In one of the (probably too many) settings I'm working on at the moment, most computer technology is quite primitive; There are no home or office computers, and, whilst computers are quite common in laboratories and engineers' offices, these are very crude, with the best common computers taking up nearly a cubic meter and only having 512 kilobytes of RAM and a 20 MHz processor.

Despite this, though, there are pseudo-androids, that is, non-biological people.

My question is: How can this be?

I admit that on its own this is not a very helpful question, since "nonbiological person" could mean virtually anything, so I have a list of criteria that defines a nonbiological person.

A nonbiological person:

  • Is chemically non-biological; They may be chemically organic, in the sense of being primarily composed of carbon with the next most abundant elements being hydrogen and oxygen, but they may not be made of proteins or amino acids.
  • Is not capable of healing, where healing is defined as being a passive process requiring no conscious effort from the entity in question and requiring no physical movement outside of the area affected.
  • Is not capable of reproducing in the manner of a biological organism.
  • Can have any part of their body except for whatever passes for their brain replaced without significant changes to their personality or any long-term harm to any bodily function.
  • Has the capacity for complex analysis.
  • Has the ability to understand purely abstract non-mathematical concepts.
  • Has general intelligence capable of a wide variety of skills, including the ability to learn new skills over time.
  • Has emotions.
  • Has a distinct personality.
  • Can communicate coherently in human language.

I would prefer not to receive answers saying it cannot be done or similar.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, I take it that the aliens dropped them off, they're obviously much more advanced than even our world can achieve, let alone yours. This doesn't so much seem to be a worldbuilding problem as a "get me out of the hole I've made" or "solve my puzzle" story-writing question. $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2022 at 9:01
  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking what the lowest possible level of scientific and technology base that would plausibly allow reasonably humanoid robots with some useful level of general artificial intelligence might be? .. We can make the form now (if you don't want it to be able to fool people into thinking it's really human), we can't make the software for it to provide any level of even slightly plausible intelligence . so if "basic computer technology" means less advanced than now it can't be done. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 10, 2022 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ "it can't be done" But it's your world so you can either ignore that and just do it anyway .. or throw in a low key 'technology of the ancients' motif of some sort, computer science was more advanced in the past and the software still exists in formats that can be copied (sort of the way I used to copy my friends computer games directly from audio tape to audio tape as a kid) so new robots can be made, or the @AngryMuppet 'aliens gave them to us' suggestion. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 10, 2022 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ Considering even an extremely conservative estimate puts a human brain at 2.5 petabytes. the answer is there is no way to make anything we could even passively describe as "intelligent" and capable of complex analysis with something a literal TRILLION times less powerful. preferring not to know the truth does not make any less true. Its like asking how to write the sum total of human knowledge of 6 atoms, its just not possible. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 10, 2022 at 21:37

3 Answers 3


A different kind of Brain:

The species of your world evolved differently than on ours. The base organism is biological, but when nerves evolved, they were formed of crystals. So something akin to tiny piezoelectric circuits have come to functionally take the place of a brain. They program themselves as learning (evolved programming, not computer-based). Once they reached adulthood, the brain stopped growing but the programming and memories could continue to expand and be added to.

This leads to a curious thing. After an organism dies, the brain still exists as an unpowered, theoretically functioning but non-living matrix. Early experiments inserting crystals from the dead revealed you could transfer memories or even personality traits via crystal. This led to some curious religious practices.

Knowing this, rich and powerful people seeking to stay alive after death poured vast sums into developing the technology to keep the brain functional after death. Primitive electrical systems can power brains, speakers attached to brains allow them to talk. and microphones allow them to hear.

Initially, these were simply preserved boxes of people. The process initially wouldn't be very good and they would be crude approximations of the living. As the tech evolved, however, they were better preserved and could be used to control basic machines and systems. Since they had been people, they wanted to have bodies again. Give huge demand for humanoid-approximating bodies, you now have androids that are preserved people.

They do, unfortunately, wear out. Since the brains aren't in a biological matrix anymore, they can't repair themselves. Over time, the dead fade away as damage occurs.

There are a lot of REALLY fun implications to this idea:

  • IMPLICATIONS: Brains like this are fundamentally electrical. It would be VERY easy to justify people controlling devices by plugging their brains into them. Stimulants might be electrical - "plugging" to get high (but possibly fry your brain - literally). Mechanical body parts would be easier to make and control at much more primitive levels of technology. Since the brains are not alive/potentially even inorganic, they may not respond to immune systems the same - leaving open the possibility of brain transfers to other people or even animals with similarly-evolved neural systems. Mind control in many ways could be a reality. You could lobotomize people to turn them into zombies, or scramble thoughts with with electrical fields, or possibly even reprogram people - literally. You MIGHT even be able to download a person into a wiped mind (probably not, but hey...).

All the wild stuff in sci fi that is hard to justify suddenly becomes plausible. You just have to put your mind to it.


With weird biotech.

If you don't want computers around for some reason, you need something else capable of producing extremely small complex devices. Extremely advanced biotech would do it.

They grow it with bacteria and vats and complex biological machines, but it doesn't actually include any conventional biology.


They did not build the robots.

They don't know how the robots work. The robots don't know how the robots work. But the robots know how to make more robots. Every robot instinctively knows how to construct a genesis chamber and what materials are needed for a baby robot to grow in the chamber.

The robots don't know how the robots know this. The robots don't know how the chamber works either, anymore than the average man and woman know the cellular biology behind eat hamburgers and copulate and then wait nine months. They just do it.

Once the baby robot is emerges they can have their mechanical parts replaced with quite primitive joints and flexors. You just have to connect the neural wires to the ports on your new part. The robots know which wire goes in which port and they will tell you if you ask nicely. No one knows how to replace the wires, but they seem to grow back over time if damaged.

The robots have been around as long as anyone can remember. That includes the robots.


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