You are an archaeologist in the year PQMX (some thousands years in the future from now), and while excavating the remains of a city which appears to belong to the mythical Western World, you have found a huge room, with the cryptic name that you translate as "Electronics Store" on its entrance.

It is pretty well conserved, and you see a lot of shiny, flat and hard black "stones", black "paints" and mostly black flat stones hosting smaller stones with symbols engraved on them which seem to react to pressure by simply going down to a certain extent.

Your technology level is somehow similar to that of the late '80es, in the Western World. You have familiarity with machines replacing humans in doing tediously long calculation.

Will you be able, and how, to realize you are seeing the best conserved specimens of smart phones, tablets, HD monitors and keyboards?

  • $\begingroup$ You may want to add to this that you are intentionally hand waving the reality that no hardware made today will last as long as you need it to. That may help with the downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 9, 2017 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ Not all the circuits are minaturized, there will be recognizable copper traces and wires remaining. This is probably enough to clue you in that its some electronic device, but everything elseewill be a mystery. Do your archeologists know the artifacts come from a more advanced civilization than their own, because their expectations will play a lot into how they judge the finds. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Jan 9, 2017 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ Ditto @CortAmmon; some Handwavium would help. Perhaps there's a robot revolution that destroyed all the tech, but this store miraculously survived. $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2017 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Blacksilver It's even worse than that. Modern chip manufacturing is not designed to create chips that last thousands of years. The chips themselves suffer issue such as diffusion and stress migration that cause the chip to simply stop functioning after so many years. Modern processes are more at risk for this because the feature sizes are so small. Effects such as random alpha particles from the materials within the packaging can even create nucleation sites that can cause all sorts of failures! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 9, 2017 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ you may want to see this, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism Also the first cellular phone was built in the 1973, so it should be deciferable. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 7, 2017 at 22:10

2 Answers 2


Note that even well-preserved, consumer devices will not last thousands of years. Batteries will go bad, capaciters will go bad, atoms will wander around in the integrated circuits.

Nothing you find in the abandond store will be functional, so “seem to react” is not true.

They might look at the remains of batteries and use simple chemistry to reverse enginner them. At least for a few years yet: the cutting edge is based on nanoscale structures, not just chemistry.

They can de-lid and examine the silicon chips. A quick check shows that current tech is 14 nanometers feature size. Visible light has a wavelength as short as 380 nanometers: the features are more than an order of magnitude too small to see with any microscope. It would require an electron microscope to see the features.

The history of the electron microscope would indicate that it might be possibe to build a few years before semiconductor technology is developed. (note: this was answered before the question was edited to specify 1980’s level tech.)

Seeing the layout of the wires and characteristic bumps and valleys will tell you the circuit if and only if you can work out how each kind of device would look. You can’t see the different dopings. Maybe the idea that a single FET acts as a transister (switch) will be apparent enough.

If they have simpler semiconductors (a few decades behind the tech of these devices) then the designs could inform them. But the vast scale would be out of hand: they could not duplicate the logic with larger feature size technology. But individual elements within the designs could be inspirational. OTOH it only took us a few decades to invent it, so it won’t be too groundbreaking.

  • $\begingroup$ Great. Now I have this image of Adams wandering the empty corridors of an abandoned iPhone... $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jan 9, 2017 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I don't get it. Who is Adams, and how can a phone have corridors? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jan 10, 2017 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ Poor attempt at humor, I guess. "Adam" is phonetically similar to "atom" and circuits are like corridors for electrons. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jan 10, 2017 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ Or these people? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Feb 7, 2017 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ Good job, +1; however, "will not be functional, so 'seem to react' is not true" might not be the case. It took a couple re-readings and some thought to decipher what OP's descriptions meant, but that sentence in context is "seem to react to pressure by simply going down to a certain extent." It is referring only to keys on a keyboard going down when you press them. There are multiple technologies used to make keyboard keys go up and down; even if the keys springiness was completely lost, some keys would likely be stuck up and able to be pressed down 1 last time. That sentence could be true. $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Jun 13, 2017 at 19:01

You need to be a lot clearer. When was "the beginning of the computer era"? Let's see: The antikythera is believed to be the first known example of a mechanical analog computer (circa 100 B.C.E.) Mechanical analog 'computers' which solved differential equations were attempted in the 1820s and were successfully built in the 1920s. Digital electronic 'computers' were built and used during WW2. The first recognized computer programmer Lady Ada Lovelace was active in the 1840s working on Babbage's differential machine. Von Neumann detailed his architecture in 1945. The transistor was invented in 1920s (but only constructed in the 1940s). TTL logic - 1960's. Vacuum tubes 1904. Turing wrote about programmable computers in 1936. Any of these are reasonable "start" dates...I guess its possible that the plastic - the principle structural material of all these devices - could last "thousands" of years, but I wouldn't bet on it. It's also not clear what you mean by "cryptic name" - if the letters are recognized as such (ie. glyphs) which anyone not a complete moron would be able to do, then keyboards will obviously be recognized as some sort of device which accepts information (in the form of key presses). Of course, if the keys are all frozen, then it may be assumed to be some sort of cultural or religious statue. A physicist would recognize that inside all of these devices are circuits. A reasonable assumption would be that these devices DO something. A TV was first built in the late 1920s but Cathode Ray Tubes were around 30 years earlier. So, its reasonable to think that a "sufficiently" imaginative person might think that these things are computational, communicational, or informational devices. Assuming they'd need the use of electron microscopes (1930s) to see the transistors on the chips, if their technology is similar to ours of 1940 or 1950, then they would be able to eventually figure a lot of it out. But this is a guess. If they didn't have the theory to suggest the utility of such devices (why not? need a good reason), then it might be quite difficult. I'd guess the chips would be the biggest problem. Disassembling them is a significantly difficult problem.

  • $\begingroup$ I tried to give more info in the question. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 9, 2017 at 7:45

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