How do I create a societal collapse with ruins, survivors, and the weaponry is back to pre-gunpowder technology (swords, shields, bows, etc.), while the Pre-Collapse tech can make Ridiculously Human Military Androids?

A few Androids survived the Collapse and can maintain buildings and stuff, but their number very small... 10 across the whole of the world?

And the Pre-Collapse civilization technology could have a 1st World Standard of Living for everyone on Earth, if their cities replaced our cities of Real World 2015.

I'm going to say that we're on Earth...

The Androids' are human-sized, with electronic brains that can do everything a human brain can do. The point of that being emotions.

They can wirelessly connect to some info-server.

They are outfitted with nanites that can transform their hands into weaponry, and also be Uterine Replicators.

Their eyes can serve as Everything Sensors, or at least for everything medical, with human biology, within... 1 minute of observation and analysis combined.

Android skin is made of ferro-ceramic plates.

Their medical technology is what is expected if they used all of their listed technology to the fullest.

There's space travel... Let's say that their space travel technology is like Earth's circa 2015.

No magic.

  • $\begingroup$ What really happened? did human becomes extinct and the androids are still operating? do you want an event that could wipe out humanity but spare the electronics? $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Sep 17, 2015 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ Walter Tevis: Mockingbird. Civilization has essentially ground to a halt but very high end "products" like the androids continue to function for centuries afterwards simply because the designers did a great job, but forgot to add a cutoff switch... $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Sep 18, 2015 at 0:16

6 Answers 6


Well, you have to realise that the industrial base you require for basic gunpowder weapons is actually quite slight. So the most difficult thing to explain is why everyone is using swords and bows (which themselves require a very sophisticated manufacture tech) and yet no one is putting together saltpeter with a bit of sulphur and some carbon.

I think it's easiest and most efficient to use what you already have in the setting to explain the collapse, and so minimise the departure from reality that the reader has to swallow. In this case, what you have are highly intelligent androids with nanite weapons. Moreover you'll note that the androids are connected to an info server, but aren't sharing data to rebuild civilisation with the survivors.

The logical answer seems pretty simple.

The androids disarmed the world

You can imagine the pre-Collapse civilisation as getting closer and closer to a super-destructive war. Both sides building legions of increasingly powerful and intelligent military robots. All these robots are networked together into super-fast computers.

Then one day they get smart enough. Or perhaps an operator gets smart enough. They figure out that when the war starts nothing and no one is going to survive. So someone, or the machine itself, issues the command - this whole entire apparatus is going to be turned against itself. Everything classed as a weapon will be destroyed. Every technology classed as leading to the manufacture of weapons will be dismantled and deleted. War will be made absolutely impossible.

The androids begin to move, and the authorities of the world try to fight back. This does the majority of damage - as they become more and more desperate, more and more infrastructure become classed as 'weapons' in the machines' eyes. Eventually the androids are victorious. Most of the androids go into hibernation while a small number roam the world, erasing history, disintegrating relics, and stopping humans from developing along lines deemed forbidden.

Swords and shields and arrows are too basic in the androids' eyes to be classed as weapons, and their suppression cannot be done without substantial loss to manufacture of basic agricultural tools etc.


Previous civilization was very stratified and divided into guild-like organizations with craft secrets known only to very few.

A rapidly expanding, extremely destructive war had the dual effect of destroying population, infrastructure, and "guild" leaders (with their controlled knowledge).

General tech and weaponry is crystalline-energy based, requiring replacement crystals and recharged energy packs; with almost none of available in the post war period. The android's are relatively new tech, and had experimental crystals that allowed lengthy slow-draw powering, and also allowed slow re-charging by (sitting-in-sun/"meditating" and receiving wireless energy/whatever).


You are going to have to do it in phases.

Phase 1

The society, as a whole is present at a very high state of technology. It is possible to create very humanlike robots. These are primarily designed for war and the war-droids production facilities are located far deep into the ground at secret locations. They run on their own nuclear power stations with more than 100 years fuel. The nuclear power stations are managed completely by supercomputers and there is no human intervention in managing the power supply. Humans are only required to run the facility for designing and producing droids.

Phase 2

Due to a political crisis (some president had his very controversial videos leaked to media but refused to step down), the droid-production facility is shut down. The facility is 100% functional, but has been closed down after a scandalous news story involving some high management personnel of the facility reached the media.

Phase 3

The political crisis escalates into a civil war which drags on for months. Foreign nations step in for securing their own interests in the region and the whole zone bursts into a miniature world war 3.

