How would you take over Rome?

post by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2012-03-14T16:24:05.699Z · score: 37 (31 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 203 comments

A recent discussion post has compared the difficulty of an AI destroying modern human civilization to that of a modern human taking over the Roman Empire, with the implication that it is impossible.

The analogy has a few problems: first, modern humans don't have much greater raw intelligence than the Romans, only a bit more knowledge and tools; an AI would have a genuine intelligence advantage. Second, a high-tech civilization like ours offers many more ways for a genius to cause chaos than existed in classical Rome: it's more plausible that you can throw a few existing technologies together to create a superweapon than that Ptolemy could have done likewise, and there's no ancient Roman equivalent to hacking a nuclear launch system.

But taking over ancient Rome might serve as an interesting upper bound on the difficulty of an AI taking over modern civilization. And it's a theme of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality that rationalists should be able to come up with creative solutions to seemingly hard problems. So if Professor Quirrell offered it as an extra credit assignment, how would you take over Rome?

Here are the rules:

- You are thrown back in time to the year 1 AD. You can choose to arrive anywhere in the world, but your method of arrival cannot itself give an advantage (you can't appear in a flash of light in the middle of a religious ritual or anything).

- You do not start with Roman citizenship or any other legal record of your existence.

- You keep your original physical characteristics, including sex, height, and fitness. You will appear in period-appropriate dress of your choosing, and can't carry any artifacts with you. You may start with enough money to live a patrician lifestyle for a year.

- You are intellectually near-perfect. You know all human knowledge as of 2012. You speak fluent Latin (and all other languages of the day) and can orate as eloquently as Cicero or Demosthenes. You are a tactical genius of the order of Caesar and Napoleon. And you have infinite willpower and goal-directedness: aside from human necessities like sleep or food, you need never rest.

- You win if you either become Roman Emperor (and are acknowledged as such by most Romans), or if a state you control conquers the city of Rome. You lose if you die, of old age or otherwise, before completing either goal.

203 comments

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comment by Vaniver · 2012-03-14T21:20:41.090Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Rome? Why Rome? I arrive in China, attempt to ingratiate myself with the Han court. (I would be a white man, but would have full knowledge of Chinese and be an immaculate Confucian scholar. Hopefully that would be enough to get me close to the Imperial court, if just as an oddity.)

Somewhere in AD 2-5, the Yellow River changes course, causing massive suffering and discontent. I will have been predicting this since my arrival, as well as working tirelessly to reduce the damage done when things change. (Probably also betting heavily that it will happen.)

A major plot goes down in AD 3- the regent's son plots against the regent, with the regent winning. Ideally, I can use my foreknowledge of that plot to get a position of influence.

(If I can get there a year or two earlier, it's plausible that I could, by foreknowledge of astronomical and meteorological events, inventions, and knowledge of Confucianism, position myself to be the regent rather than Wang Mang.)

Once power is secured, economic and military technology is next. Rather than Wang Mang's unhelpful reforms, use the best of modern science to push forward the economy in every direction. Create an institute of naval architecture, and design ships capable of sailing to Rome; begin the creation of cannons; create outposts throughout the country that communicate by semaphore. The increased communication should make it easy to put down revolts (as well as knowing who will revolt, and why, anyway- ideally revolts can be stopped before they begin by solving their problems.) Implement the civil service exam a few centuries early.

The first campaign is against the valuable islands in Indochina, like the Moluccas. Outposts are established along the coasts of the Indian Ocean, giving me a massive naval presence. A eunuch Order of Navigators is taught the secrets of navigation, enforcing naval discipline as was done by the British Empire. Eventually, I'll have built up a significant naval fleet, supply line, and trading empire- which is topped off by sailing into the Mediterranean, and offering the Senate fabulous riches in spice, silk, and silver if they elect me Emperor of Rome. (If they refuse, starve the city by seizing control of the Mediterranean, cutting off grain from Egypt, offering amnesty and trade to any cities that align themselves with me rather than Rome.)

Then, focus on scientific development- start a eugenic breeding program, as well as collecting the best and brightest of several continents to a place chosen for its healthy climate and (hopefully) close location to Chinese or Roman power centers. Occupy the most ambitious by directing them to conquer nearby countries, giving them significant autonomy if they succeed (so long as they follow a few rules, mostly allowing me to hire away clever people).

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-15T05:16:01.248Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As much as I hate this thought experiment, I will upvote you for subverting the classical Han dynasty -- and for implementing the civil service exam a few centuries early. Hopefully under you it won't turn into a sham so quickly.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-15T01:29:07.387Z · score: 25 (31 votes) · LW · GW
  • Step 1: Purchase a plantation in the Spanish province (A traditional harvesting grounds for recruiting of soldiers. Few citizens, mostly considered 'backwater' at the time.)

  • Step 2: Introduce the horse-collar, the plow, 'terra preta' (tilling of charcoal), fertilizer (easiest in this case: baked pig manure), insecticide, pennicillin, and wind-mill-powered pumped irrigation. These things together will result in massive harvests at low costs. They will also ensure that my peasants' children don't die, and are well-fed. My wealth will after one or two years of this expand massively. The absence of disease will also enable me to convince the local population that I am favored of the gods.

  • Step 3a: Utilize newfound wealth and the introduction of the pulley, the A-Frame, and the leaf-spring to build a fleet of Conastoga wagons for transport of crops and local goods at faster rates than anyone else could accomplish. Additionally introduce the water screw and associate it with the aeolipile (already-existing but unutilized historically) for water transport. Introduce distilling for alcohol (another trade good) and also for methalization of olive oil for biodiesel for fuel for simple steam-turbine engines (aeolipile --> low-efficiency turbine pretty easily). These will then be the power-train for both Conastogas and for boats, again increasing mobility of my products.

  • Step 3b. Reinvent the Girandoni air rifle. Work with metalsmiths under my control to do so. These rifles are 20-shot .46-caliber air-powered rifles first used for military applications in the 1780's. While technically difficult to create, the metalsmiths of Rome could accomplish this. These smiths would be kept under death-watch; 24/7 watch of guards dedicated to keeping the secret by killing any smith who was about to be captured or defected. Said smiths will otherwise be granted lives of utter luxury. Equip motorized Conastogas w/ flame throwers. Recruit/conscript local peasantry into service in newly minted mobilized infantry.

