Suppose we go to some hypothetical world that has 1800's technology, and then give them (via handwavium) some technology that is on par with fusion or better (may be more handwavium), and also make it cheap and easily available such that energy needs become trivial for many hundreds (or thousands) of years.

Would we see the same kind of technological advancement as we have right now? Or faster? Would their year 2000 look the same as our year 2000? Or slightly better? Or drastically better?

In other words, is energy a technological rate limiting step, in particular between technology levels of humanity between 1800 - 2000?

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    $\begingroup$ Just a suggestion, define what the handwavium is exactly $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ I've not counted, but there've been hundreds of wars on Earth since 1800. Worth bearing in mind the vast destructive potential when deciding who gets the tech. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ VTC: I don't see how any answer to this question could be anything other than 100% speculation. It is practically equivalent to: "How would the history of science be different if X", which is something WB.SE tries to not engage in. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ VTC: This is an off-topic high concept question. It's subjectively asking about speculative consequences rather than objectively designing world rules. In short, you're not asking us to help build your world. You're asking us to help tell your story. The help center specifically states we don't do that. Worse, every "could I speed up tech faster?" Q can be answered the same way. "No, you just change the index on the timeline." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ I do not understand what exactly we give them. We cannot give them nuclear fusion technology in the proper meaning of the word, because they do not have the necessary prerequisites to apply the technology. They don't have measurement instruments precise enough, they don't even have precise enough definitions for the units of measurement; they don't have the materials; they have no idea how to separate deuterium; they don't even know that deuterium exists; they don't have sufficiently advance electrotechnics, and they have no electronics whatsoever. So what exactly do we give them? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 2:03

1 Answer 1


I think its obvious to anyone that the answer is "Yes, they will advance faster" but its extremely difficult to nail down why.

Awesome question by the way :)

Electrical potential energy represents the power to do work. The more easily one can access electrical potential energy, the more free work one can do. Take water desalination for example: high energy cost to perform so if you make the energy cost trivial you can support far larger populations in arid areas. Similarly the first electrical powerplants were actually built inside of factories for those factories exclusive use - and perhaps a few houses around them. By making energy generation trivial you supply power to people's homes (and universities) far sooner then they would gain this free work potential through coal - this means people have productive evening hours (and electrical stoves /fridges) far sooner and have more time for additional work and/or development and population booms would have been likely (though plagues tend to keep those sorts of thing in check).

Additionally, even if the technology of the 1800s was primitive, this was an age where human rights were near non-existent and mega-corporations created world wonders. Railroads were built across North America in the early 1800s, The Suez canal was completed in 1869 and the East India Company was arguably the richest empire to ever have existed - and they did that with coal powered ships, not fusion powered ships. The world would have been explored, connected and exploited far faster with fusion than it was with coal by a small group of rich megalomaniacs before the age of red tape and humane behavior hemmed them down. These things would accelerate tech.

Oddly enough, to the extent of my noggin to perceive, the actual potency of limitless power doesn't become relevant until fairly late in the technological cycle. You don't actually try use large amounts of electricity for things like the large hadron collider until pretty late into technological tree (and there is a limit to how fast you can make a wooden ship go with a fusion reactor before it rips apart :). Rather, it is the cheapness of producing electricity for low consumption appliances which grants a thousand small boosts to societal efficiency which really gets the tech barrel rolling faster.

PS. For the handwavium source of this endless power, Nikolas Tesla thought it would be possible to beam electricity into the stratosphere and beam it down anywhere around the globe. He did not know at the time that the stratosphere already has absurd electrical potential without being topped up. Just make the claim that humanity found a way to draw electrical potential from the stratosphere - heck, just say that the Egyptian pyramids did it naturally and the rest of the world just copied the design without understanding it :p

  • $\begingroup$ They will advance extremely fast: because in order for them to be able to use nuclear fusion technology we must give them 21st century physics, chemistry, metrology, materials science, electrotechnics, electronics, automation and control, and computing. Basically, every aspect of up-to-date science and technology is needed for them to be able to use nuclear fusion technology, with the partial exception of life sciences. Note that the question does not say that we give them nuclear fusion power plants bundled with the required support and maintenace services. Only the technology. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Agree, though one could go on and on with the cascading consequences. The vastly diminished need for petroleum / coal except for a source of lubricant and polymers. This also goes for whale oil. Though an increased demand for metals earlier. Especially conductors for electric motors and rare earths for other electronics. That is... if we could avoid self annihilation. $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 14:48

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