Pulling The Plug


When I put together the two alien scenarios, I tried to keep them as simple and focused as possible so people wouldn’t go off on tangents or get distracted from the main point.

To do that, I either oversimplified or at times implicitly asked you to just accept that certain things were true.

I probably should have been more explicit about that.

For instance, I came up with a $25,000 price tag for this computer, and more than a few asked, “What would aliens want with our money?”

If this ever really happened, the probable answer is “raw materials not available in their neck of the woods.” Originally, the price tag was supposed to be a pound of gold.

Then I checked to see how much gold was around, and found out that even if every ounce of gold around today were used, it wouldn’t be enough to buy truly mass numbers of computers.

What would happen in the real world in that case would be the price of gold would skyrocket, and currently unprofitable means of extracting gold would come into use. There’s enough gold on Earth to buy all the computers we’d want; just not enough that we can get our hands on at around $300 a ounce.

Unfortunately, the explanation of a point not really germane to the story would then become longer than the story, so I just put in a dollar figure instead.

Others wanted to know the details of how an alien computer could figure out how illegal copying could go on.

Well, geez, folks, not like the aliens had landed and were looking over my shoulder as I was writing it. 🙂

Given the infrastructure, there’s actually a number of ways this could be done, none of which could be immediately adapted by terrestrial technology, so you’re safe for a while.

In the future, should I do this, I’ll tell you to presume and assume more explicitly than I did in these pieces.

We Want Your Women

This one probably was too much of a stretch for a lot of people. I won’t go this far again.

Nonetheless, it yielded a few interesting points.

This question polarized the respondents. About half said, “OK, no problem,” the other half were making plans to conquer them.

I tried to make these folks all sweetness and light, and here I really should have told folks to assume that their story checked out fine, but . . . .

I never knew Independence Day was a documentary. 🙂 Let me leave you with one thought: hijacking alien spacecraft and flying it around would make al Queda hijacking a Space Shuttle and doing the same thing look easy.

The one technically-relevant point many of those who answered brought up was the need to reverse-engineer the alien technology as quickly as possible, and there seemed to be a universal feeling that this wouldn’t be too big a deal.

I have some news for you.

Reverse engineering only works when you can comprehend the engineering, and then can produce it. The second is much harder than the first.

If you could take a current PIV machine and bring it back to Intel engineers circa 1990; they probably wouldn’t have much problem figuring out how it worked, but they’d have a hell of a time building new ones. That’s because the manufacturing technology would have to take a big leap. But, if the US Government wrote them a huge check, it probably would be doable.

If you took that PIV and brought it back to Intel engineers circa 1982, they’d have more of a problem figuring it out, but probably couldn’t duplicate it within a reasonable length of time, no matter how much money got thrown at it. You’d probably end up with a PIV in 1988 or 1990 as a result, but it would cost a lot, and there’s probably be a lot of failures in the process.

Bring that PIV back to the scientists working on the Manhattan Project, and they’d have a hell of a time even figuring it out. Given tons of time and effort, they’d probably could build some kind of CPU after a while, but it probably wouldn’t be as good as a 8088. Again, matters would move more quickly than they would otherwise, but no piece of cake.

How sure am I of this? I’m probably erring, but erring on the side of overoptimism based on the one historical case we do have.

When the microprocessor revolution began, the Soviet bloc decided to do just that: take Western CPU, reverse-engineer them, and produce their own.

After a time, they did manage to produce Soviet-bloc copies of the 6502 and 8088 generation CPUs, but most Soviet bloc PCs were still bought from the West. They had real problems copying the 80286, and I think they pretty much gave up after that (if you know otherwise, please write me; I’d personally love to know).

OK, maybe not the ideal reverse-engineerers, but it illustrates the problem. The Soviets certainly had more-than-competent computer scientists and their military systems worked well enough, but manufacturing microprocessors cheaply and efficiently was another matter.

I grant you my “alien computer” from a raw computing standard wasn’t millenia or even a whole lot ahead, but if we ever do run into a computer from an advanced alien society, trying to reverse-engineer that is likely to be like handing Ben Franklin a PIV and telling him to build another from scratch.


While many more people liked at least the first alien survey than disliked it, the complaint level was a good deal higher than usual.

Now if the complaint is “I didn’t come here to look at items like this all the time, or a lot,” or even “that was lousy work,” that’s understandable. No problem there.

What perturbed me was the sense that at least some of the complainers seemed to be thinking, “There has to be something wrong with anybody who approaches this subject a bit differently or with a little imagination.”

I think those folks need to take off the blinders and loosen up a bit. Really, it’s good for you.

Practically all the inventions and innovations that created this cyberworld came from people who got told the equivalent of “lay off the crack.”

This doesn’t mean that imagination equates to brilliance. One can be an imaginative idiot, too, look at Don Quixote. But to distrust all imagination and equate it with insanity is just lobotomizing yourself.

Yes, they put blinders on horses that get easily distracted to run a race. But then they take them off.

I suppose you can constrict yourself to a little tightly-defined room in our world, but why? For one thing, the world is still out there, and will blind-side you because you’ve so blinded yourself.

It’s like memorizing a single book and then burning down the library. I suppose that keeps you focused on the book, but it’s hardly enlightening or makes you smarter.

Think about it.


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