This morning (4.28.2016 is what this text is dated, which seems I’ve never published), I had an interesting thought experiment on reverse engineering and archaeology. Consider the scenario where an alien comes to Earth in ancient history and leaves a laptop behind with a wealth of knowledge on it. Say, some buffalo hunting North American natives find it. What could they discern from it, if the battery was completely discharged?

They would probably figure out it can be flipped open.

They would not be able to plug it in because:

1.) they’d have no knowledge of electricity

2.) they’d have no infrastructure to generate it

3.) they’d have no plug to connect the laptop to charge

4.) there’d be no infrastructure to charge it

5.) there’d be no internet

6.) there’d be no WiFi

Without power, the laptop wouldn’t work. Without internet and WiFi infrastructure, much of its functionality would be unknowable.

The discoverers would be unable to tell, what the device is for or that the screen displays colorful moving images.

They could try to figure out the keyboard, but they’d have a hard time doing it, as their own writing is nothing like English, if they had any writing at all. Nor would they have known what the letters, numbers or the symbols on the keyboard mean. Putting those into words would be even more unlikely.

No slot for external connection could be used, as there’d be nothing to plug into the laptop. No laser disc to play, no memory cards to slide in, no external devices to plug in.

What could the Indians figure out? What could they reverse engineer? Would they be able to tell the laptop’s purpose?! How much scientific knowledge and technological capability would be needed for them to beging to understand the function of the device.

At what point in the future would they be able to access its contents and learn to use the programming and gain insight from the data on the laptop?

Decades? Centuries?

Archaeology works in reverse. We know how civilization progressed, even dead ends leave a wealth of information; puzzles that can be put together, from which a picture emerges that allows us to understand the purpose of artifacts. Because we have all the technology, that has been developed by humans, we can identify objects quite easily and compare them with modern existing ones as to their purpose. A spear is rather straightforward, so is a pot, a knife or an article of clothing.

Now let us consider that Roswell incident was real and left viable debris to be examined. Let us assume that some of it was functional. Is our scientific understanding of the world sufficient, to be able to discern the purpose any such device? Could we gain access and reverse engineer alien technology? Would humans who cannot travel between the stars, be akin to the hypothetical nomadic Native Americans stumped by a laptop?

First contact may have already occurred, but no relations between Earth’s and an extraterrestrial civilization are openly established. Communication will be difficult. Transfer of technological know-how, even more so.