Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
Moppy
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Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Moppy » Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:05 pm

A recent thread made me decide to categorise this.

(1) We can do it (maybe for some time) but never thought of it.

  • The ancient Romans had polyhedral dice and writing. They could have invented roleplaying games. Why did it take until 1970 for Dungeons & Dragons?
  • Similarly, Romans and Egyptians could have fashioned the parts for a low quality bicycle. Wikipedia has the first bicycle in 1817.
This leads me to believe there's a lot of stuff we could have today if only someone has a bright idea. This is both annoying and awesome.

The classic simple machines are the lever, wheel & axle, pulley, inclined plane, wedge and screw. Is there an undiscovered one?

(2) We can't do it today, but it should be here soon. Maybe it's just too expensive, or needs the next generation of tech evolution, or needs us to make a fundamental change in society.

  • Supersonic business jet is clearly possible, but utterly un-economical.
  • Some people would put self-driving cars here, as they feel they're close. It might even be possible today if we switched to central traffic control and designated pedestrian crossings, and didn't let humans drive at all.
(3) It needs new breakthroughs, but should not be impossible for "advanced aliens" or future humans.

  • Full AI, as in synthetic intelligences, are in this category for anyone who doesn't believe that consciousness comes from the Divine.
  • I put anti-gravity here because of the current contradtion between relativty and quantum mechanics. We're clearly missing the theory that connects the two and there's a lot of scope for new physics in this area.
(4) It's possible in theory, but probably unfeasible for anyone.

  • Building a galactic dyson sphere? That requires so much time, material and energy that anyone who can do this probably needs #5. It becomes hard to make predictions at this level.
(5) It's impossible for everyone because it violates a fundamental law. If it becomes possible through new knowledge, then the laws we have now need to thrown away and all predictions of what is isn't possible need to be reviewed.

  • Faster than light travel. If this ever works, then all of modern physics goes in the bin. We can open the Unicorn pen and let them out to play.
  • EDIT: Violation of the second law of thermodynamics. The total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease. I personally think this is the single most unlikely thing to proven wrong and the best example of type #5. (After feedback by "Old School")
Last edited by Moppy on Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Old School
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Old School » Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:23 pm

The only caveat I would submit to putting FTL in category 5 is wormholes. They are theoretical, but to my (limited) knowledge, do not violate fundamental laws of physics as we understand them today.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Moppy » Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:34 pm

Old School wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:23 pm
The only caveat I would submit to putting FTL in category 5 is wormholes. They are theoretical, but to my (limited) knowledge, do not violate fundamental laws of physics as we understand them today.
While wormholes are permitted under general relativity, no-one can explain how they don't cause backwards time travel via special relativity, and then we have a bunch of time travel paradoxes to deal with.

I would put forth "violation of 2nd law of thermodynamics" as probably a better example and will edit that in. Thanks for mentioning this.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby AnotherDilbert » Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:37 pm

Moppy wrote:
  • Supersonic business jet is clearly possible, but utterly un-economical.
This should perhaps be another category: We know how to do it, but it takes too much effort or energy. This does not mean that it's coming soon.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby AndrewW » Fri Feb 08, 2019 6:26 pm

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:37 pm
Moppy wrote:
  • Supersonic business jet is clearly possible, but utterly un-economical.
This should perhaps be another category: We know how to do it, but it takes too much effort or energy. This does not mean that it's coming soon.
Maybe skip those and just go straight to sub orbital.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby dragoner » Fri Feb 08, 2019 7:57 pm

Moppy wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:34 pm
Old School wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:23 pm
The only caveat I would submit to putting FTL in category 5 is wormholes. They are theoretical, but to my (limited) knowledge, do not violate fundamental laws of physics as we understand them today.
While wormholes are permitted under general relativity, no-one can explain how they don't cause backwards time travel via special relativity, and then we have a bunch of time travel paradoxes to deal with.
Thorne and Ellis explain it is because it is a non-local event, eg nothing is exceeding c.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby phavoc » Fri Feb 08, 2019 10:42 pm

There are other tangental issues related to this. Entertainment for Romans was different than it is for us today. Plus the amount of leisure time we have far exceeds theirs (and little things like paper for character sheets...). I dunno about the bicycle things. Not sure riding on some of those streets would be a good thing or not.

