I time traveled back to Sir Isaac Newton timeline and forgot to keep my phone with me while travelling. I want to show him basic standard smartphone with basic apps. Those days machines won't even exist.

Newton gave me 50 kg of gold, silver and silica. etc and also some more chemicals he provided me. because he has so much trust in me that I can show him how basic standard smartphone look like with basic apps.

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    $\begingroup$ How exactly did you plan to write the software? $\endgroup$ – nzaman Sep 4 '17 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ Does your character know how to build one (I don't think any human on earth knows how to do that btw) or would he have to do complex calculations/simulations/general development stuff first? By bare hands, do you mean tools that existed in Newton's time or does he need to melt metal with his thumb or something? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 4 '17 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ With bare hands as opposed to gloved hands, yes, it's possible. With bare hands as opposed to using extremely complex machinery, no, it's not possible. You need to build the machines to build the machines to build the machines etc. on many levels. And you need to discover several centuries of physics in the process. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 4 '17 at 12:51


Sir Isaac Newton was alive in the 17th and 18th centuries. The very first electronic computer wasn't built until the 1940s. The first mechanical computers were built in the 19th century and don't really resemble a modern computer (let alone a smart phone) in any way.

In the given time period there would be absolutely no understanding of what would be required to create a smartphone, so you would need to understand the process from start to finish, or to have the blueprints of every separate component. Even with that I doubt they would have the processes required to make the components small enough.

Here is the processor of a modern smartphone:

smartphone processor

It would be impossible to recreate by hand or even by machine without recreating the full assembly line used to create such things these days.

And that's before you even think about programming it. Decades of software evolution have gone into making the CPU, GPU and OS for a smartphone, I dare say it would be impossible for one man to recreate it in a single lifetime.


Not even a charger

When you arrive at Sir Isaac, it will be at least another 100 years before someone even makes an electric generator. This means that even if we change the conditions and assume you brought a phone with you, you could not even charge it. Sure, a charger is a really simple device if you need to jury-rig it. You only need two wires with 5 Volts Direct Current between them, which to us today is stupidly simple... you can make that kind of generator from stuff you get at any junk yard.

But it will not help you when speaking to Sir Isaac. When you tell him "I need 5 Volt Direct Current" he will stare at you blankly, because no-one knows what a Volt is, because Alessandro Volta has not even been born yet, let alone lent his name to a standardised unit of measurement for electric potential.

It will also be another 100 years before someone theorizes the most basic building blocks for a computer, the Boolean Algebra.

In short you are asking: "could I write the collected works of Shakespeare in a time where pens, or even paper have not yet been invented?".

No. Emphatically no.

  • $\begingroup$ I like that you pointed out the language problem. Well, let's ignore that one would not be able to speak with Newton in modern day English and that nobody is a super genius that knows everything, one would probably have to sit him down and explain everything and since he was a very busy man and kind of an ahole, he wouldn't even listen for more than an hour maybe. This might be the first step where everything falls apart $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 4 '17 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 That is not as much a language problem as it is an impossibility to specify what we mean. 5 Volts — even if we would explain what "electric potential" means — is impossible to know what it is. To explain how far away that is: the original definition of an Ampere (electric current) relied on a measurement of force. That force would be measured in... Newton. If you are sitting there talking to the man whose name was later used for such a unit... how could he then possibly know how much 1 Newton is?! $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 4 '17 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ That's what I meant by language problem. One can of course do all of this mathematically, but I doubt he'll listen long enough for you define all your units and concept $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 4 '17 at 13:50

Absolutely not! if you built a smartphone with 1950s technology it would be the size of an aircraft hangar. You need the industrial infrastructure of the later 20th century and later to build a smartphone.

It isn't remotely possible, take Newton's gold and run back to your time machine as fast as possible. Remember Sir Isaac Newton was in charge of the Royal Mint and was response for having counterfeiters tortured for their crimes.

This answer supports the answer from @adaliabooks (who posted first and whose answer has more detail). So, remember to upvote his answer.

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    $\begingroup$ He also quite possibly drunk from their skulls. Learning that a belief persisted in the medicinal properties of drinking from a criminal's skull and Newton for all his importance to modern science was a strong believer in many things considered pseudoscience today only makes this suggestion worse because it underlines how likely it is to be true. $\endgroup$ – Jon Hanna Sep 4 '17 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JonHanna Drinking from the skulls of criminals, eh! There should be more of it. $\endgroup$ – a4android Sep 5 '17 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ Just wait until Dr. Oz, Gwyneth Paltrow or David Wolfe find a way to market it. $\endgroup$ – Jon Hanna Sep 5 '17 at 12:53


You lack the technology to do everything you need, like:

  • cast mono crystalline ingots of pure silicon
  • slicing and polishing with no defects such ingots into wafers
  • process these wafer with lithography, etching, ion implant
  • cut the processed wafers into chips
  • pack the chips

On top of this, most of the materials now used in microelectronics were not even discovered in those times. Where will you find Silicon dopants or specific materials like Indium and Gallium?

And that is just for electronic part. Then you need a charged battery, a casing, some sort of software to run on the device, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ Dopants - the classic ones are arsine and phosphine, and phosphorous was not isolated until 1669 (when Newton was 26), so they are (just barely) possible. However, in the real world arsine was only discovered in 1775, and phosphine in 1783, and Newton was long dead by then. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Sep 4 '17 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ You could cast pure ingots, if you knew exactly what you were doing, you couldn't do anything with them once you had them though. The bigger problem is that the base silicon for chips isn't pure it's doped at ratios you can't even measure in Newton's time. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 4 '17 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash, if you simply cast molten Silicon (regardless of purity) you are going to get a polycrystalline ingot, which is not suited for electronic applications. To grow a mono crystalline ingot you need to use far more advanced techniques. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 4 '17 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch It's not beyond 17th century technology, just beyond 17th century techniques, like I "if you knew exactly what you were doing" you could do it. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 4 '17 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash to measure crystal orientation one needs x-rays diffrattometry, which was not available back in Newton times. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 4 '17 at 18:30

So many issues so little time.

You could cast pure Silicon in the 1600s, if you knew exactly what you were doing but it would be... shall we be understated and say problematic.

You couldn't cut those ingots cleanly and precisely. You might be able to grind one or two waffers out of each ingot at incredible cost and waste. But you can't measure the dopants necessary to make semiconductors finely enough to get a workable product anyway so no chip waffers. That's not even getting into the acids and masks you'd need to etch and plate the circuits onto the blank.

Timeline, the defining feature of smartphones is the touchscreen you'd have to wait until 1863 for one of those, that's when the Indium you'd need for Indium-Tin Oxide was first isolated. But even for the basic chips you're looking at 1669, for the Phosphorus in the p-type semiconductors, and 1909 for the Boron you need to dope the n-type components with. Newton died in 1727.

So that's the stand out hardware issues, then there's software, my latest phone came with about 120 apps before I put anything on it, plus the firmware that provides the basic OS architecture to run them.


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