  • Step 3c. Aeolipile/turbine biodiesel engines provide sufficient weight/power ratio for ultralight aircraft. Constructing a small core of these and training young-teen pilots will enable scouting profiles unlike that of any people to have come before. These will not, however, be available until the third or fourth year, as building the frames will require bamboo grown from imported plants. (Some variety of phyllostachys, likely.) Amongst their other purposes, the bamboo shoots will be used to construct lightweight frames for ultralight craft. Coupled with simple radios, these would prove invaluable for distribution and acquisition of information. Between the mobilized infantry and ultralight air superiority, even a small force -- say, four groups of ten wagons w/ twenty soldiers each, and five ultralights -- would be an equal match to a single Roman legion despite being outnumbered several times over. (less than a thousand men vs. 11,000-16,000 men.) (Logistics are also an issue. But it's relatively easy to beat that problem just by using blown-glass bottles and corking them while boiling.)

This lets my troops move faster and strike harder than any unit of traditional troops -- several times over.

  • Step 4. Expanding my scope of influence. Establishing myself as a military force to be reckoned with, I will position myself for further trade for economic expansion before initiating aggressive hostilities. ( I want to wait until the Emperor's people make the first move to 'suppress' me so when I come as a conqueror I have a plausible excuse; I was simply 'defending' myself against a mad emperor.) In so doing, I will introduce arabic numerals and double-entry book-keeping. This will enable me to engage in fractional-reserve banking and begin moneylending to foreign persons, thereby expanding my own wealth and influence. I will further develop a telegraph system to permit communication amongst disparate parties (and distract from the existence/use of radios, whose crafting will also be another 'secret of the gods', similar to the making of the rifles. Unlike the rifles, the radios will be far easier to be stolen. Need to plan ahead for encrypted communications.) Abaci, too, will be introduced for accountants.

At this point it is four to five years into "the plan". I now own a massive swath of plantations, each of which are producing yields at unheard of rates. I will have introduced greenhouse farming for things like strawberries or rice for sustained harvests as well. My fleets of motorized wagons and steam-boats will be making an expanding circuit of influence. The peasants under my care will be practically immune to disease (vaccination and antibiotics.) -- an intentional campaign of propaganda (this will require introduction of the printing press and advances in grammar such as punctuation and word spacing [ !! ], as well as use of radios w/ loudspeakers for 'town-square addresses'. ) will ensure that the people are suitably convinced that this is because I am the favored son of Vulcan, god of the forge. My troops will be invincible, and terrifying. (Ultralights could also be used to deliver non-inconsequential quantities of 'greek fire' (gelatinized biodiesel in this case) to ensure that enemy fortifications are essentially indefensible. This will spread fear and further reinforce the Vulcan-myth; I harness fire to move vehicles through the very air itself, and rain fire down from above.)

Years six through ten depend on unforseen variables for whether there will be protracted suppression of luddites and conservatives, or if my reputation precedes me sufficiently that Rome begs me to induct her into my Constitutional Republic of Aligned City-States.

Years 6+ will also involve the introduction of schools for training the children of regions in my control in basic rationality arts; skepticism, falsificationism, logic, mathematics, etc., etc.. They will also introduce further socioeconomic and technical advances that require a more advanced base than 0-year Rome possessed. These include factories, vacuum tubes (and through them early-tech varieties of computers), birth control and other forms of concerns for quality-of-life, and various forms of chemistry and so on.

Here's why nowhere above did I mention gunpowder: it's too easily stolen a technological advantage, and explosives in combat are too effective at reducing the advantage of disparity in technological gaps. One guy on horseback w/ a tube-launched gunpowder rocket could maul a Conastoga wagon; one hundred men with such weapons would eliminate the combat-efficacy of my above mobilized infantry. Mortars would be even worse. The same goes for the ultralights; they are defenseless against massed gunfire, AA weapons like rockets, and the like.

However -- knowing this myself, I can keep that in reserve for the second-generation of technological-advantage combat revolution. Motorized bicycles or bronze-plated half-tread conastogas require more technical prowess initially but make for just as effective a force, especially if they too are using light cannon, rockets/mortars, and the like. Ultralights equipped with unguided mass-fire rockets are less valuable but after 6-10 years would be more expendable. And their value can be expanded through use of dirigibles as carriers. (Extended range plus heavier craft w/ more-powerful motors.)

Through a careful management of new agricultural, medical, economic, industrial, and military technologies as above, conquering Rome would be easily achievable within 5-10 years at the absolute most.

If one wishes to gamble more, one year would be the minimum necessary to assemble an elite corps of four hundred Girardoni air-rifle troops (coil-spring-driven boltguns would make clumsy but effective pistols for close-range combat in a pinch) riding motorized Conastogas equipped w/ flamethrowers, assuming we acted piratically, canniballizing a few small towns in the countryside to sustain ourselves through the build-up period. These would then be used to launch a Hannibal-esque strike upon Rome itself, designed to assassinate the Emperor and place myself upon the throne.

EDIT: I just realized that it's possible to hand-solder transistors from raw materials (As well as capacitors and other similar parts). This means that it is possible to create electronic components using Roman-era tools to build the tools necessary to assemble said electronics. While they wouldn't be up to snuff for modern designs, they would certainly be sufficient for crude robotics. Including 'rapid' prototypers. I was already failing to fully utilize my time during the aggri-business expansion (year 1) -- this would adjust for that. I could build machines to handle much of the industrial bootstrap up. (Gun manufacture in particular.) I wouldn't even need blacksmiths for the guns or turbine-engines. Sintering, casting, and assembler-bots would be capable of producing the equipment as needed. (As was also noted to me by another person; clockwork automata can achieve complex if stereotyped patterns of behavior up to and including fine manual dexterity actions like uncorking and pouring bottles of wine. The industrial applications of this are immense. I wouldn't even need gunsmiths or engine-smiths; I could instead automate the nearly entire process.)

comment by fezziwig · 2012-03-15T04:42:06.522Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for detail and thoroughness, but I think you're depending too much on the naivete of the natives. Step 3b is especially problematic; even if your guards are too loyal to sell you out (why?), you can't conceal that you're doing something in secret with a pack of metalsmiths. Just the fact that it's a secret will be enough to get the provincial governor's attention. That's probably not the end: he may well be an incompetent ditherer, or venal enough to take bribes. But as soon as you start training your infantry, the clock starts: the emperor sends an envoy ordering you to turn over your new weapons, you refuse, you're ordered to appear before a Roman court, you refuse, you're declared to be in rebellion, and it's on.