Ideas, after the fact, may seem simple, but until someone figures it out for the first time, it seems like the momentous breakthrough that it really is.

Tech is a little different. We've seen a giant technological leap in China where in the span of a few decades have rapidly industrialized their nation with high speed rail, maglev, and many architectural wonders. But none of the technology was invented by them, they just were able to make use of it. In some of those areas they are still neophytes because they need a much broader understanding. In others they are at the same level as the people who invented it.

Then there are the twin issues of cost and adaptation. Sure, we could have more supersonic jets flying around the world today, container ships that travel at 35 knots. We have the tech, but we don't do it because of cost. Maybe a better example would be cruise ships. Around the turn of the 20th century we had cruise ships that routinely did 25kts, and within a few decades a speed of 30+ knots was the norm for the great transatlantic lines. Today we have cruise ships that do around 20kts, with top speeds of 25kts, but the ships are twice, or more, the size of liners of the golden days of shipping. Why? Because the cruise liners today are more concerned with cost and the passengers more concerned with fun, not speed.

In many ways our move into space is the same. We started it for political reasons, and when money was no object humanity did some amazing things in a short period of time. Then cost set in and we poked along (plus, let's be honest, it was far more profitable to do it the old way). Now we have disrupters who threaten the status quo and are working to get launch costs way down. If they succeed we might see a new race to space. But without something pushing us it looks like cost will remain the ultimate arbiter of whether or not we change rapidly or change at a slow pace.

As to the impossible, well, we'll have to see how that works out. Maybe the laws remain intact but someone finds a backdoor, or a shortcut of sorts. Science can be like that.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Moppy » Sat Feb 09, 2019 12:59 am

China does invent, but it's specialised engineering stuff that doesn't make headlines. Newspapers care about a new iPhone - but not about a new process engineering technique for electronics factories, or a new KBBF laser crystal.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Condottiere » Sat Feb 09, 2019 4:44 am

Refine and innovate, not necessarily invent.

Intellectual property is considered public domain.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Moppy » Sat Feb 09, 2019 6:07 am

Any new device or process is an invention.

The Chinese regard their stationless vehicle hire as a genuine radical breakthrough. Using this system vehicles can be picked up and left anywhere, with the app locating nearby units. I believe the company moves them around in the event they get into inconvenient locations.

China respects its own IP. Thry're quite annoyed about western imperialism in the colonial era, edoecially Hong Kong. Imagine if the Chinese had come over in the 1800s and invaded Manhatten Island, keeping it until 1999. I'm not saying it's right, but I can see why they're very upset. I consider myself neutral in this, and just want everyone to stop fighting.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby AnotherDilbert » Sat Feb 09, 2019 10:32 am

AndrewW wrote:
Moppy wrote:
  • Supersonic business jet is clearly possible, but utterly un-economical.
...
Maybe skip those and just go straight to sub orbital.
That would be utterly cool, but I suspect it would be even more uneconomical.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Sigtrygg » Sat Feb 09, 2019 11:34 am

How many true scientific/technological/engineering paradigm shifting discoveries have there been in human history?

Fire - gives us thermal decomposition and eventually metal smelting
Simple machines - wheel etc.
Steam engines
Electricity
Electromagnetic spectrum
Atomic theory - quantum mechanics (we have to consider general relativity)

What is there to come, what is the physics yet to be discovered. and what engineering will come out of it?
The true nature of dark energy and dark matter if they actually exist rather than being a convenient explanation of observations;
a unification of the fundamental interactions including gravity - assuming that this is possible and that chasing the dogma of unification hasn't been a nearly century long wild goose chase;
black hole maths/physics - nature builds black holes, our maths and physics finds it hard to cope, therefore our maths and physics is at fault not nature
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby AnotherDilbert » Sat Feb 09, 2019 12:36 pm

Sigtrygg wrote: How many true scientific/technological/engineering paradigm shifting discoveries have there been in human history?
That is entirely focussed on Physics.

