Law of Temporal Reverse-Engineering
Possession of a superior piece of tech from the future does not guarantee a higher technology level.
Needs Examples Better Name Up For Grabs

(permanent link) added: 2011-09-09 16:11:16 sponsor: HaruAxeman (last reply: 2013-01-21 12:07:21)

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Possession of a superior piece of tech does not necessarily guarantee a higher technology level.

Let's say you've received advanced technology because of time travel, and it's way in advance of your society's tech, be your current era a Medieval European Fantasy, the year 1632, or even modern times. Now at first glance, it would seem that the logical solution is to integrate this into the current society, which will revolutionize it almost immediately, resulting in great leaps and bounds for your society.

Erm, no. You're only about half right.

There's the problem of whether you'll be able to reverse-engineer it, considering how advanced it'll be. As an example, let's say a time traveller dies in Victorian London, and scientists working for the government conspire to take a look at his technology. They are utterly flummoxed though, as Victorian technology is based on moving parts. So a device like his control collar which is far in advance of modern (By which I mean the date this trope was submitted as YKTTW ) computer technology-anything using computer technology, really-would make no sense to them as they are at a level of technology that means they can barely comprehend our level of tech.

Almost always comes into play in ISOT stories, where the Fish Out of Temporal Water protagonists realize their current lifestyle and technological level is unsustainable because the people of the current time can't reproduce their tech. In that case, they will have to 'gear down' as the protagonists of 1632 call it. No scenarios not directly caused by time travel here, please, for that would lead to this trope bleeding into the Black Box.

Examples:
  • The 1632 series acknowledges this trope when protagonist Mike Stearns is quick to notice during an emergency council meeting that they cannot make more of most of their technologies, so they must 'gear down' as he puts it, and go back at least 150 years technologically to balance things out, resulting in the oil-fired power plant being fueled by steam. Currently, as a result of the 'gearing down' which prevents the Americans and Germans from relying on technology which few of them understand and fewer can repair, the setting is powered by steam but supported with technology from 2000 wherever appropriate.
  • As the series which provided the Victorian time-traveller example, (because 1632 was already referenced twice.) the utterly insane Type X alternate history (see the Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility) Burton and Swinburne series has this trope come into play. Originally, it was about Sir Richard Burton being hired to go find Springheel Jack and investigate reports of werewolves, by order of the Prime Minister in an alternate past caused by Queen Victoria's near-assassination by Edward Oxford actually being successful, which is dominated by the Technologists [hottip:*: who were inspired by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to build incredibly anachronistic but effective machines and breed animals to be used as transportation.]] and the Rakes[[hottip:*: A culture of The Unfettered.]]. Then it turns out Springheel Jack was actually a time travelling descendant of Edward Oxford who went back in time to prevent the assassination and slowly went completely insane as a result of all the time travel and possibly caused the assassination by driving his younger self insane (Time travel in this universe tends to drive people insane. For some reason.) and he was killed at the end of the first book. His time-travel apparatus, a suit made of millions of tiny batteries, and its control collar were secretly seized by the British Empire in spite of Springheel Jack's warnings to destroy it. Anyway, the control collar for the time-travel suit was shown to Burton in book 2, and the prime minister mentioned they could not figure it out because it used no moving parts. All for the best, really.
  • Lampshaded by a Japanese officer in the Weapons of Choice series, when he tells one of his superiors that for all of the advancement of the technology they get from the future, such as a sophisticated future iPad made of a flexible substance and powered by the user's body heat (Please don't ask me to explain how that works. I'm no scientist and I'm just the writer.) it is something of a useless gesture to reproduce or widely introduce because of how advanced it is.
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