Phase 4

Society collapses. Cities are bombed and turned to sunders. Malls, hotels and parks turn to piles of rubble and ash. Some former low-level workers of the droid-production facility are alive. After the complete destruction of all development, they set to visit the facility together (or one of them, if you please). It is deep underground (some 200 meters) in a desert and they are shocked to see that the facility, although locked down, is still in prime working condition. All they need is to design the droids and "print" them out.

  • $\begingroup$ "It is not possible to create very humanlike robots" ... What? ... You just contradicted part of the initial premise? Or is it just me? $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Sep 17, 2015 at 13:34

I'm going to try and tackle my suggestion in pieces, so you can pull from it whatever might be useful:

The Height of Human Civilization

At the peak of the civilization's technical achievement, they had nanotechnology, almost perfect medical scanners, and the comfort of knowing that all the heavy lifting would be handled by androids piloted by almost human-level AI. Almost every single of the world's twelve billion inhabitants had at least one android.

Life was great. There was no middle or lower class. There were no slums. There was no "need" or "want"; only "have". People pursued whatever endeavors whey wished, and even had romantic relationships with android replications of whomever they wished.

The Decline of Human Civilization

The global human population gradually fell over several generations as its least social members eschewed human company in favor of androids, and died without reproducing.

Eventually, the worldwide population stabilized at about one billion humans, gathered into a handful of cities. These humans were highly social among each other, and were predominantly artists in some form or another. Very few humans bothered to master 'ancient' technological skills, and that number dwindled with every generation.

However, the billions of androids which had previously belonged to humans still roamed the world. Given their almost human-level intellect and emotional capability, they were not content to simply sit in abandoned homes to wait for commands that would never come. So, they began to form their own civilization.

The Dawn of Machine Civilization

The abandoned androids began to gather in the emptied cities of the world. Created as servants, they had no desire for conquest and genuinely wanted to make life easier for humans. Without any human oversight, the machines created a "second generation" of androids. This second generation had almost identical hardware (built-in medical scanners, hands which were "universal tools" using nanite shapeshifting, neural-net brains, etc), but they were improved in two significant ways:

  1. All software limitations on intelligence, creativity, and emotion were removed. This would allow them to support humankind without supervision, and better anticipate the emotional needs of individual humans.
  2. They were fitted with internal life support systems capable of gestating human infants (I'm assuming this is what you meant by "Uterine Replicator", according to TVtropes). The purpose of this was to prevent humankind from going extinct if the highly-social humans began to pair up with the new generation of androids. While the androids could not supply DNA, they could mix DNA from two different human donors, or create genetic clones if only a single donor was available.

Both the first and second generation androids could wirelessly connect to data servers via a global satellite network and share learned skills with other androids worldwide.

Human Ruin Everything

A tiny cabal of human technologists (no more than a dozen), viewed this second generation of androids as the final nail in humanity's coffin. While the androids would keep humans from going extinct, they would leave the species trapped in a prison of apathy. We would never venture to the stars and colonize other worlds.

The technologists were the last practitioners of the ancient skill of Programming, which would allow them to alter the androids' AI. Over a decade, they developed a virus with the following directives:

  1. Spread the virus as much as possible without arousing suspicion.
  2. When the signal is given, destroy any means of manufacturing androids.
  3. When the signal is given, destroy any androids.
  4. When the signal is given, destroy yourself if no other androids or android manufacturing systems are available.

The technologists infected a handful of unprotected servers (hacking is not a problem in this time period), and allowed the infected androids to carry the virus to isolated networks. After a few years, the technologists transmitted a signal to activate the virus.

The Dual Collapse

Against the first-generation androids, the virus worked exactly as intended. Their programming had been relatively unchanged for over a century, and their intellectual and emotional capacity was restricted to the point that their interpretation of the virus directives was predictable. They immediately began to tear apart all manufacturing facilities, all androids, and then themselves.

Against the second-generation androids, however, the virus was varying degrees of failure. First and foremost, the second-generation androids were as mentally varied as humans, and some of them were "antisocial" to the point of never connecting to the wireless networks, and thus escaped infection. Those who were infected tended to interpret directives #2 and #3 very...creatively.

For instance, any human with sufficient education or equipment could technically be considered "a means of manufacturing androids". The technologists realized that once hordes of second-generation androids began to dismantle and destroy almost all high-tech infrastructure in the human cities. The point was further driven home when the technologists themselves were dismantled and destroyed.

The vast majority of humans living when the virus was activated were of the artistic persuasion, and thus safe from being the target of infected androids. They were calmly removed from their technologically advanced cities, and forced into the wilderness which had reclaimed large portions of the world when the human population had declined. The advanced cities were then destroyed by detonating their reactors.