Let's not forget (from the top of my head):

Biology:
Agriculture
Domestication of animals
Yeast (bread, beer, wine)
Genetics

Chemistry (predicated on Fire):
Cooking (wider sources of food, facilitates food storage)
Gunpowder (questionable, but transformed at least European society)
Coal, Oil, Natural gas (without which no industrial revolution, and we would all freeze [or sweat] in the dark.

Philosophy:
Science itself

Sigtrygg wrote: What is there to come, what is the physics yet to be discovered. and what engineering will come out of it?
Likely something we did not expect, as usual.

In the medium term I guess genetics, or perhaps hacking the mind and its interfaces, has the potential for biggest change for humanity. But that has been the conventional guess for decades, and failed to materialise.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Linwood » Sat Feb 09, 2019 2:53 pm

The Babbage engine might be another Rule #1 example. Maybe a lot of steampunk fits Rule #1 or #2.

Asteroid mining and orbital agriculture/manufacturing habitats probably fit Rule #2.

Cryosleep definitely feels like Rule#3.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby baithammer » Sat Feb 09, 2019 11:22 pm

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Sat Feb 09, 2019 10:32 am
AndrewW wrote:
Moppy wrote:
  • Supersonic business jet is clearly possible, but utterly un-economical.
...
Maybe skip those and just go straight to sub orbital.
That would be utterly cool, but I suspect it would be even more uneconomical.
We had them, called the Concorde.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concorde
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Moppy » Sun Feb 10, 2019 1:10 am

baithammer wrote:
Sat Feb 09, 2019 11:22 pm
Supersonic business jet is clearly possible, but utterly un-economical.
We had them, called the Concorde.
Although the cut-off point is arbitrary, business jet means "small private jet".
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Condottiere » Sun Feb 10, 2019 1:08 pm

It's categorized as such, since I think the primary users are corporations, or are chartered by corporations.

The military have also adapted some of them as communications, surveillance, and I think ambulance aircraft.

I think the Iraqis may have also reconstructed one as a missile platform.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Moppy » Sun Feb 10, 2019 1:41 pm

Condottiere wrote:
Sun Feb 10, 2019 1:08 pm
It's categorized as such, since I think the primary users are corporations, or are chartered by corporations.

The military have also adapted some of them as communications, surveillance, and I think ambulance aircraft.

I think the Iraqis may have also reconstructed one as a missile platform.
It's going to be majority corporate because even if you wanted one for personal use, founding a corporation to own/lease and operate it is much more convenient. You get various tax benefits and the ability to charter it out when you aren't using it. Leasing is particularly common, for avoiding depreciation.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby phavoc » Sun Feb 10, 2019 9:25 pm

Moppy wrote:
Sun Feb 10, 2019 1:41 pm
It's going to be majority corporate because even if you wanted one for personal use, founding a corporation to own/lease and operate it is much more convenient. You get various tax benefits and the ability to charter it out when you aren't using it. Leasing is particularly common, for avoiding depreciation.
It really depends on the user. Most people spending $60 million on a plane value the ability to fly whenever and wherever they want more than taxes (though they like money, too, so some accountant somewhere is looking to minimize their tax liability someway). Those people don't want to wait on a charter, or worse, the possibility they have to (gasp!) plan ahead.

Taxes and such are going to depend upon what country the plane is legally owned in. Offshore registration of your plane works like it does for ships. So places like the Isle of Man do a big business in being the legal home base for aircraft that may never touch down there. I'm sure if you dig deep enough there are other issues lurking in that sort of thing.
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Re: Future TLs, or different types of "impossible" in scifi

Postby Condottiere » Mon Feb 11, 2019 6:46 pm

This doesn't apply to all airlines, but from what I've seen of some Business and upwards accommodations on some passenger planes, the jet set have nothing to complain about, and point to point connections is the current business model.

Some people just don't like queuing and crowds, and can afford to indulge themselves; for others, time is the factor.

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