I think your one-year gamble is probably the better strategy for becoming emperor - maybe the best one, or close to it. Certainly the fastest. Surviving the next year would be tricky, though.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-15T05:32:02.854Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Step 3b is especially problematic; even if your guards are too loyal to sell you out (why?), you can't conceal that you're doing something in secret with a pack of metalsmiths.

I'm only concerned about the technological prowess, not knowledge of its existence. I want to maintain my technological advantage. The guards can't convey information they themselves lack; and I'd make sure the job was lucrative enough.

But as soon as you start training your infantry, the clock starts: the emperor sends an envoy ordering you to turn over your new weapons, you refuse, you're ordered to appear before a Roman court, you refuse, you're declared to be in rebellion, and it's on.

Well -- plantation owners were allowed to maintain their own household troops (within reason) -- and I'd have fewer than a thousand such. It'd be pretty easy to hide the total number of individuals involved; especially since the efficacy of my troops would be totally inconceivable. Careful bribery of provincial leaders and arguments/justifications involving guarding my own wagons, keeping troops always on the move to make them less apparent.

Also -- I'm expecting to face charges of rebellion; they are an integral part of the plan. It would be best if they didn't come until somewhere between three and four years in. It's important to recognize that the usual response to 'wild' stories of 'incredible' weapons is skepticism. There's very strong odds that the initial inquiries/investigations would simply not recognize the scale/scope of the threat involved. But you are quite right; additional maskirovka should probably be involved to ensure that the total number of troops being trained is vastly under-reported. The usefulness of the weapons should also be down-played. It would be very easy (use clay bullets, undercharge the guns) to make it appear that they are only useful against poorly-armored highway robbers. That would stave off 'official' inquiries quite well.

Surviving the next year would be tricky, though.

The Romans as a culture placed a lot of stock in the notion that victory in combat represented worthiness as a person. You can coast pretty far on such a victory. Capitalizing on it would be tricky -- how does one guarantee the loyalty of a personal elite guard?

comment by fezziwig · 2012-03-15T18:49:19.629Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, ok; you have more scope for camouflage than I appreciated at first. It will eventually become obvious that you're training an army (you'll have to train them to fight in formation, and volley, and things like that), but when the provincial governor shows up wanting to know what you plan to do with it, you might well be able to get away with saying "I'm planning to conquer Rome and install myself as emperor, and if you go along with it I'll find you a nice fat province in the East to be governor of". And if that doesn't work, well, you probably can win a long campaign, it's just really messy.

The Romans as a culture placed a lot of stock in the notion that victory in combat represented worthiness as a person.

Indeed, but that doesn't mean they'll stop fighting you. Consider Cannae: most states would have sued for peace after so brutal an upset. Same deal after Arausio; the Romans were as proud and stiff-necked a people as have ever existed, China and America by no means excepted.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-15T20:55:32.931Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

(you'll have to train them to fight in formation, and volley, and things like that),

I'm planning on 20-man units, using modern infantry tactics (not much in the way of volleyed fire, nor pretty much anything in the way of formation firing). Also, air guns are quiet. So these aren't really much of an issue.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-15T19:54:51.408Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I really like your plan from the technological point of view, but I think that it has some flaws in the sociopolitical department.

Right off the bat, you propose buying a plantation, but those things are pretty expensive. Where will you get the money ?

The core of your plan is to develop, and maintain a monopoly on, technological superiority: in agriculture, construction, and warfare. Unfortunately, your technological advances must be incremental, by necessity -- you can't go from zero to digital computers, nor are you trying to do so. But this means that your technologies will be comprehensible to a well-educated Roman. This practically ensures that your competitive advantage will be stolen by your rivals very quickly. You avoid gunpowder for this very reason, but is it really that much harder to steal pulleys ?

You attempt to get around this with your death-watch guards, but who death-watches the death-watchers ? If I told one of your guards, "nine out of ten gods agree, you should allow me to sneak in one of my smiths to talk to one of your smiths, and BTW here's a purse containing MXXIV gold pieces with your name on it", what motivates the guard to refuse ? And what about all of your agricultural innovations -- will you watch every peasant ?

In addition, your timetable is too aggressive. You're proposing to move from horse-plows to powered flight in less than five years. But building an ultralight aircraft, or a fuel refinery, or even a Conastoga wagon, is a lot harder in reality than it looks on paper. Mere abstract knowledge is not enough; you also need raw resources, experience, and training. Merely training your smiths (who, according to the scenario's setup, lack your intelligence as well as your education) might take a couple years in and of itself.

I believe you also underestimate the social inertia involved. We have trouble with "skepticism, falsificationism, logic, mathematics" and birth control even today; what makes you think that you'll be any more successful in these endeavours in the pre-Enlightenment Rome ? That "I am the chosen of Vulcan" gambit can only get you so far, and might in fact backfire, because priests tend to take exception to their power structures being disrupted.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-15T21:15:55.108Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Right off the bat, you propose buying a plantation, but those things are pretty expensive. Where will you get the money ?

We were granted "enough money to live as a patrician for a year". I made an assumption about what that meant, since in those days all wealth beyond jewelry was in the form of real property (land) anyhow. Agriculturally Spain was traditionally relatively crappy. Land would be cheap and plentiful because it wouldn't be seen as a viable resource for crop harvesting. (I'd only be able to pull it off because of modern agricultural knowledge.)

You attempt to get around this with your death-watch guards, but who death-watches the death-watchers ? If I told one of your guards, "nine out of ten gods agree, you should allow me to sneak in one of my smiths to talk to one of your smiths, and BTW here's a purse containing MXXIV gold pieces with your name on it", what motivates the guard to refuse ?

Nothing. Well, except that I'd be rotating the guards and so on. Plus; nobody would want what they were selling, at least for the first few years. And by then it really wouldn't much matter -- I'd already have the ramp-up I needed to maintain first-mover advantage. If "the secret" got out... they'd get girardoni air rifles. I would then simply move on to bootstrapping again w/ explosive weapons and revise the tactical rulebook on the generals of the day all over again.

It takes, remember, FAR longer to retrain already-trained soldiers to use new tactics, and they tend to be socially conservative about even wanting to do so. Two total revolutions of military tactics in a ten year window? It would take an genius just to stay competent. (And such rare individuals are very susceptible to assassination. A problem I would also face.)

This practically ensures that your competitive advantage will be stolen by your rivals very quickly. You avoid gunpowder for this very reason, but is it really that much harder to steal pulleys ?

