I want to tell my kid an Atlantis-like story, where humans had the minimum required super powers to enable a group of people to create 1910s technology in a fairly quick and easy manner.

I have a bit of a beef with "ancient alien astronaut" theorists, many of whom point at cool achievements of our ancestors, and (in a totally degrading way, I think) claim that the technologies required for achieving those are beyond humanity's ability to reach on our own.

I say that we humans are pretty ingenious and can do quite a lot with very little. I truly believe that high-tech, or at least electricity-level civilizations, could have existed in the past, without aliens having to teach us how to change a light bulb.

Still, in my story, I want to make it easy for groups of humans to get to a pretty neat level of technology without the hassle of a couple of hundred of years of industrial revolutions or Thomas-Edison-level geniuses.

Looking at the requirements for, say, an electricity generator, would the ability of a group of people to purify metals be enough for the creation of the wires/turbines? Would I want to give my group a minor telekinesis ability to spin the turbines? Or just a heat generating ability to make steam?

The key words here are "minimum" and "group" - I don't want super-individuals to fly around and lift giant rocks, using their hands to erect Stonehenge and the pyramids. Nor do I want them to kill each other in Superman VS Hulk super-fights. What I need is a group of people, relying on each other, relying on technology, but capable of reaching a 1910s tech level quickly, starting from a nomadic/near-zero-technlogy point.

  • Groups = should have numerous humans, let's say 5 at the very least.
  • Near zero-technlogy point = Before metal forging and houses. They have tents, simple clothing and basic cutting tools. Prehistoric man stuff.
  • Reach tech fairly easily = Around 30 years (to give them time to figure out what they want to do and how to do it), starting from a nomadic/near-zero-technlogy point.
  • 1910s level of tech = Radios, cars (combustion engines), basic electrical devices (power generators). I specifically want transportation, communication, and power tech that my kid/others who'll read the story can relate to, and that will enable the building of monuments that 10000 years later people will say "oh, this was obviously a site of alien worship where people slaughtered goats to appease the star demons". (I say that Stonehenge was part of a larger structure for drone racing. Who's gonna prove me wrong??)
  • The story takes place in the distant past, say 10000 years ago or more.
  • Later on in history there'll be a world-wide biological change that will disable the superpowers (explaining why we don't have them today, and why thousands of years passed without high-tech civs). It's not really part of the question but if your answer can take that into account, I'd be grateful.

So my question is - What type and level of super-power/s is/are the minimum required, in order for a group of people to quickly and easily create 1910s level technology, while maintaining each individual's reliance on the group, and on said technology?

Edit1: I see a lot of comments/answers telling me how limited my premise is, specifically the 30 year limit. Well, I could live with longer than 30 years but the point is that these guys have superpowers. While I try to go for the minimum of soft science, the question is about soft science. Got a problem with my timeframe? Tell me what superpower will solve that. Got a problem with the lack of knowledge of my civ? Think of the superpower, mental or physical, that will solve the problem. One guy wrote: "I think the basic premise is flawed, people don't make technological advances, societies do." And then he proceeded with: "So the only real answer is, [if] a person with time-travel/vision SAW the future" - That's one interesting way to solve the problem! Please keep an open mind and when you see the obvious problems, use your super-SE-WorldBuilding-power to suggest a solution.


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    $\begingroup$ They could easily do it all with just super intelligence and nothing more, but since they will need to gather resources, super speed and super strength would, of course, help - but how do you define level of super power? $\endgroup$
    – Mrkvička
    Feb 28, 2017 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ You say you don't want to need "Edison level geniuses" but if you aren't allowing their intelligence to be higher yet you want to gain new technology (essentially the physical representation of intelligence) how do you expect them to have the ideas for these inventions? $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2017 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ Mrkvička - that's part of my question :-) $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2017 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Lio Elbammalf - I don't mind super intelligence but I really don't want my civ's technological advancement to rely on a single person doing the thinking for everyone else. Also, super intel won't be enough for the time frame. I guess it'll be part of the deal, probably get a group to share mental capacities or something like that. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2017 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ Well, not really - you ask "what type and level of super power", but I asked "how does one measure the level of superpower". Do you want it measured in, like, 2x Hulk strong? Would that be the same as 2x Superman strong? If they need to have superspeed, should it be measured in multiples of Flash? $\endgroup$
    – Mrkvička
    Feb 28, 2017 at 19:15

6 Answers 6


Note I consulted a number of answers to What is the minimum size of a self-sufficient industrial country? when creating this answer. Also, be careful this post contains links to TV Tropes.

