So I am creating an Elven sub-species (working name is Techno Elf), these are elves that split off from the rest of the Elven society some time in the past. The reason for the split being that they wanted to focus on technology and machinery, and so communicated and collaborated with Dwarven societies (something the rest of the Elves didn't like). Over the course of a couple of millennia these Techno Elves managed to get to roughly modern level of technology, maybe near future. In the last millennia Humans had started taking huge leaps in technology and were close to catching up to the Techno Elves in terms of science and technology. The Techno Elves were curious about how the Humans had advanced so quickly, and discovered it was due to the shorter lifespan. because of how short lived the Humans were they had huge breakthroughs every couple of decades as brand new scientists brought new view points and ideas to the table. The Techno Elves then decided to take what they new of genetic engineering and try and artificially shorten their own lifespan to try and replicate the Humans.


  • Techno Elves split from Elves talking and collaboration with Dwarves
  • Techno Elves leave the Dwarves due to discovery of plastics, causing falling out with Dwarves
  • Techno Elves get to modern/near future levels of technology
  • Techno Elves notice Humans advancing in technology at super speed (compared to them)
  • Techno Elves genetically engineer themselves to have a lifespan closer to that of humans (resulting in the rest of the elves always viewing them as children since they never really reach the age of majority)



Elves physically mature the same as Humans, but are not considered adults until ~100, and normally live to between 600 and 1300 years. Don't really interact with other species at all. Traditionally have a good grasp on nature and magic.


Dwarves physically mature the same as Humans, but are not considered adults until ~50, and normally live to between 300 and 700 years. Works a lot with metals and intricate cog based machinery.

Techno Elves

After genetic engineering physically mature slightly faster than humans, and considered adults at ~20, and normally live between 80 and 120 years. Very quickly gets into far future technology (space-time warping for example).


Basically the same as modern humans, but not aware of the other intelligent species inhabiting the world.


So my main question is: Does the Techno Elves' idea that a short lifespan will increase innovation actually hold up, would them having such a long lifespan have limited the innovation in the beginning?

  • $\begingroup$ It is usually discouraged to ask two questions in one post. You should probably delete the questions about plausibility and ask them in a separate question. $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2016 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ Removed the plausibility questions $\endgroup$
    – Justinw
    Oct 29, 2016 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ Lots of major scientific innovations are made by scientists early in their careers, often their 30s. And, the inertia of older scientists who won't adopt to new views can hold back science. But, you can't shorten too much, so that people live to make discoveries and then teach the next generation. A lifespan or 50 to 60 years would be a minimum, I'd think, with more or less human rate development in younger years. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 30, 2016 at 17:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Rate of technological progress has only increased as our lifespan has increased... I'd like to see evidence of the inverse being the case anywhere ever if people are foing to argue that short lifespans speed up technological progress... $\endgroup$
    – Durakken
    Oct 30, 2016 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ I think that no one would ever want a shorter life span on purpose. Instead, this could be a side effect--as in they wanted earlier synaptic development--and they got it, at the cost of a shorter life span. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2016 at 14:10

3 Answers 3


This is a a question about skill vs. innovation, and I say: no, there are other ways to achieve higher ways of innovation without shortening lifespan that much.

Long lived: the power of specialists

Of course, having a long life for a species does increase the time to become considered adult, but the average skill level and level of specialisation any of the members has is much higher than a relatively shortlived species.

Being that longlived, there is little pressure to procreate, which reduces population growth as a whole. Having a low growth rate with a high tech base leads to them training up specialists to a degree where only a handful of people is acting in any given area of technology. That has good and bad sides: while specialists are more likely to invent a fully novel thing from scratch (think about Einstein and his collegues), there are possibly much less applications for the daily life. Also, new ideas do need more time to take root in such an environment, as total turnovers in scientific areas usually are about half a generation.

Short lived = fast procreation: tiny steps of innovation

Being shortlived with an average of 40 with a very very rare record of 90 for high medival humans did press them to procreate early. This increased the population numbers even if facing famine, high death rates and war slowly. At some critical point in the high middle ages, this procreation cycle started to increase the population more rapidly because of tiny inventions that would lessen the death toll due to hunger - This was NOT a major breakthrough, human advancement is powered by series of tiny changes!

It was stuff like the iron plow instead of the wooden one. Which then was changed gradually to turn the surface. Being short lived did not press them to invent more, it pressed them to procreate more and thus increase the chance someone would invent something to better their items. These tiny steps were aided with as many of these many people were proficient with the same tools and thus there was a big chance that someone of this large group would have a good idea liketaking iron for a plow or turning over the field.

Indeed, in human history in the real world, major breaktrhoughs on their own are almost unheard of and those that are are famous. Penicillin is one of these, and it is the result of the power of specialists above. Most often somebody would just take old parts and recombinate them in a novel and innovative way, especially in industrial revolution.

Diesel knew well about steam engines and had experimented with fuels combusting explosively under some conditions. Combinding and redesigning parts of a steam engine, he made the diesel engine. Daimler combined a cart with an engine.

Techno Elf

1. Increase fertility

Well, there are several ways to go for the techno elves. First, they could increase their population growth, increasing pressure and capacity for innovation. That is actually a fairly easy fix, if they are genetic engineers: just feed the people fertility meds.