Individually I fully-well expect a number of the techs to be stolen relatively early on. I'm alright with that, actually. A first-mover advantage traditionally lasts about five years. That's also one additional reason why I'd chosen a "backwater" or "rural" area to bootstrap in: there will be far fewer 'educated' men to deal with, and I will be able to ramp up -- initially -- in relative isolation. So while I'm bootstrapping up; they must A) discover my bootstrapping, B) uncover the methods used, C) adopt them for themselves. Each of these individually takes time.

Horse collars, pulleys, and a-frames are all individually relatively low-hanging fruit. The leaf-springs necessary for conastoga wagons are far less so. The technical know-how to construct a working turbine engine to proper tolerances is even moreso.

Merely training your smiths (who, according to the scenario's setup, lack your intelligence as well as your education) might take a couple years in and of itself.

A few months per project at most. Task specialization would be used. As would cast-forging and other modern industrial techniques. Metal lathes, apprentices, and so on. Figure also that I'd only have to train three or four such people, over the course of a few months (to each specific project) -- and they in turn could also retrain others. Use of casting would also increase their productivity. I wouldn't need very much.

As to the raw resources; that's why I focused so much on trade.

I believe you also underestimate the social inertia involved.

I was counting on it being extreme. Otherwise, my technological advantage would be far, FAR harder to maintain. The schools -- the part where I mentioned '"skepticism, falsificationism, logic, mathematics" and birth control' -- are not vital or even very contributive to the plan as described.

what makes you think that you'll be any more successful in these endeavors in the pre-Enlightenment Rome ?

Nothing, really. But at least the civilization would have an 1800 year jump-start on making it work out. (Plus, we got many of those ideas from classical -- traditional grecoroman -- thought anyhow.)

That "I am the chosen of Vulcan" gambit can only get you so far, and might in fact backfire, because priests tend to take exception to their power structures being disrupted.

Cults and mystery cults were a dime a dozen in those days. If I didn't have my own I'd be looked upon strangely, and disadvantaged politically. Also, I wouldn't be interfering with the power structure of any other religious group, so that's pretty much a total non-concern.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-15T23:17:26.324Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Land would be cheap and plentiful because it wouldn't be seen as a viable resource for crop harvesting.

Wait... where else would they harvest crops, if not on land ? They don't have hydroponics...

That said, it's entirely possible that I overestimated the value of land as compared to a patrician's salary, so you could have a point.

Nothing. Well, except that I'd be rotating the guards and so on.

That's just a recipe for more leaks, IMO.

Plus; nobody would want what they were selling, at least for the first few years. And by then it really wouldn't much matter -- I'd already have the ramp-up I needed to maintain first-mover advantage.

I think your timetable is at odds with your secrecy requirements. If you truly became wildly successful in just a few short years, as is your plan, then everyone would want what you have. Sure, many people would look for the secret magical golden apple that you stole from the Titans or something, but a few smarter ones would come after your peasants, artisans, middle-managers, household slaves, and anyone else who could have knowledge about your operation.

That's also one additional reason why I'd chosen a "backwater" or "rural" area to bootstrap in: there will be far fewer 'educated' men to deal with, and I will be able to ramp up -- initially -- in relative isolation.

Again, this strategy is at odds with your aggressive goals. Sure, you'll see a lot less industrial espionage, but you'll also have a much smaller pool of skilled, mentally flexible artisans to draw upon. Speaking of which:

A few months per project at most. Task specialization would be used.

This claim sounds extraordinary to me. It has been my personal experience (which, admittedly, is entirely anecdotal) that, in the modern world, training a fresh computer science graduate to become moderately productive on a real software project takes about a month; I recall reading somewhere that one to three months is the common figure. And that's just a CS graduate being trained to do what he studied for ! You are proposing to introduce entirely new concepts during the same period of time, in order to build complex (and expensive) physical objects, not software constructs. I think you'll need more time.

The schools -- the part where I mentioned '"skepticism, falsificationism, logic, mathematics" and birth control' -- are not vital or even very contributive to the plan as described.

Fair enough.

Also, I wouldn't be interfering with the power structure of any other religious group, so that's pretty much a total non-concern.

You would be, at the end of your five-year-plan. It's one thing to say, "I'm the chosen of Vulcan because I saw an eagle flying upside down once". Everyone says stuff like that. It's a wholly different thing to say, "I'm the chosen of Vulcan because he gave me all this divine hypertech, and look, it's fwackooming your magistrate as we speak". Priests of all kinds -- including those of Vulcan -- would take you seriously then, and I'm not sure if you want that.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-16T03:21:36.932Z · score: 0 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Wait... where else would they harvest crops, if not on land ? They don't have hydroponics...

... perhaps I did not write sufficiently clearly. The land quality of the area is such that most who lived there would only be able to live subsistence-style lives. This is one reason why the land was a traditional recruiting grounds for the armies; enlisting was basically the only way to drag yourself out of poverty.

That's just a recipe for more leaks, IMO.

What can they leak? They're guards, not technicians. It's not like even if I had technical schematics that stealing them would do any good: they didn't HAVE technical schematics in those days. They'd have to not merely steal said schematics (which I wouldn't even create in the first place) -- they would have to also take someone who was trained in how to read them. You and I both know that it's possible to fabricate a CPU using photolithography on silicon wafers. Who can you sell the knowledge of this possibility to? What would they be able to achieve with it? Does knowing about photolithography enable you to read -- let alone DRAW -- an x86 chip core? I'm sorry, but I don't find your opinion worth even considering any further on this point. If you can't tell the difference between the kind of knowledge that comprises technical competence and the kind of knowledge that comprises awareness of technical competence -- I'm not sure why your opinion matters here.

I think your timetable is at odds with your secrecy requirements.

See the above. You're confusing awareness of new technologies with the ability to create them. These are not even remotely similar. I have already stated -- repeatedly, I believe? -- that I just don't care who knows about what I can do. I'm only preserving the secrets of how to actually do it.

You are proposing to introduce entirely new concepts during the same period of time, in order to build complex (and expensive) physical objects, not software constructs. I think you'll need more time.

Déformation professionnelle. I do not require the technicians producing the goods to understand what they are doing. I need only for them to understand their one single piece of the process.

Furthermore, unlike software development, mechanical products are VERY susceptible to industrial line-assembly techniques. I would have ten or fifteen people -- a main blacksmith and his journeymen and his apprentices -- to work with for each given product. They would in turn become miniature factories to crank out their chosen products, and would be able to upskill/train others by including them in the line. This reduces vastly the technical complexity of any given 'piece of the pie'.

