In my story all humans except one vanished suddenly. This one received the gift of immortality and is now alone in this world.

Considering that the world is identical to ours. How much time does this human have to continue using the internet and electronic devices before they stop working?

If internet is unavailable can the human with enough technical knowledge salvage information directly from server in ISP of Data Warehouses? This could involve hacking and investigating system admins for credential clues.

If energy is unavailable can the human still generate enough energy with a self-built device to work in these computers and servers?

Can the human build new electronic devices and/or automations on his/her own?

The ultimate goal to these questions is to evaluate the possibility to the human to create a sentient android society alone, with only immortality and knowledge supporting him/her.

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    $\begingroup$ Long term survival of data has never been a prime concern, so expect the number of years to be quite small. That being said, xkcd.com/505 $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 23, 2017 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to look at What would it take for Jane Doe to craft a book from scratch?. See also our computers tag, which has a number of relevant questions (for example, look for those on bootstrapping from scratch). There are also some similar, non-computer-related questions on the site. Then in the light of those, consider whether what you are proposing is plausible. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 23, 2017 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ The title is essentially a duplicate of worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/41587/… (in general, probably measured not in years but in days until something between you and a particular server fails or loses power) and the rest of the question body should be split out as separate questions. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Jan 23, 2017 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ The public electric power grid will be gone in a few hours, at best one or two days. Some data centers have backup generators, but even those will exhaust their fuel in two or three days. Restarting such a center is hard. There is no way for one single human to make even the simplest integrated circuit -- there simply is nobody on Earth who knows in detail at the same time how to design one and how to fabricate one. Plus chip fabrication facilities use a lot of energy and a variety of highly dangerous chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 23, 2017 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ This video addresses, at the beginning, the electrical part of your question. With some nice visuals too :) $\endgroup$
    – Shimon bM
    Jan 25, 2017 at 2:24

4 Answers 4


In a couple of days or so there will be no internet.

The problem is coal-fired powerplants require human-operated machinery to reload their fuel supplies, the ready supply will be depleted and they will shut down. There's nobody around to manage this in the least destructive way, huge portions of the US will end up without power. When a nuclear plant loses the external power feed it's going to trip--there goes a bunch more of the grid. While there will still be operational generators they will be disconnected from any load--the whole country will be dark.

The internet will survive for a short while longer on backup generators but they'll soon run out of fuel and that's it, the Internet is gone. Your protagonist can't bring it back up.

Your protagonist isn't going to be building any generators, either. However, there is one option that will allow him to get at some of the data: Solar. He can lay out solar panels, hook up an inverter and power any small scale thing he wishes. He can boot any machine he chooses and in general the web servers won't even need passwords (they need a password for admin access, not to view the data) but he won't get to too many of them before they're destroyed by the elements.

He's going to lead an incredibly boring life.

Regarding the long discussion in the comments: Erik nailed what I failed to spell out--while the protagonist can fix any given small piece of the system there's no way he can get anything big up and running because it's going to fall apart faster than he can put it back together.

I realize the grid goes down in a cascade failure. The reason I gave a couple of days rather than just hours is backup generators. The internet will survive the grid crash, it will only die as the generators run out of fuel.

And another thought on the situation: Probably the only interesting path for the protagonist is to uplift some species of monkey so he has other intelligences around to interact with. His toolbox is obviously very limited but he can do it by rewarding intelligence and culling stupidity.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 24, 2017 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ Does this include hydroelectric power plants in your answer? Not being critical, just curious if they would necessarily 'die' in such short order. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Feb 14, 2017 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey I would expect the hydro plants to continue for some time but they can't deliver their power because the grid is crashed. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2017 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ +1, It seems like this would be pretty much the same in pretty much any industrialised nation. Why focus on the US when OP did not ask about the US specifically? $\endgroup$
    – Fiksdal
    Aug 23, 2018 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Revetahw I live in the US so I have a better picture of what would happen to the US than to other countries. We also host an awful lot of the internet. $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2018 at 18:34

So the last human would need to choose two places: one would be the lab with the most advanced research regarding the AI and the second one would be a lab with most self sufficient energy sources. Like own power generators, solar powered (or wind, generally Renewable energy sources) or maintenance-free nuclear plant.

Then he could transfer servers, computers and equipment from one to another.

The internet would not be needed as laboratories usually store all data on site (with technology that can preserve the info without power) so he could use internet for 10 minutes to locate the two before mentioned places.

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    $\begingroup$ Or just take a shot at the major universities of the country the protagonist is in. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 24, 2017 at 14:59

As indicated by others you will have a varying amount of time. The largest danger will be from nuclear power stations, if people leave without notice and they cannot proceed to a stable unattended long term shut down (cf. Chernobyl and Fukushima) with no outside grid feed.

Some generation sites will fail in minutes, many in hours, most in days and various low maintenance devices in months. The Russian thermoelectric power generators (for remote radar sites) will generate limited power for hundreds of years but are not really portable. Nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers are slightly portable but will require crews to remain on-line an will have similar safety issues to other nuclear plants.

While the internet will outlast the utility grid by hours or days most data centers may not last quite as long. The are an increasing number of (like FaceBook) data centres being built that are carbon neutral, some also energy neutral. Finding one of these that is still running and has local 24 battery storage would be the best as it could run off grid. Using physical access to gain root privileges might be handy. Archive.org is creating a clone of the Internet WayBack machine in Canada (before Trump was an issue) that should have a lot of data available (the primary I understand is in America).