With the higher population growth, they achieve several goals at once:

  • they increase their workforce and have a larger pool of people to draw from for military.
  • they increase the chance of a new idea cropping in the head of a being familiar with the right tool to improve
  • they reduce the time for ideas taking root in the scientific environments, as the numbers of these increase - younger generations copy ideas of each other and thus tilt the scales in their favor somewhat.

2. Fastern up maturity

Being genetic engineers, it might be easily doable to reduce the time to reach maturity from 100 to like 50 by adding meds to the diet. Going more could become really harmful for their brain development. With 45 years of training, you still retain a highly specialized workforce with a high live span of possibly something close to where they started, maybe 400-500 to 1000, makign them a bit more longlived than dwarfs.

3. Not reduce own longlivity

Why should the species reduce the longlivity even more? The pressure for innovation is not impeding death by age for humans, it is impeding death by hunger or other humans, so they innovate at things to fence of dying of hunger or to kill other humans before they do. For humans, 2 things bring forward advancement: hunger and war. Being as longlived as elvens are, they likely found a way past hunger long ago and the typical elven picture isn't about war all the time. So... let's create both pressures for the Tech Elfs:

4. Create servant race

Instead of cutting down the own longlivity, the elves and dwarfs could start to make a somewhat smart and sturdy warrior caste that is fed by the population of their techno-kingdom for nothing else but their service as warriors. It might be the reason why there are Orks: they are the warrior extension of the Dwarven/Elven coalition, designed to be bigger, stronger and harder to take down than humans, smart enough to be a good tactican and use their weaponry and give feedback to the weapon designers in their ivory towers. They don't need to have a very long live, but they have to gain a culture that takes pride in warfare. Feeding them well for little but training will result in them being mostly ok with their lot as the shield & arm of society. Even giving their most valued veterans a position in the governing council will help to prevent rebellions of this specis that might reach maturity at 12 and might to expect only to reach 30-35 (ignoring war casualties).

With such an army that grows even faster than humans (add cloning orcs?), there would be increased pressure on ther scientists to innovate food production, tailor weapons especially for the orc regiments and overall innovate in logistics.


Yes. Is the answer. For one simple reason. If age 18-20 is maturity for humans and tech elves and age 100 is maturity for regular elves, then basically a regular elf would be behind a tech elf by about 75 years, give or take. Add to that a lack of urgency regarding anything, because, basically, they live about 6 times longer.

And then there's fertility. So a tech elf only has to live to about 20 in order to be sexually mature. A regular elf, much longer. So not only is the tech elf ahead by many years in development, while the regular elf is still maturing, the tech elf could have several babies, all of whom will also be ahead of the first regular elf in mental maturity. Trish, above says "increase fertility" but I argue that the life span and years to maturity already accomplishes that feat.

So 1 single regular elf will have to compete with the advancement of about how many tech elves? Because the tech elves could actually have three generations come to maturity while the regular elf is still busy learning to drive. Or something.

And, consider the way science marches on. The old guard naturally clings to beliefs, concepts, and precepts from when they came up. Science advances, very often, because people die. Just the way it is. New ideas come from new ways of thinking, and that is very often tied to a specific generation. Old and wrong-headed ideas are kept for as long as there are people to keep them alive.

Now, I can see a very long-lived elf being a venerated part of a science lab culture. They might know that the real innovations come from the faster-lived races, but being so long-lived, they really don't see the urgency of advancement and have trouble thinking that way.

  • $\begingroup$ If regular elves mature at 20, does that mean children are having babies? Is that allowed? $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2016 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ yes elves above 20 could physically have children, its just not normal in their culture, in the same way teenage pregnancies are not normally culturally accepted in most western cultures in the real world. Basically the elves have 80 years of being a teenager instead of the ~6 of humans $\endgroup$
    – Justinw
    Oct 30, 2016 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ If it's not normal in their culture, then yes, tech elves and humans have something extra generations to compete with one regular elf. Tech elf born, same time as regular elf. During the 100 years it takes for the regular elf to mature, a tech elf born at the same time would have had grand children, perhaps even great grand kids. And many of them would have matured by the time the regular elves are even thinking of having kids. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2016 at 3:17

You mention magic in your post. Sorry, magic and logic are incompatible. In a world with magic, nothing need be logical. In a logical world, nothing can be magical. Tell me, if you expected to live 900 years, would you engineer your kids to live 80 on the off chance that one of them will be a scientist? Hint: divide both numbers by 10, and ask again. I'd suggest an alternative: one theory as to why young scientists (there is an enormous difference between a scientist, a technologist, and an innovator!!) are more fruitful than older ones, is that their neural connections are being formed at a much higher rate (between 15-25). Death isn't relevant. Why not just program techno-elves to periodically gain-lose-re-form their minds/memories?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ -1 is for "You mention magic in your post. Sorry, magic and logic are incompatible. In a world with magic, nothing need be logical. In a logical world, nothing can be magical." You could put that onto half of the questions on WorldBuilding, but it provides no usefulness. Also, not everyone even believes that is true anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Oct 22, 2018 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ I think you misunderstand the purpose and use of magic in a story. Magic systems in stories are created primarily for facilitating the narrative of a story or enhancing the mood/aesthetics within a story. For a reader to understand the purpose or use of magic in a story, there needs to be some logical consistency. If there is no consistency/logic behind it, then the magic system kind of meaningless. $\endgroup$
    – Crettig
    Dec 6, 2018 at 22:40

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