Further still; software engineering requires a whole swath of cognitive skills -- logical analysis, creative design, high working memory for retention of relevant details, etc., etc., that the rote assembly of parts simply does not require. I would be the one providing the designs for all of this equipment. The technicians and blacksmiths would simply be crafting the same design over and over again.

Think of it like coding the same quicksort algorithm over and over again, after being literally walked through it the first time keystroke by keystroke. Even a monkey could be so trained to code in relatively short orter. In the software world, this would be a useless thing to be doing. Not so for the manufacture of material goods.

You would be, at the end of your five-year-plan. It's one thing to say, "I'm the chosen of Vulcan because I saw an eagle flying upside down once". Everyone says stuff like that.

Honestly, no -- I really wouldn't be. The technical wherewithal of the mystery cults was significantly greater than the local populations possessed as it was. The aeolipile, for example, was used by mystery cults to automatically open and close doors. The first coin-operated machine was a holy-water dispensor -- (created by the same guy who made the aeolipile -- the steam engine -- famous; Hero[t]).

Everyone of any wealth either had a mystery cult of their own, or else belonged to a mystery cult of their own. And their membership was not mutually exclusive. The power structure of the polytheistic organizations of the day was absolutely and utterly alien to the priesthood of the monotheistic churches we know today.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-16T17:52:07.225Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The land quality of the area is such that most who lived there would only be able to live subsistence-style lives.

That makes more sense, yeah.

It's not like even if I had technical schematics that stealing them would do any good: they didn't HAVE technical schematics in those days... If you can't tell the difference between the kind of knowledge that comprises technical competence and the kind of knowledge that comprises awareness of technical competence...

You are compartmentalizing the facts too much, and missing the bigger picture. Put yourself into the shoes of your ambitious, greedy and moderately smart neighbour -- let's call him Avaritus. He knows that you have begun extracting wealth from what was formerly known as a financial Tartarus of a plantation. He knows that your peasants and smiths are now equipped with various hitherto unknown devices. He has no idea how these things work, only that they do. He knows that your guards can be bought (or otherwise influenced). He doesn't know what "technical schematics" are, but he does know what "trained personnel" are. If you were Avaritus, what would you do at this point ?

I'm only preserving the secrets of how to actually do it.

Are you building everything yourself, personally, or are you training people to do it for you ? If it's the latter, then your secret knowledge isn't hidden, it's just scattered. If your employees are capable of any form of communication, then the knowledge can be reconstructed. More on this below:

Furthermore, unlike software development, mechanical products are VERY susceptible to industrial line-assembly techniques.

That's true. But those techniques, in turn, are dependent on being able to crank out identical items to very high degrees of tolerance. Thus, at the very minimum, all of your smiths (and I doubt that your plantation would initially have more than a couple of smiths living there) will have to be trained to manufacture items to an absurd (to them) degree of tolerance, as well as in assembly-line techniques. This will take time -- more time than you seem to think -- and, in and of itself, constitutes a piece of secret knowledge that's almost trivially easy to steal.

software engineering requires a whole swath of cognitive skills -- logical analysis, creative design, high working memory for retention of relevant details, etc., etc., that the rote assembly of parts simply does not require.

It does, if you want your pistons to actually fit inside your cylinders once the smiths make each part separately..

Everyone of any wealth either had a mystery cult of their own, or else belonged to a mystery cult of their own.

Did their mystery cults paint big targets on themselves, by proclaiming, "look, I've got a flying machine" ?

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-16T18:15:26.174Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Put yourself into the shoes of your ambitious, greedy and moderately smart neighbour -- let's call him Avaritus.

Here the region I'd be moving into would play some effect. The plantations that did exist in the plains of Spain were geographically isolated from one another. Most of the people in the area would've been hardscrobble farmers barely living at-or-above subsistence. And them I'd be actually helping out by-and-large (by way of expanding my economic empire.)

Many of the simpler techniques I'd want to get spreading out; it would make it easier for me to expand my influence. I'd be able to offer trade/transport of goods and the services related; I'd be able to capitalize fractional-reserve-banking to help bootstrap up my neighbors -- just not as far as me -- and so on. I would only for the first year or two rely upon direct production of goods, as opposed to becoming the financier to the production and transport of said goods. That's what step 4 was all about.

I would also, however, have to hide the efficacy and usefulness of my weaponry. I suppose I could sell leafspring crossbows to the guardsmen for other local plantation owners. The technical expertise needed to reproduce them would still be fairly high, and their rate of fire would be atrociously low (Even an expert crossbowman would take upwards of fifteen seconds to recock the bow.)

Thus, at the very minimum, all of your smiths (and I doubt that your plantation would initially have more than a couple of smiths living there) will have to be trained to manufacture items to an absurd (to them) degree of tolerance,

I'd have to recruit smiths from other geographic areas. Not very difficult. I could also have journeymen upskilled somewhat more quickly, given the use of machine tooling and metalcasting. (Push comes to shove there's also tDCS to increase learning rates.)

This will take time -- more time than you seem to think -- and, in and of itself, constitutes a piece of secret knowledge that's almost trivially easy to steal.

You keep insisting on this. I see absolutely no reason to take your insistence seriously. One or two weeks at most would be sufficient for them to "get the idea" of line assembly. It's a very simple concept. And I also don't really care if it gets out. Let it. The primary thing that I need to maintain technological secrecy on is the actual assembly of the air rifles. Everything else is an 'expendable' secret. Even that is too. And even then; that's why I'm keeping the guards present with orders to kill defectors or apparent defectors amongst the technicians. And said technicians won't have any real way of leaving the plantations -- so people would have to come to them. The guards would be kept under rotation to ensure bribery is less effective, and I could also implement other forms of information security (listening devices of various technical levels -- radio transmitters or secret listening tubes -- and other forms of spying. Honeypot traps to test the loyalty of both guards and technicians by giving fake opportunities to defect, etc., etc..) And lastly -- again, I think you're strongly overestimating the amount of time it would take to first notice the manufacture, second plan to adopt them, third achieve the stealing of the tech, and fourth manage to do so at any scale at all. Especially since unlike anyone stealing these techs, I would know what to look for and their value. Which means I could engage in secret sabotage and assassination to eliminate/foil early imitators.

Technological advantage isn't about secrecy. It can't be about secrecy. What it is about is the rapid leverage of gaps in technical competence. All of my efforts above aren't meant to stop the spread of the new techniques -- that's literally impossible. Instead, they are meant to impede their spread outside of my controlled areas of influence.

