So I'm trying to imagine what this world would look like 500 years from now if our technology didn't advance but everything else did.

No flying cars or floating buildings. No robots or advanced AI everywhere. Some tech gets slightly faster or sleeker or branded differently, but for the most part it's the same. The tech is the same in the sense that someone from our 21st century could get dropped into this 26th century and still comfortably recognize a car or a phone or a hospital and learn on how to use it quickly.

It's still 500 years in the future and everything else advances. Social values, governments, philosophies, even science, just not technology; the stuff we use in our day-to-day lives. Science may advance but for whatever reason we're not finding breakthroughs that affect our tech. So we might invent a better conducting alloy or a harder plastic or a gum that keeps its flavor longer but these changes are only incremental and not huge, sweeping advances.

In what noticeable ways would the rest of society advance if technology does not?

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    $\begingroup$ How can science change but not technology...? $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Mar 2 '17 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ That is my question, isn't it? :). I'm open to a well supported answer of "It can't." $\endgroup$ – LCIII Mar 2 '17 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ I do not believe a sensible answer can be given. Anything and everything is possible. Technology can change society, but it is far from the only source of change. In 500 years, we might end up in a communist utopia, or a capitalist dystopia, or stuck in a neverending cycle of world wars, or... Maybe we unlock some sort of latent telepathy in our brains. If it's purely biological, would you count that as technology? You would almost be better off asking if anyone can come up with some sort of societal change that would be absolutely impossible in any form or shape without a technological advanc $\endgroup$ – Falc Mar 2 '17 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ In what way do you want your world to differ from what is called steampunk? I think that such worlds are good examples of stationary concepts of technology though time will increase complexity. $\endgroup$ – Derk Jan Hulsinga Mar 2 '17 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ Are you defining "progress" simply as "change"? Or is there some progression goal that you are asking about (i.e. Ever decreasing rates of illiteracy or malnutrition)? If you want to use the term "progress", please tell us what your society is progressing toward. $\endgroup$ – SRM Mar 2 '17 at 15:58

Assuming that because of some reasons technology slowed down.

Society, morals:

(assuming that blocked technological progress wasn't caused by some religious fundamentalists or greens)

Continuation of mass education leads to masses adopting mindset of its intellectual elites. Some times it's even quite funny - in XIXth century nationalism was trendy among European elites, while masses didn't care much. In early XXth century it was adopted by masses, while elites become more cosmopolitan.

It's not so simple extrapolation (what elites believe right now put on masses with some lag). For example, in late XIXth century USA, to sound progressive enough you should support - women suffrage, abolition of children labor, limits on working hours, maybe some slightly progressive taxation, introduction of some basic safety net... and prohibition. (and possibly even show off discussing to what extend great Darwin's discovery should be applied in law... maybe some eugenics?)

Government: slow evolution of some supernatural bodies, by this time world can be united in to something like the USA or more even the EU. There is huge tendency to produce more and more law, no idea where it leads, but you may explore the funny results.

Huge investment in infrastructure. More durable consumer goods, because when there is so slow progress then it's worthy to pay extra for a mobile phone that survives 10 years.

Pollution or running out of natural resources. (not sudden disappearance and collapse, but more getting used to expensive oil).

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If we're still going to be breathing and civilised in 500 years, but not make any great breakthroughs in power generation or similar, then we're going to have to make much better use of the resources we have. That means we'll have switched our power generation technology to renewable sources - extensive use of solar, geothermal, wind, etc. We probably would still have some nuclear fission plants too, as a backup to the renewables.

That said, our current generating technologies are definitely not perfect, and are not particularly efficient (especially in transmission of power). So we'll see a LOT of power plants. Every roof will have solar panels, every hill will have wind turbines.

We'll probably also be making much more extensive use of hydrogen fuel cells for mobile power. Cars running on fuel cells already exist, it's really just a matter of refining the technology and getting the infrastructure in place.

Population Control

Food production is getting troublesome already. Even with genetically modified crops we won't be able to sustain our explosive growth forever - that's going to mean controlling the population somehow. This could be as simple as a cultural taboo on large families, or as strict as forced sterilisation after a second birth - your call, really.

Asteroid mining...maybe

It's debatable whether this is really within our reach technologically at present or not. Certainly we are currently in a position to start planning space missions to capture and exploit asteroids - this is really a matter of refining our technology rather than requiring huge breakthroughs.

Whether it would be economical or not depends largely on what you're mining for, and whether we can reduce the cost of spaceflight. If programs like Skylon are successful - which, again, is more about refining the tech that exists rather than needing a huge breakthrough - then spaceflight could become much cheaper in the near future.