People to maintain technology

This answer estimated that it would take between 10 million and 100 million people to maintain 2014 levels of technology. You will need less people since you are aiming for 1910 level of technology. However that is still an order of magnitude above a small group of people. So your group of people will need quite a few super powers to maintain that level of technology let alone develop to that point.

30 Year time constraint

This is the biggest challenge to the question. Even if they had a guide book telling them what to do, it takes time and lots of it to collect the resources to build the machines that can process other resources to make the next generation of machines. So you will need a wide range of super powers that can help expedite this.

5 Superpowers needed for given time constraint:

Mad Scientist

A family in this group should have a super power where they are not just super intelligent, but they are very good at applying it in ways to create crazy and amazing contraptions. They see the scientific process and scoff at it. They go directly to the solution to the problem (note sometimes the solution can be just as bad as the problem if not worse). They will help advance the technology as they think of progressively more advanced ideas and serve as the guide to technology.

Item Duplicator

Unlike those who have a super power of self duplication this person can duplicate inanimate objects perfectly. Any item that they duplicate is indistinguishable from the original to the point the person performing it does not know which is the original.

This is a very brokenly powerful superpower, but it is needed for the 30 year time frame. Once the group successfully makes a bar of iron, instead of wasting precious time mining and smelting more iron they can duplicate existing iron so they have a continuous supply of materials for industry. This power scales nicely, since as new materials are developed like plastics, alloys, and chemicals they can help make more of them rather easily.

Green Thumb

The person with item duplication can only duplicate inanimate objects, you need someone who can help accelerate materials that are grown. The role of this individual would be to grow trees, crops, and other plants. Wood is needed for a variety of construction, and different plants product different materials and chemicals that are used in various fields. For example growing crops so you can make bio-diesel to serve as your fuel. This will also let your group grow crops that are not indigenous to their location, which may be vital to their growth.

Teleportation and Seer

These people serves as your gofers. A small group will be isolated to one location on the planet. Unfortunately all the types of materials they will need to get to the 1910 technology level are likely not going to be conveniently located near their town. Therefore people are going to have to go find it and return with it.

Seers could use their powers to help locate what they need while those with teleportation can quickly retrieve what the mad scientist needs for his or hers current project.


To reach your lofty goals you will need a lot of superpowers to do it. The ones listed above should serve as the minimum amount of superpowers needed to do it (even if it does seem like a lot).


High intelligence

Two things in particular bring forth technology: a need for it, and knowledge.

A need is a thought; the idea that goes along the lines of "Hm... this could be done better".

In other words you need someone that can imagine a better solution to a task or situation in their everyday life. Creativity is usually a "symptom" of high intelligence.

Knowledge is obtained by examining how the real world to figure out how it works. Today we have formalized a process about this called "the scientific method". The scientific method is roughly this:

  1. Observe reality
  2. Try to find a pattern in how reality behaves
  3. Make a hypothesis, and from various scenarios work out how reality should behave if the hypothesis is correct
  4. Perform an experiment where you poke at reality, and record how reality reacts to this.
  5. Compare the result of how reality behaved, compared to how you thought it would behave.

If in point 5, reality and your hypothesis are not in agreement, start over from 1. If they do agree however, then you have just created a scientific theory, that is to say a reliable model of how reality behaves. Congratulations, you have made progress.

The scientific method is not without pitfalls however, and it takes lots of foresight, introspection and after-action review to figure out where you might go / are going / went wrong. This too requires intelligence.

So the super-power you need is intelligence.

Do note... once they reach this level of technology, they will not stop. They will keep going, at a rapid pace. Mankind went from radio to semiconductors in less than fifty years. And then went from semiconductors to Facebook in the same amount of time.

A caveat though: thirty years? That will not be enough. No matter how smart you make someone, there is only so much a group of people can do in thirty years. And going from rock bottom — literally so — to being able to build the RMS Titanic in thirty years, that will not happen.

...unless their superpower is to time-dilate the entire universe in order to give them more time for themselves.