If I wanted to be especially absurd I could also use things like aerosolized oxytocin to artificially increase the loyalty of my guards and technicians to me personally. Plus, I could select guards whose children I'd saved the lives of. (Remember; I'm planning to use medicine to increase devotion/personal loyalty amongst the peasantry.) And so on.

It does, if you want your pistons to actually fit inside your cylinders once the smiths make each part separately..

There would not be any pistons. Are you simply not familiar with aeolipiles or other forms of turbine engines?

Did their mystery cults paint big targets on themselves, by proclaiming, "look, I've got a flying machine" ?

I find this inscrutable. What's your point? What are you driving at? Why is this a relevant thing to be saying/asking?

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-16T23:02:56.873Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the people in the area would've been hardscrobble farmers barely living at-or-above subsistence. And them I'd be actually helping out by-and-large (by way of expanding my economic empire.)

Fair enough, but this doesn't eliminate the problem of Avaritus, it just pushes it toward a later stage, and makes him a bigger player (since, by the time you encounter him, you will be a bigger player).

Many of the simpler techniques I'd want to get spreading out...

You seem to be assuming, throughout this thread, that your knowledge is unique, and so are your plans. Other people might be able to steal it, or learn it from you, but they wouldn't be able to figure it out for themselves. In some cases, this is an entirely warranted assumption -- no one in Ancient Rome could even conceive of a vacuum tube -- but in other cases, the inferential distance is much shorter. Things like pulleys and fractional reserve banking are self-evident once they are deployed; they're kind of like HTML and "view source" that way. Transparency is inherent in the functionality.

And as for your long-term strategic plans... well, if you were Avaritus, and you learned of a freshly-minted Patrician who is generating massive wealth, hiring up a bunch of smiths, buying metal in bulk, and is engaged in secret military maneuvers -- what conclusion would you make from this ?

Remember that, while these Romans are (as specified in the scenario setup) dumber than you, they're not total idiots.

I would also, however, have to hide the efficacy and usefulness of my weaponry.

How will you accomplish this ? After all, you'll need to train your soldiers in the use of your weaponry. Wouldn't they all have to be in on the secret ? How many soldiers are you planning on training ? How will you guarantee their unshakeable loyalty and discretion ?

One or two weeks at most would be sufficient for them to "get the idea" of line assembly.

There are modern classes you can take on assembly line training. They take longer than two weeks, and they assume that the audience can read, write, and add, at the very least, which is more than I can say for your backwater Roman peasants. At this point, I'd like to see you produce some evidence that your two-week training period would be sufficient.

In addition, have you personally ever tried to construct something relatively simple, like the Giordani air rifle, in your garage in the modern world, using modern tools (other than, possibly, CNC) ? How long did it take you ?

And even then; that's why I'm keeping the guards present with orders to kill defectors or apparent defectors amongst the technicians.

Who death-watches the death-watchers ? In the rest of the paragraph, you discuss various methods for turning your plantation into a police state, but that type of thing makes your men even less loyal than they'd normally be, and becomes a full-time 24/7 endeavour after a while.

Especially since unlike anyone stealing these techs, I would know what to look for and their value.

If I were Avaritus, I'd focus on stealing one of your assembled prototypes (remember, I know that you have them, I just don't know what they are). It would be easier than stealing your actual smiths, though that's an option, too.

Technological advantage isn't about secrecy. It can't be about secrecy. What it is about is the rapid leverage of gaps in technical competence.

At last we can agree on something; but then, why are you so focused on all the rotating death-watch guards ? Why bother keeping anything a secret at all ?

There would not be any pistons. Are you simply not familiar with aeolipiles or other forms of turbine engines?

I used pistons and cylinders as a convenient example tolerances that matter. High-pressure valves in your pneumatics would be another example; even the feeding mechanism for your rifles would need to be fairly precise, in order to avoid jamming. But I do confess that I have trouble seeing how you'd use actual aeolipiles for industrial-grade applications; I was assuming that you were using the word to refer to the general class of heat engines, but maybe I was wrong.

Why is this a relevant thing to be saying/asking?

Your financial, political, and military success is directly proportional to the number of enemies you end up making. As you build your empire, making the right kinds of enemies (weak, easily crushable ones) will become increasingly important. Priests are the wrong kinds of enemies.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-17T01:59:38.803Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough, but this doesn't eliminate the problem of Avaritus, it just pushes it toward a later stage, and makes him a bigger player (since, by the time you encounter him, you will be a bigger player).

Good. That means a stronger economy for me to work with. Especially since, if he were really my neighbor, I would very likely have a strong business relationship with him by then, providing fertilizer, transportation, and banking services for him. If he manages to steal a few of my technologies... GOOD. That makes him my ally. In all likelihood I would probably be setting up client sub-patricians as a surrounding buffer to myself anyhow, and feeding them inferior versions of my technologies for them to work with.

There are modern classes you can take on assembly line training. They take longer than two weeks, and they assume that the audience can read, write, and add, at the very least, which is more than I can say for your backwater Roman peasants. At this point, I'd like to see you produce some evidence that your two-week training period would be sufficient.

They're also producing vastly more complicated products. And are training general assembly workers -- workers who can move freely from line-position to line-position. Using a vast array of modern tools in dynamic situations. Exactly the opposite of what I'd be doing. Your objection just doesn't hold water. You're making assumptions about what I'd be doing that directly contradict what I have explained I'd be doing.

It's making any hope of this dialogue go anywhere quite vanishingly small. What part of: "I would train individual workers in individual rote tasks and ONLY those tasks" is such a difficult concept for you to grasp? Why is this such a cognitive stumbling block for you? You keep doing everything in your power to misunderstand me on this point.

Why?

In addition, have you personally ever tried to construct something relatively simple, like the Giordani air rifle, in your garage in the modern world, using modern tools (other than, possibly, CNC) ? How long did it take you ?

The Giardoni air rifle is not "simple" to make by hand. While the metalsmiths of Rome frequently had the skillset necessary to achieve it, I myself do not. It also required a number of small-ish parts that would not be obvious as to their function in a damaged state. It could be reverse-engineered, certainly, but without an understanding of the mechanical principles involved the mere process of reverse-engineering it and constructing a successful prototype would take as long as a year even for a skilled metalsmith. If we presume merely a three month window for that, it would STILL take at least that long for that metalsmith to train others in its making, and without line-assembly to assist him in so crafting the numbers they could turn out would be far, far smaller. And the rate of fire available to others given the lack of motorized pumps would be far smaller than it would be for my troops. Which is part of the point: all of the technologies selected contribute to one another in non-trivial ways. Extracting the secrets of one or two of the above would result in a bootstrapping period of their own that would also be significantly inferior to my own.

