Our modern systems are predicated on the existence of electricity, which is a phenomenal discovery that helped propel the human race into our current civilization. However, electricity can be highly unstable and the systems that transport it are prone to disruption.

In an attempt to seed the idea of a wondrous future in a story I wrote a few years ago, I described one character as being surprised that a rediscovered colony was still using electricity. I never mentioned what his equipment operated on, but I would like to have a concept in mind should I choose to revisit the story.

A quick search revealed a discussion on Ars Technica from 2007 that indicated replacing electricity probably wasn't going to happen, the replacements just weren't worth it. In 2012, an optical replacement for electricity was proven viable, suggesting there may very well be a shift away from electricity sometime in the future. (This also reveals the difficulty inherent in prediction.)

Given what we know today, what is the most likely candidate to replace electricity in everyday life?

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    $\begingroup$ You can replace electricity distribution method and get it to be transmitted as high energy laser beams to the target house/facility which then converts it into electricity. This would remove the need for all the infrastructure including wires and posts and whatnot. Your character can be amazed to see that colony still using the old setup for electricity transmission, not that they are using electricity. $\endgroup$ Oct 13, 2015 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question. You've just made me spend a little time thinking about using quantum entanglement as a form or energy transfer. $\endgroup$ Oct 15, 2015 at 3:28

2 Answers 2


Probably nothing - electricity is just so damn convenient, You need just some metal wire and you can pump a lot of energy with rather small losses through it. And on the other end, it can be tuned very finely, almost down to molecular level. Even if e.g. we replace electrical computers with optical ones, there is still a need to generate and collect the light, and not everything would be easy to replace - a hybrid computer would be the most likely result, with an optical CPU that plugs into an electrical motherboard.

Having said that, barring any new groundbreaking discoveries in physics, perhaps only molecular nanoassembly has a chance. If you have blobs of semi-intelligent matter that can reconfigure itself into anything you need in realtime, then you do not really need electricity. But the nanoassemblers still need energy and have to process the information somewhat - and there is hardly better way than electricity for both purposes.

(And if you want to communicate, think about mobile phones/TV/radios/internet, there is no better choice than electromagnetic waves and to broadcast and receive them, you really cannot evade using electricity somewhere. Also consider that neurons and muscles fundamentally work on electricity).

  • $\begingroup$ Well, the use of electricity as we have it might still be surprising to a form of life that evolved on a planet where the transition metals like copper and iron are rare. They might have come up with a system that economizes on metal use by having generators produce massive shifts in magnetic flux that are directly picked up by powered devices. This same system would be disruptive to life on Earth, perhaps being a source of conflict if a ship powered this way came to Earth and unwittingly disabled our power grid and information network. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Oct 14, 2015 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Nicola Tesla set up a demo of such a system - all of the fluorescent lights in town came on at once, and shut off at once. Also, energy loss was proportional to the square of the distance from the source. By the time you were a few yards away from the generator the energy had dissipated to where the glowing bulb was a novelty but not useful. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Jan 24, 2018 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy But that was still electricity.... $\endgroup$ Jan 24, 2018 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ Yep. Magnetic Flux ~ electrical current are two sides of the same coin. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Jan 24, 2018 at 13:15

At some higher energy level the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism are united so as to leave 3 fundamental forces (electroweak, gravity and strong nuclear force). My understanding is at this energy level fundamental particles are massless. If you had a smallish tube in which you can create these conditions at will then you can create gravitational waves etc at will enabling comms channels with plank wavelength.

This is how I always imagined the 'effectors' in Iain M Banks culture novels to work.

At human energy scales this likely still must devolve to common or garden electricity and perhaps photonics, like the link in your OP, but with the type of capability outlined above being common knowledge then they would probably now think of electricity as a mere subset of the unified electroweak force, and apply terminology accordingly.

So, for want of a better summary - 'electroweak effectors'.


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