  • $\begingroup$ Good approach, though I was thinking in terms of physical abilities (r.g telekenisis or metal bending). Still, this doesn't solve my requirement that the guys will require a group or the requirement for 30 years to achieve tech. I suppose I could do a "group-mind-melding" thing to up intelligence, and add physics to that. Cheers! $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2017 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Nahshonpaz Well the trick is it does not matter if your heroes can do anything they want unless they know what to do. The tools are useless unless you know what to do with them. Assuming for instance that you are not a licensed pilot or flight sim enthusiast, if I were put you in a state-of-the-art airliner and then just disappeared out the door going "Toodles! Good luck!!", you would not be able to get yourself anywhere with that plane because you have no idea how to use it. It is something that could transport you anywhere on the globe, but only if you know how to use it. -> $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Feb 28, 2017 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ And even if I then put a complete flight manual in your lap, gave you the super-ability to read and assimilate knowledge in no time at all... but then said "You have thirty seconds to get off the ground!", you still would never be able to do it, because just getting the power on and the engines spinning takes much longer time than that. So I am sorry but the constraints you have set on this question forces the answer: it cannot be done, unless you extend the time available. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Feb 28, 2017 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ Sure I could, with a telekinesis power that would enable me to spin the engines in no time :-) You're kind of missing the point of the physics manipulation powers, but you've got something going here. Super intelligence indeed takes you a long way, and I agree it wouldn't be enough. My questions is- what would be? My guys wouldn't need airliners or the Titanic. They really want transportation, communications and power (electricity). They have some cool abilities and the world to play with. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2017 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ Think of a kid who plays with sticks and vines and invents the bow (my kid, BTW :-) ). Now, what kind of device could he make with the ability to grow two extra arms (his suggestion, not mine). All he has is a decent amount of intelligence and a desire to shoot things, but with four arms he'd be able to do it better, or reach something different that's much better. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2017 at 15:23

There is an old saying: Necessity is the mother of invention.

One of the problems with being from "the future" is many people have difficulty understanding that people from previous times don't know anything about current technology. They won't say to themselves "I need a light bulb, how do I invent one" They won't even have the concept of light bulbs; light comes from fire, right? Burn oil.

Unless they need something they don't have they won't invent it. Unless they have free time to think about things they don't have, they won't invent anything. Might look into Hierarchy of Needs, basically you can't invent stuff until you have taken care of food, water, safety, sanitation, etc. Because all of your time is spent keeping yourself alive. The main reason people didn't invent stuff a long time ago was that they were too busy.

Hand-waving all the basic needs away still doesn't get you new inventions. (e.g. you could have magic breadmakers, doctors and water purifiers) Why would they invent something if all their needs are met?

I think the basic premise is flawed, people don't make technological advances, societies do. People make inventions, but only at the level they already are. (i.e. you don't jump from neolithic to steam overnight, or even a decade) And the only reason to advance is to fill a need.

So the only real answer is, a person with time-travel/vision SAW the future, and returned to make some of the "cool toys" they saw. (Possibly bring some back)

  • $\begingroup$ "I think the basic premise is flawed, people don't make technological advances, societies do" - What super power is required to compensate for that? Not that I mind large societies. Your point about time vision is cool, might do something with that, though I hate to go into "killing your father before you're born" loops. Perhaps a possibility-vision, where the joined minds of a number of people can see many outcomes of an action (Which is a super power we still have today, albeit in a limited way :-) $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2017 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Nahshonpaz look... let us take two steps back from the question for a moment and think: what is the story that you are trying to tell? Ok, so we can tell that you are trying to shoe-horn this mysterious archaeological find into the story. But this will run unto all sorts of problems if you do not consider the wider implications. You are asking "Please give me magic, any kind of magic, I'll take anything!!!". Well... will your archaeologists accept that as an explanation? They will of course wonder "How did this happen?!", and "Well... it must have been magic!" will not cut it. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Mar 1, 2017 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ Occam's Razor applies even in fiction. They will not assume "magic". They will think it is a hoax of some sort. Right now you are asking for something that is so implausible that not even your fictional characters will believe it. So... we need a new approach to the actual situation you are trying to find a solution for. What is the story you are trying to tell? And why is it important to the story that this mysterious archaeological find is made? $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Mar 1, 2017 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ Story is: bunch of people together generate limited magic that's not too useful for everyday need, but can be used to create tech that fulfills everyday needs. An Archaeologist will most certainly fail to accept, or even consider the possibility that people could have used magic. That's the soft science/ wild magical cookoo part. Now comes the part where I'm looking for the minimum amount of so called magic/soft science, and I'm asking for your help in minimizing it.The whole thing is meant for a 7 years old who invents and (according to him) uses superpowers all the time. Have some faith :-) $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2017 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ It sounds like you might benefit from reading Kuhn's book. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions I found it enlightening. Additionally, the time-travel I was postulating would be forward looking only, no paradoxes required. $\endgroup$
    – Seeds
    Mar 2, 2017 at 15:45

The super powers you need are an understanding of the scientific method, and an abundance of food.

The scientific method will help you understand everything that your brain is able to handle, and that is within your reach, so you get a chance of observing it.

But that will not help you, if you have to spend 14-16 hours a day trying to get the next meal.

Actually, not having the scientific method (although i hate to admit that) would be the lesser hindrance: you could still achieve enormous things by just messing around.
But without food, all you could possibly achieve is a grave.