If I were Avaritus, I'd focus on stealing one of your assembled prototypes (remember, I know that you have them, I just don't know what they are). It would be easier than stealing your actual smiths, though that's an option, too.

This wouldn't become an issue until at earliest the third year. And even then the process of reverse engineering without foreknowledge of the actual function of all given parts is less than spectacularly useful.

Also -- without a ready fuel supply both the engines and the guns (which are being recharged via motorized pumps, remember) -- would be at best far less effective for any outside agent. And the methylation process itself (along with distillation) would also be subjecct to deathwatch scrutiny, so as to suppress their adoption time by outside actors.

At last we can agree on something; but then, why are you so focused on all the rotating death-watch guards ? Why bother keeping anything a secret at all ?

What exactly is it about the concept of "trade secrets" that you are having such a difficult time grasping? Why is it that you can't figure out -- despite my repeatedly explaining this to you -- that there is a HUGE difference between "knowing about" a thing and "mastering" a thing?? What exactly is it about the concept of "maintaining technological advantage" that you don't get? I don't care if the secrets get out the slow way. That's fine. But I can certainly work to maintain my technological advantage for a longer window. And the best way to do that is to suppress the direct transmission of technical competence away from those areas under my control.

By making it harder to bribe or kidnap or cause the defection/capture of my technicians I reduce the flow of information outwards. Seriously -- why is this a difficult concept for you?

Again: I'm not depending on a total suppression of knowledge. That would be pointless and idiotic. Instead I am working with the first mover advantage. I liinked you to the Wikipedia article on First Mover Advantages already. Please actually read that link, and stop bringing this topic up.

This is not a legitimate objection on your part. Please stop bringing it up.

Your financial, political, and military success is directly proportional to the number of enemies you end up making.

Financial, political, and military success each create more allies and friends than they do enemies. Especially if you are gracious to your enemies.

Priests are the wrong kinds of enemies.

You don't understand religion in Rome, then. Priests were essentially irrelevant. That's what I've been trying to tell you. There was no such thing as a centralized, powerful religious body in Rome. It didn't exist. "Priests" did not have political power in the Roman era. That's just not how the structure of the day worked. Mystery cults were numerous and plentiful -- and small. What individuals within a given cult that did have power had said power not because of their religious affiliations but in spite of it.

This, too, is an entirely spurious concern on your part. Please stop raising it.

But I do confess that I have trouble seeing how you'd use actual aeolipiles for industrial-grade applications; I was assuming that you were using the word to refer to the general class of heat engines, but maybe I was wrong.

Because I wouldn't use them in industrial-grade applications. I would use simple, low-efficiency turbines. And I wouldn't use them in "industrial applications". I would use them as power trains for wagons and to power ultralights. Also, you're strongly underestimating the technical competence of roman metallurgists of the era. Especially after having introduced metal-casting (or sintering) to the era. Cock valves, for example, were in widespread use -- and in massive dimensions -- at the time, as well as hand-carried water-pumps.

So again, no single item I'd be introducing would -- in and of itself -- be far outside of the scope of the competencies of the Roman era. But to adopt all of them? Even by reverse-engineering after being exposed to the existence of the concept, adopting more than a handful here-and-there would require several years.

And by then I'd already be in possession of vast sums of money and materials, at which point having trade partners I could use to accelerate my acquisition of the needed materials, parts, and equipment to achieve my ends would only be beneficial to me.

Remember, also, that I'd have a buffer zone of several hundred miles between myself and the nearest actual city, and would otherwise be surrounded almost exclusively by the kinds of people the word "pagani" originally referred to: rednecks. This was not an accident. The geographical placement in mind was also designed to help suppress the dissemination of my technologies outside of my scope of influence.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-22T23:42:24.299Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To summarize my objections to your plan:

  • Your goals of secrecy and widespread economic development are in direct conflict.
  • You underestimate the time it would take to execute your plans.
  • You underestimate the social opposition to your plans which would develop once you began making progress.

With this in mind:

Good. That means a stronger economy for me to work with. ... GOOD. That makes him my ally. In all likelihood I would probably be setting up client sub-patricians as a surrounding buffer to myself anyhow, and feeding them inferior versions of my technologies for them to work with.

Great, but then, why do you need all the death-watching rotating uber-guards ? Why not just make your technologies available at a reasonable cost ? You're going to be one step ahead of the competition no matter what, so what do you have to gain by keeping secrets ? Do these gains outstrip the productivity losses and potential PR disasters ?

They're also producing vastly more complicated products. And are training general assembly workers -- workers who can move freely from line-position to line-position. Using a vast array of modern tools in dynamic situations. Exactly the opposite of what I'd be doing.

I was under the impression that what you'd be doing is, training your smiths to crank out plow/rifle/air pump/aircraft parts to precise tolerances. This process would start by explaining to them the concept of "tolerances". This can be done, and it can be done relatively quickly, but not as quickly as you claim -- especially since, as you say, "there is a HUGE difference between "knowing about" a thing and "mastering" a thing". Every time I bring up the potential difficulties involved, you just assert your position more boldly. At this point, I need to see some evidence. This is why I asked you whether you personally ever tried to construct an air rifle, to which you replied:

The Giardoni air rifle is not "simple" to make by hand. While the metalsmiths of Rome frequently had the skillset necessary to achieve it, I myself do not.

Your character in this game we're playing would have the detailed schematics for the Giardoni air rifle memorized. Do you believe that, therefore, he would have not only the "skillset necessary to achieve it", but also the ability to teach it to average provincial smiths in Ancient Rome ? Or look at it in this way: you are not your character, but you have access to the Internet, so you don't need to memorize stuff. How long would it take you, today, using modern hand-operated tools, to manufacture a working Giardoni air rifle ?

There was no such thing as a centralized, powerful religious body in Rome. It didn't exist. "Priests" did not have political power in the Roman era.

No, they did not, but they had the power to excite a population, just like they do in any other era.

I would use them as power trains for wagons and to power ultralights.

Ok, so I guess I don't understand what you mean by "aeolipiles". Can you explain what an aeolipile drive for an ultralight, yet heavier-than-air craft would look like (or, preferably, link me to the relevant Wikipedia article) ? Or possibly I misunderstood what you meant by "ultralights"; perhaps you actually meant "lighter than air" ?

The geographical placement in mind was also designed to help suppress the dissemination of my technologies outside of my scope of influence.

