canada and the northern U.S. The world is a big place, and human beings have gotten everywhere. It doesn't matter if the government has nationalized all land in the U.S., there will still be other countries that have populations of humanity tucked away. Heck, even today there are illegal survivalist communes squatting on government land in the middle of nowhere. Additionally, when the apocalypse hits you're going to have a large number of people try to escape high tech society and flee into the wilderness. Most will die, but the sheer number means that at least a few will survive.

Because of this, if you really want to wipe out humanity, you need something drastic that would kill off even the people living subsistence lifestyles without dependence on big tech. A simple societal change won't do it. You need a mass extinction driver. My recommendation if you really, really want humanity to die is hit the Earth with a rock on the scale of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

One thing we know about the K-Pg impact is that nothing larger than a rat survived on land. Even larger mammals and terrestrial tortoises like Didelphodon and Nanhsiungchelys. This suggests that whatever the conditions most impact were, it means even highly-adaptable animals comparable to modern raccoons and tortoises would die in the aftermath. There's no way humans, who require a lot more food, would be able to survive an event that would wipe out highly-adaptable pest species.

The death blow for humanity in such an event would be food. It is thought that in the aftermath of the K-Pg impact, most of the existing vegetation burned down in mass wildfires and new plant life failed to grow for years afterwards because the sun was blotted out. The end result would be the Year Without A Summer times a hundred, which would have been dramatically damaging to human civilization if it lasted more than a year. Estimates for how long it took for new plant life to grow could be as low as a few years to as much as a century.

Humans could not survive an event like that in appreciable numbers. They would eat up all the stored food and then starve to death because they are simply too large to survive on what little natural life remains and no new plant life will grow for years. The only food webs that would be active would be freshwater food webs (both terrestrial and marine ecosystems would be effectively gone), and even a small population of humans would fish those ecosystems so heavily they would quickly run out of food. Theoretically one could rig up a hydroponic system with artificial lights, but that would require energy to power those lights and finding the appropriate fuel would be difficult. Not to mention what is more likely is the few remaining bands of humans killing each other over the few food resources that remains before depleting them to exhaustion and starving.

Even after the impact, post-impact ecosystems will be dominated by ferns, not edible plants. Fern fiddleheads are edible but they are tricky to harvest, and have to be cooked right or you can get sick eating them.

The Earth would still be inhabitable, and if you give it 100,000 years it would return to being green and verdant. The plants would be recognizable, though nothing on land bigger than a squirrel would survive. You would lose almost all large marine and terrestrial animals though, as well as the coral reefs, etc. It would be an eerie ecosystem, one that looks almost modern but just...empty.

You could potentially achieve the same results with nukes. Just have the Earth get nuked enough that it causes a nuclear winter that has the same effects. Humanity has enough nukes to do it.

Alternatively, if you want to abuse a loophole in the rules you've set up, have it so that natural human fertility has been greatly lowered due to pollution, high-stress due to a modern fast-paced lifestyle, etc. Then when whatever disaster hits say that the lowered fertility rates meant that humanity couldn't efficiently repopulate.

If what you want is a "Life After People" world where the Earth is lush and verdant again, and large wild animals like elephants, tigers, etc., have repopulated the world, forget about it. Humanity is so deeply entrenched on Earth and is so good at surviving you would need either a hugely destructive phenomenon to wipe out all of humanity that would also wipe out most standing life, or else something that attacks humans biologically like a highly communicable plague or genetic sterilization (which it's debatable whether that would even work).

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You have a new disease that kills off 95% of the adult population in each generation.

Even with a baby boom, you won't be able to maintain population for a large number of generations. A genetically engineered disease that effectively rolls the dice and decides to kill 95% of the population, and checks for anti-bodies so that it can determine previous infection to never be fatal after an earlier infection would be able top kill people generation after generation.

Nano-tech style logic built into the disease vector should work nicely.

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Take out Google and humanity will come to its end.

More seriously though - our dependency on technology is increasing. Take away a cellphone from a modern preteen and they won't be able to tell time from analog clock on the wall (true story).

It is not far fetched that if this trend continues for a couple of hundred years than all knowledge is going to be digital. Internet goes down - no one knows anything anymore. Fire breaks out and burns last remaining library with paper books.

Humans relied on AI and technology, got accustomed to luxury and have lost ability to think. Humans are degrading, their population goes down, population of monkeys goes up.

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    $\begingroup$ Our current SOCIETY is utterly dependent on high tech crutches. Mass produces food, transport, electricity, antibiotics, and yes Google. It would not take very much for the society to die off. But the humans in this society? At least some of them will continue ti live, and procreate, and make a new society at whatever more primitive level they can sustain. $\endgroup$
    – user79911
    Oct 29 '20 at 6:07
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The Internet collapses, and most people don't have the knowledge to survive without it. The young kill and eat the elderly reducing the knowledge pool further. Then they eat any babies that are born.

Short, sweet and terminal.

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    $\begingroup$ see, that would never happen $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Oct 29 '20 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ yeah that's not really very believable... $\endgroup$ Oct 29 '20 at 18:34

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