Sooner or later, we're going to have to get a handle on climate change. Without new technologies to help us survive its effects, we may be forced to spend a lot of energy actively removing carbon from the atmosphere. That isn't too difficult to do - there are already proposals for technologies to do it - but it's inefficient and expensive. A good sized portion of our economy might be eaten up in trying to repair the environment.


...honestly, anything's possible. We could see a dawning new age of secular humanism and liberal democracy. We could all descend into religious barbarism. What looks likely at the moment in the US is the rise of an aristocratic elite to rule over poverty-stricken serfs; there's really no way to tell which forces are going to win this battle.

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Technology is the backbone of all development.

Technology allows human beings to augment themselves. It gives them better eyes, letting them see the microscopic world (microscopes) and the world so far away from us (telescopes). It replaces our arms and plows our fields (tractor) and builds our buildings (crane) for us. It frees up our time letting us think about things beyond simple survival: philosophy, ethics, justice, science.

And so it freed us from hard labor, but it also gave us actual freedom, liberty, equality.

Human beings are inherently limited. We can only run so fast and so far. We can only remember a tiny fraction of the knowledge we have accumulated and can only process a tiny fraction of all the calculations necessary for our development.

Because of this fact, once we reach our natural bounderies, we require technology to advance. We reached our natural bounderies hundreds of thousands of years ago, by the way.

To develop we needed counting systems and ways to record our memories on clay tablets. We needed to invent/discover(depending on your philosophical stance) mathematics.

And so any further development in any field must be aided by technology.

For some pratical examples:

We are currently nearing the end of science we can accomplish without smarter computers. Scientists are becoming increasingly more specialized because of this. Unlike what many seem to believe, we are not in the golden age of research, in fact we have been making less and less progress as time goes on.

We can't ever make faster computer hardware anymore because transistors are literally the size of a few atoms.

Not all hope is lost however, because of, you guessed it: technology. We are currently developing primitive AI's that can aid us in our scientific research and quantum computers that can go beyond current atomic limitations.

But your premise doesn't allow any of that. And in fact I don't even understand your premise. How can a society simply stagnate? Progess, sure. Regress, also sure. But stagnate?

In anycase, we really wouldn't be able to predict how your societies would "develop". Normally we track long-term social and cultural trends based on projected technology (increasingly intellegent AI, near total automation, etc...). But in this case we have no information. We have no backbone to work with. So... The best I can say is to take your pick of current ideologies and just say that's what your "future" society follows.

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  • $\begingroup$ we are not in the golden age of research, in fact we have been making less and less progress as time goes on. <- this is blatantly false. In the past 15 years alone we've gone from bulky cell phones, and walk-men to sleek smart-phones capable of doing more than a server used to be able to. Incredibly important scientific discoveries are being made all the time, and cures to some very nasty diseases seem to be right around the corner. Sure, some technologies have matured to a point where we've hit a limit on what we can achieve with them, but new options in computing are being explored. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 2 '17 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM I didn't claim that we no progress is being made, simply that we are not in a scientific explosion that can be propelled much further without technological advancement. Compare the late 20th and early 21st century to the 19th and the rest of 20th century. Clearly making more efficient phones is not equivalent to inventing computers/the entire field of modern atomic physics. Further more I specifically stated that valid solutions to this "problem" are being developped (such as quantum computing) and will no doubt once again push us into a golden age of scientifc endeavor. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Mar 2 '17 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM However the premise of this question is that we do not further our technology. Sadly if this were the case we would not be able to go very far scientifically. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Mar 2 '17 at 18:00

I have no idea what this world would look like 500 years from now if our technology didn't advance but everything else did; in fact, I am of the opinion that it is impossible to make any reasonable prediction: essentially, you the storyteller are perfectly allowed to imagine whatever end state you like.

I'm basing this opinion on two observations: first, right now the same technological and scientific level of development is shared by wildly different societies; and historical examples exist where five centuries of social change resulted in massive transformations while science and technology evolved very little.

Right now

Right now the same scientific and technological level is shared by the member states of the E.U., by the U.S.A., by Japan, Russia, China, India and Arabia. Are those societies similar? Some of them yes -- there is little difference between the socio-cultural systems of the U.S.A. and the E.U. Others are superficially similar -- the Japanese and the Russians dress in the same style of clothes as the Americans and Europeans, watch the same movies and listen to similar music. Others are not even superficially similar -- India, China and Arabia do not even pretend to be similar to the U.S.A. and the E.U.