Most utility power stations will need some human or remote hand holding but wind, solar and hydro may be close to monitoring only, getting on-site access should allow for restart if they have failed safe. If they were grid connected it should be possible to feed the grid again but connecting intermediate switchgear manually after a total power loss may be a long process if you have to cross many substations. Just permanently connecting bus bars will be possible as you plan to only have one or two consumers and safety is less important. The control gear these days is networked and remote controlled with GPS synchronised time references on the PLCs. Hydro power may need some spillway control to prevent a dam overflowing and gate control to prevent turbine runaway. Solar will need occasional cleaning of the collectors and wind may self destruct if they do not feather in storm winds automatically under local control.

As mentioned, university labs would be the best bet for research on androids.

Going to get lonely.

  • $\begingroup$ Sperm banks will have between 2 days and 20 days of liquid nitrogen in the storage dewars. Very few will generate their own LN but may have bulk storage adequate for 60-180 days use if reserved for a small amount of samples. A sterling cryocooler can make enough LN to preserve a lot of sperm and eggs but will need a few hundred watts. If your protagonist is female and up to the task they could skip the androids and repopulate from stored genetic material and then do work on androids later with family. $\endgroup$
    – KalleMP
    Sep 5, 2018 at 7:30

Not long at all

The Internet is kept up only with an army of support engineers

The earlier answer about the power grid is correct, as well as the implication that one person simply cannot maintain enough equipment to keep things running.

But there's a detail that I happen to know because I work server-side in a web company, which I haven't seen anyone else mention.

No major website runs without constant human intervention. Behind the scenes, of course, all of these 'websites' actually run on banks of servers. These servers are far more finicky than most people would imagine. Machines have a hardware failure, and need replacement with new machines. Connectivity brown-outs require manual intervention to fix. The database machine's hard disk gets too full, causing performance to grind to a halt.

Every one of these companies has an operations group: a whole team of people whose job it is to write tools to let them monitor the health of the system, and to address the constant litany of issues that threaten system stability.

It is true that much of the chaos is due to changes on the backend causing problems. But not nearly all of it. The computer software running all these websites is, simply put, too complicated to run 100% unattended.

Getting a website back up would require significant reverse engineering

This is also why your main character would have difficulty ever getting any of these systems back online. The average website's back end consists of a complex architecture: something like a dozen different components that all depend on each other. To get the site back online would require understanding that infrastructure well enough to know how to restart everything yourself.

To gain this knowledge, MC would have to find the company's offices (no small feat without internet), find the servers running their internal wikis, their bug report database servers, etc. Then get them back up and running. Then MC has to find their source code. If it's stored on GitHub, well, that's that. You want to find a local copy sitting somewhere on a developer's laptop. Which MC now needs to break into, since they're all encrypted nowadays (because too many employees had lost or stolen laptops full of detailed personal info of too many companies' customers, totally unencrypted so anyone could read it). You can't even read the files without the password or a really clever hack.

Sure, hackers trying to crack DRM don't need any of that. But they're just trying to get one program to work. They don't have to get a whole suite of programs to all talk to each other in a highly complex dance.

Then, if MC wants all the old data to be accessible, MC now needs to find the actual data center where the data is stored. This could be very close to the dev's offices, but is more likely to be very far away. Assuming MC can even find out the location from the data available in the company offices.

Even for someone who knew exactly what they were doing, and had, like, a local copy of Stack Overflow and other online references saved locally (we don't memorize that stuff anymore; Google is usually faster than looking it up in a book), and who knew how to bypass login screens to get the info they need, this would still take months, likely years.

Then, once MC's got this one service back up, it won't stay up unless they're constantly keeping it happy (see point #1). Trying to keep services up that operate out of two data centers that aren't close together will be literally impossible.

And the inevitable fire, earthquake, flood, etc. will permanently destroy the service after a few decades anyway. Normally websites keep multiple redundant copies of production system data, but that won't be an option for our MC.

If MC made it their mission in life, and they were, pre-event, an honest-to-goodness expert genius programmer/hacker , and at rigging up small-scale power generators, they might be able to find useful services, and get versions of them that run on very small networks MC maintains personally. Each service would take years to develop, so there wouldn't be much time to salvage more than one or two. But that is not "the Internet" anymore, that's just a small local network.

Making new electronics is highly dubious

I'm a programmer, not a hardware guy. So I'll leave it at this: I find it very very likely similar limitations will make it essentially impossible for MC to make new hardware. MC might be able to cobble together working units out of recycled parts, but building new parts is probably impossible. Making integrated circuits requires clean rooms that can't even have a speck of dust get inside (because the little wires that make the circuits are much smaller now than your average speck of dust).

  • $\begingroup$ "Not long at all" — will it take seconds, minutes, hours, or days until the internet is effectively history? $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Aug 29, 2018 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Somewhere in between hours and days, I would think. $\endgroup$
    – Ton Day
    Aug 30, 2018 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit This is where the definition of the internet gets difficult. Internet in America is gone in hours. Internet in most of Canada will likely last days, maybe months, but will have little, if anything to connect to. $\endgroup$
    – Trevor
    Nov 27, 2019 at 21:53

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