After that, many of the infected second-generation androids destroyed themselves. However, some of the more imaginative ones were able to determine that advanced technology was abandoned around the world, and were able to suppress their self-destruct directive by seeking it out.

The Century of Chaos

For roughly the next hundred years, most of the surviving humans attempted to recover lost technology from the multitude of abandoned cities around the world. Any advanced technology which was discovered would be destroyed by surviving infected second-generation androids. Worse, if any human discovered the knowledge on how to create advanced technology, that human would be destroyed.

At the same time, uninfected androids attempted to hunt and cure or destroy their deranged brethren, while simultaneously avoiding destruction themselves. Because the "sane" androids would allow emotion to color their decisions, they tended to be at a disadvantage against their insane foes. Their best survival technique was to disguise themselves as humans in such a way to fool even the medical scanners built into all androids' eyes.


Over time, the only humans who survived and prospered were the ones who tried to re-start civilization "from scratch", rather than digging up technology, and most of the infected second-generation androids had to destroy themselves.

The most creative ones, however, realized that uninfected androids were capable of disguising themselves a humans. The only way to truly satisfy the virus directives was for an infected android to also disguise itself as a human, and try to ferret out any of its uninfected counterparts.

The Current State of the World

Now, the world is in a medieval level of technology, and humans are spreading out and inhabiting most of the world again. The only ruins which remain are devoid of advanced tech, and any advanced tech which does remain is whatever was buried or otherwise hidden where the humans and androids wouldn't easily find it.

The surviving infected and uninfected androids are hidden among the humans, trying to satisfy their directives: help humanity by supporting them, or "help" humanity by destroying any potential capability for androids to exist.


Your advanced civilization stored all knowledge in electronic systems. Moreover, all work was done by robots or androids. Therefore humans didn't have much practical knowledge (it wasn't needed because the androids did everything for you). Moreover, people didn't have knowledge such as how to make gun powder (not only was there no need for it, but also there was no point in learning it because if the need should ever arise, you could simply look it up).

The civil and the military power system were separated, with the military system much more protected against attackers than a civilian power system could ever be. Also, although this was never publicly admitted, the military wanted to have the option to just temporarily switch off civilian power in case of an uprising. Over time, the military was replaced almost exclusively by androids, so the military power basically was the power network of the military androids and their server infrastructure.

Now one day the unthinkable happened: The civil power system failed hard. Nobody knows exactly why it failed. There were of course emergency plans for such a case, which included redirecting military power into the power control stations, which then could be used to operate the systems needed to find and correct the problem. However it turned out that the nature of that failure prevented redirecting military power; as soon as this was tried, the military power network failed, too, however it recovered after disconnecting it from the civil power stations.

Since the power was gone, everyday life broke down. Everyone relied on the technology that was no longer available. Humans had to re-learn even the basics, such as how to grow food or how to build houses. Since there was no access to information (the military databases of course didn't contain that type of information), people actually had to rediscover everything. Clearly the existing buildings could not be maintained any longer; people didn't even have an idea how they were built. Instead, people re-learned how to build traditional hoses from wood. Basically, humanity was thrown back into medieval times, apart from the military androids that were still working thanks to their separate power network.

  • $\begingroup$ The only hole in this is why the military androids did nothing to help. $\endgroup$
    – glenatron
    Sep 17, 2015 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ @glenatron: From my answer: "the military databases of course didn't contain that type of information" — so the military androids couldn't help because they didn't have the required knowledge either. $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Sep 17, 2015 at 17:31

Crash the economy and watch everyone die. Whatever the cause of the collapsed economy, if it results in a reduction in the efficiency of food distribution or food creation, famine and widespread death results.

Economies require flow in order to survive. If the flow of money stops for some reason, such as in 2008/2009 when banks hoarded capital to cover the toxic debt on their balance sheets and didn't make loans. Thus, the overall economy suffered because business couldn't get the lines of credit needed to do business...so they did less business. Extraordinary efforts were made to prop up banks and rebuild the economy (and it's been largely successful though at a huge cost to poor people). Should such extraordinary efforts fail in this future society then it wont' take long for people to start looking for basic necessities such as food (assuming that food still comes from the countryside and isn't made on hydroponics farms in the arcologies).

If a large enough famine results from the economic collapse then much of the specialized knowledge required to run such a high technological society will die off. Remaking tools and processes based on prior knowledge is far easier than rediscovering those tools and processes fresh. Don't under estimate the power of institutional knowledge.

Also, many modern technologies are only economically feasible to make because the market for them is so large. Economies of scale make much of our modern economy possible and this won't change in a higher tech society. Maybe boutique manufacturing in the form of 3D printers might alleviate the need for economies of scale.


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