Other superpowers might still speed that up, granted. Telepathy comes to mind: if you can share your insights with your peers a lot faster than before, you can have your ideas peer-reviewed in no time, allowing for a quicker route to the next iteration. And allowing for the next man climbing onto the shoulders of a giant faster.

Then again, you could already get a long way by just having the superpower of literacy among your group.

Again, this is only helpful if somebody is providing food, shelter, and wherever possible an infinite supply of the most expensive laboratory equipment you can think of.

  • $\begingroup$ What superpower is required to compensate for the food problem (being able to live off sunlight? Eating a lot at one point then not needing to eat for a few months (snakes do this)? Laboratory equipment - what mental and physical powers are required to do something within the timeframe? $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2017 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think Burki's point is you could pick any power so long as it keeps the person fed. Anything from "photosynthesis" to "proactive digestive system where cells leave the body and harvest nutrients from the local area then return to the host" to "telepathy to command prey to jump on the fire and cook itself". And many more. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Mar 1, 2017 at 13:14

What if the humans are nothing special but there are animals that are notable? For example, birds build nests. Perhaps you have a jackdaw that likes finding shiny nuggets of this magnetic stuff that sticks together well for its nest. You have a burrowing worm that excretes the gold wires that it cannot digest. Things like that.

By making it the animals that are special, you remove any need for the humans to interact with each other in some special way. And the reason the powers go away is easy -- humans screw up the environment and the special animals die off. There is ample evidence in the archeological record that when humans first moved into an area, it didn't take long for the major fauna to die off and the ecology to be disrupted.

I think for the tech you're looking for, you mostly need raw materials, which is why the animals I first suggested are both examples of that. Steam is easy -- water and fire. What is harder is good steel. There's a theory that Babbage's Difference Engine would have worked if the Brits of his time had been able to manufacture cogs of sufficient precision. If we have some animals that can help with that -- say, a special mollusk shell that provides a perfect mold for circles -- then you can bootstrap all sorts of industry.

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    $\begingroup$ Great idea, though I'm looking for human achievements. Of course, many of our achievements relied on animal domestication and use. Perhaps one specific animal, or maybe a plant or area from whence some animal gets special abilities. Interesting, thanks! $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2017 at 9:16

In one sense only 1 super power is required.

A SciFi book "Time is the simplest thing" - Clifford D. Simak, first published in 1961. The story combines paranormal abilities, Telepathy and Teleportation (not essential to your question).

This is not a story review or synopsis. A man makes contact with an alien intelligence that is alone and searches the Galaxy for life with its mind. Once it finds a suitable life form, it “trades” minds. Meaning it copies everything the lifeform know and gives it everything it has picked up over it’s …. Very long life.

Now to your story, we have a group member that makes contact, is given the knowledge and nothing more, no help, no anything.

Let me make this absolutely 100% clear, this individual is NOT GIVEN THE POWER TO DO EVERYTHING. To say this a different way. The GROUP IS 100% REQUIRED TO SOLVE THE HOW TO AND THE IMPLEMENTATION. IF human A sees human B doing activity X then human A figures it out ... that is ALL that is being done here. To meet the requirement, I made human B an alien, i could have been a whale, a porpoise, a squid, an octopus a bird (you want me to point you to Daedalus?).

The individual can pull up anything and make the connection but this does not give understanding, how to or anything else. Recontact with the Alien is either declined or ends with a “sorry I can not help you”.

Spin this however you want, One individual knows something can be done, following a sequence of steps, which one could say is 90% of the discovery. Think how many things we use but do not really understand how it works.

It also allows you to end the spontaneous evolution of knowledge when the person dies. Or if you want you can have the individual write things down but a lot is lost in translation what they see to what what is available to the group allowing for a ramp down of the burst of invention, the further the descendants are from the original group transitioning the written work to mythology, kust a good story etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Down voting because this answer contradicts the OP's very explicit request to NOT use aliens as a basis for human technology. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Mar 1, 2017 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ And the requirement for reliance on a group, rather than an individual $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2017 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ I am sorry I did not make it clear enough, the individual needs the group to resolve the how to and the actual doing. $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2017 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM Please point me to the part of the request that explicitly reuest to NOT use aliens as a basis for human technology. My answer is 100% human discovered technology, there is not 1 piece of it that is alien in any sense of the word. If I tell you that a program can be created but NOT how in any sense of the word, then why do YOU insist that YOUR creation is mine? $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2017 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ The guest category asks you not to include them in your answer. Even if it is a round about way, but it's still obvious. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Mar 1, 2017 at 14:51

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