Think about it: Arabia, India, China and Europe have exactly the same level of science and technology. Yet the Arabs chop off in public the heads of people deemed to have infringed their laws and treat their women in a way which would be unimaginable elsewhere. The Chinese somehow manage to reconcile the highest level of technology with a bewildering social system which is very poorly known in the rest of the world, and even less understood. India somehow merges its specific culture with the most modern industry and service providing enterprises.

Historical example

Consider the 500 years which passed between 250 BCE and 250 CE.

By 250 BCE Ancient science and technolgy had already reached a level very very close to their maximum: Euclid had already written his Elements (about 300 BCE); Archimedes, the greatest mathematician, physicist and inventor of the Ancient world, was in his prime (he died in 212 BCE); the Aristotelian Organon was already about 100 years old; Plato's dialogues were even older; Eratosthenes was getting ready to measure the Earth; Aristarchus had measured the distance to the Moon (he thought it was about 3 times smaller than the correct value but at least he got the order of magnitude right) and had proposed a heliocentric system; and so on. One could say that the only great figures in Ancient science and technology who were still in the future were Hero of Alexandria, Galen and Ptolemy the astronomer.

Nothing earth-shattering happened in science and technology between 250 BCE and 250 CE; a well educated person in mathematics, physics, mechanics etc. could fast forward five centuries from 250 BCE to 250 CE and still be considered reasonably well educated in those fields.

Nothing in science and techology: but those five centuries brought about unprecedented change in society and culture. During this span of time:

  • Rome, which in 250 BCE was nothing more than the most important city in Italy, became the capital of an empire extending from Britain in the west to Syria in the East and from Germany in the north to Egypt in the south.

  • The Romans introduced:

    • universal and equal justice, based written laws, known to all, passed by a lawfully consituted legislative assembly and promulgated by a duly appointed magistrate;

    • the revolutionary idea that ethnicity and citizenship were different concepts: anybody could become a Roman; and in 212 CE all free persons in the empire were given Roman citizenship. The impact of this transformation was monumental: in 250 BCE the classical world consisted of hundreds upon hundreds of city-states, each with its own gods, temples, laws and citizenship, while in 250 CE all the people in the empire had the same laws, rights and obligations; in 250 BCE it was inconcievable (and legally impossible) for an Athenian man to marry a Corinthian woman (60 km distance), while in 161 Marcus Aurelius, the son of a man from Iberia and a woman from Rome, became emperor.

    • a gradual emancipation of women, who by the 2nd century CE had acquired essentially all civil rights (they could own property, make wills, engage in business, stand in justice, divorce their husbands etc.) except the right to vote (because in the Roman mind the right to vote and the obligation to bear arms were inextricably linked);

    • unprecedented long-lasting peace and safety over a large territory;

    • a professional army, complete with uniforms, regular pay, and standardized training;

    • universal education (for suitably chosen values of "universal") and a high level of literacy (see the thousands of graffiti discovered at Pompeii, giving us a detailed understanding of Latin as it was really spoken).

  • Cicero and Seneca (both were Romans of non-Roman descent) explained in lucid prose a humanist world view which still resonates after two millenia. Fun fact: Cicero's book De Officiis (On duties) was the second book to be printed (the first was of course the Bible), and almost one hundred editions were printed before 1600. Second fun fact: although Cicero and Seneca were of course pagans, in the 4th century the Church declared them as legitimate moral authorities.

  • And finally, Paul the Apostle, a Greek-speaking Roman citizen of Hebrew descent took an obscure dissident Jewish sect and transformed it into an unstoppable universal religion.

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When you start looking through history you can find examples of this happening, sometimes just in certain areas of technology, sometimes an entire culture changes its values and science and technology are mostly halted and even lost.

The dark ages in Europe derailed science and technology in favor of religion.

In the United States we lost some of our motivation to push towards new development of space technology after the Challenger explosion. We didn't stop advancing entirely but lost a lot of momentum. A worse disaster could have had a larger effect.

A culture can change its priorities or develop a fear of progress. War and social upheaval can dramatically change the technological developments. Religion sometimes encourages people to stop moving forward and stay in a more traditional way of life. The leaders of a society often help shape the goals, and how resources are directed - research costs money. There are many ways that a society could stop making major advances in technology while continuing to evolve on other levels.

Coming from our current situation I think people could decide that we are not mature enough to handle the technology we have now. We are facing environmental consequences, massive income disparities, power imbalances - both physical and educational, etc. Certain technologies can be continued with limited resources by a few individuals, but many types of technology require special laboratories and a lot of funding. Those are the types of technology most likely to stop progressing. We could switch our focus to various social issues or spiritual/religious activities.

I recommend looking through history for more examples (such as math and science in ancient civilizations).

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