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As the title suggests, in this world there are only three metals available in any meaningful amount: copper, gold and silver. How advanced could computers get in this world? Could things like the microchip or even integrated circuits develop?

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    $\begingroup$ Are there restrictions on nonmetals and/or metalloids? $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Oct 31, 2023 at 0:58
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    $\begingroup$ Please clarify exactly what metals are and are not available? Does this limitation only affect the what the computers can be constructed from? Do we need to consider how every supporting technology, and biological process will be impacted with a greatly reduced periodic table? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 31, 2023 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ Carbon can be a super-resistor, a resistor, a semiconductor, a conductor, and (probably) a superconductor. You can probably make computing circuitry with just the one element. The best option seems to be on the molecular scale, but you might be able to make macroscopic circuits somehow. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2023 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ Commented on an answer, but also worth noting that without sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron available in substantial quantities, life as we know it wouldn't develop to the point where it could develop microchips. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Oct 31, 2023 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ Without other metals, you're severely limited in terms of glasses, ceramics, minerals, etc. For example, no aluminum means no mica, which was heavily used in vacuum tube manufacture. No sodium, calcium, magnesium? No soda-lime glass, no refractory ceramics, etc. Forget integrated circuits, you'd have a hard time just smelting copper. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2023 at 0:23

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The history of computers starts with mechanical devices. In early history, the Greeks had some mechanical computing devices. Many early devices were for figuring out phases of the moon or seasons. These could be made from copper alloys. https://www.britannica.com/technology/computer/The-first-computer

There were a number of mechanical computing devices used throughout the centuries including the slide rule. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analog_computer

Electronic computing started with vacuum tube and relay technology. This can be done with copper.

So, yes, computing can be done with just those metals.

As far as transistors and integrated circuits, those are based on silicon (not a metal) with various doping agents added to the silicon to change how it operates. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doping_(semiconductor) Gold is often used for wiring.

Now, the problem will be the rest of the world. On earth, aluminum is a common metal combined into various compounds. For example, clay is an aluminum compound (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay). So, your planet can't have pottery. The ocean floor and mantle are mostly basalt which has a lot of magnesium and iron. The earth core is mostly iron and nickel. Your whole planet will be very different from earth and is likely not to have a magnetic field protecting it from solar wind.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, without sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron, life is going to be very different than what we're used to, in terms of its building blocks. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Oct 31, 2023 at 18:38
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Absolutely! But first a little history:

While today we use a specific style of silicon chips called "CMOS" (where all the 'switches' come in complementary pairs, one to pull up towards a "1" and one to pull down towards "0"), this was not always the case. Some of the earliest used something called Diode Logic which actually needed no transistors at all - why is this important you ask? Well...

Copper oxide can be used to make diodes and the only other thing diode logic needs is a resistor, which is literally just anything that can't conduct a lot of current so a fine metal wire (or a lump of charcoal) works just fine. Combine your copper oxide diodes and your coper wire resistors and bam! You now have digital logic. Now don't get me wrong, you can't build very complex, fast or efficient logic with this (we settled on CMOS for a reason) but it IS made only from copper (and oxygen) and it IS digital logic and what is a computer but a bunch of digital logic?

So, can you make a computer solely out of gold, silver and copper? Absolutely!

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  • $\begingroup$ Diode logic isn't functionally complete, it is limited to AND and OR gates. You won't be building any computers without some way to compute logical NOT, and a way to amplify signals. Vacuum tubes can do the job and don't really need more than copper...though the limitations in other materials might be an issue. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2023 at 0:12

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