In this case, where will you procure your raw materials, and what will you trade for them ? You can have isolation, or you can't have trade, but, historically, it has proven impossible to have both.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-23T00:25:39.074Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have downvoted your comment. I have done so because you continue to raise spurious objections to positions I do not hold and insist that I address them.

This is contradictory of rational discourse and as such should be discouraged on LessWrong.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-23T00:47:58.522Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

FWIW, I downvoted your comment for exactly the same reason.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-23T01:25:02.536Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

No, you downvoted me in retaliation. Your arguments are spurious and I have repeatedly identified them as this. I have repeatedly rejected your insistence that I'm "depending on secrecy". I have repeatedly attempted to explain to you the difference between 'secrecy' and conservation of technical competence. I have repeatedly explained how I would be able to both engage in trade/commerce and maintain relative geographic isolation relative to all other actors of the era. Case in point: your most recent reiterated objection:

I was under the impression that what you'd be doing is, training your smiths to crank out plow/rifle/air pump/aircraft parts to precise tolerances. This process would start by explaining to them the concept of "tolerances".

-- This is false. I have explained this to be false. No such concepts would be conveyed. Instead, the line workers would be trained to make parts in an exacting manner and be given tools necessary to that end. Notched gauges for example. No conceptual explanations would be needed -- only rote mechanical actions. I stated essentially exactly this, more than once. (Providing such conceptual frameworks rather than rote memorization of tasks would, furthermore, allow for the easier dissemination of technical competence outside of my control. A goal contradictory to my ends.)

Your response was to claim that I reacted by "merely making my claims bolder". The problem with this, of course, is that your objections were invalid from the outset -- they did NOT map to anything I was claiming. Take for further example on this very topic your usage of the general line assemblyman course as a 'citation' for your objection.

It was wholly and entirely inappropriate to the task of acting as a valid citation for an objection to what I was claiming for the simple reason that it did not address any claims of mine.

You continue to raise these objections despite their entirely spurious nature, and you continue to demand in this dialogue that I address these objections.

This is, as I said previously, contradictory of rational discourse and as such should be discouraged on LessWrong. I noted this and you in return downvoted me claiming the same of me as I have made clear of your positions.

This, too, is spurious and irrational behavior and as such should bee discouraged on LessWrong.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-03-18T02:29:55.694Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Step 2: Introduce the horse-collar, the plow, 'terra preta' (tilling of charcoal), fertilizer (easiest in this case: baked pig manure), insecticide, pennicillin, and wind-mill-powered pumped irrigation. These things together will result in massive harvests at low costs. They will also ensure that my peasants' children don't die, and are well-fed. My wealth will after one or two years of this expand massively. The absence of disease will also enable me to convince the local population that I am favored of the gods.

Usable penicillin is very difficult to acquire. The penicillin mold simply doesn't produce very much, and the chemical produced is unstable. It took a ten-year project to get a stabilized version that could be injected, and the first penicillin pill wasn't made until 1952.

Also, windmills and waterwheels already existed. And where are you going to get an insecticide from, anyway?

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-18T22:37:58.941Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It took a ten-year project to get a stabilized version that could be injected,

The technical knowledge of which I would be in possession of. And therefore know how to shortcut to the end product. Three or four rounds of experimental trials, each taking a couple of weeks, followed by intentional use of radical selection pressure to generate a strain that has the desired properties. Given the generational periodicity of 1 week per round, six months at most would be sufficient to produce a working product. (Also; deep tank fermentation was a large part of why pennicillin would be available in bulk to me. A larger problem would be the probenecid production, but that's a different story.)

Also -- the fact that pennicillin wasn't available in our history until 1952 in pill form wouldn't be much of an impediment nor even really an interesting question.

Also, windmills and waterwheels already existed.

Windmills, yes. In the hands of Persians, not in Romans. And they weren't moving quantities of water -- classical mechanics as we know it today was not 'invented' until over a thousand years later.

And where are you going to get an insecticide from, anyway?

There are many, many plants which produce insecticidal/nematocidal/fungicidal chemicals as a part of their normal lifecycles. Harvesting and processing them for these purposes is not exactly a technically complicated process. It just requires knowledge of them.

comment by johnswentworth · 2019-05-24T22:08:26.925Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Major barrier right at the start: buying a little chunk of land is one thing, but a bunch of the stuff in step 2 will require very large capital outlays by the standards of the time - especially the mill.

There's a reason automation didn't catch on before the industrial revolution: capital was scarce and peasants were abundant. It wouldn't be easy to actually produce crops more cost-effectively than peasant labor, when the peasant labor is absurdly cheap. Things like fertilizer could help, but even that will run into problems - people don't like poop on their food, and chemical fertilizer/insecticide requires relatively complicated manufacturing facilities.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-03-16T06:41:58.336Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Years six through ten depend on unforseen variables for whether there will be protracted suppression of luddites and conservatives, or if my reputation precedes me sufficiently that Rome begs me to induct her into my Constitutional Republic of Aligned City-States.

Through a careful management of new agricultural, medical, economic, industrial, and military technologies as above, conquering Rome would be easily achievable within 5-10 years at the absolute most.

Silly Logos01. Do you think you will get any of this done in a Constitutional Republic? In practice the Rome of the first century AD would be more a Republic than what you would need to get this done

If this worked you would de facto be God Emperor of Hispania or the state would be a plutocracy with you as the wealthiest man in the world. Once you die good luck trying to set up a workable republican culture, or people following anything but the forms of your proposed system of government. Social engineering is hard.

But in any case that isn't the goal here and I wouldn't be too upset in any case. Long live the Leviathan!

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-16T14:35:22.241Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Silly Logos01. Do you think you will get any of this done in a Constitutional Republic?

Well, I'd start out as god-emperor and dictator for life, but I'd try to keep myself from having an actual successor... (even if it didn't really work, just introducing the notion would eventually cause it to stabilize to that effect.)

or people following anything but the forms of your proposed system of government. Social engineering is hard.

Indeed. Luckily these folks would not yet have been immunized to Nazi-style propaganda campaigns or other forms of indoctrination. This is one additional reason why I focused on propaganda and publication. I'd expect to face certain failure in achieving the total optimal result, but could at the very least implement a tendency towards these models.

If I treat myself as an aberration to the system, and create a power structure that could survive me -- assuming I had a good fifty or so years to institutionalize it in the eyes and ears of mankind, I could spend the last ten or fifteen years gradually introducing the parliamentary rule; handing over more and more political power to the Senate in a graceful manner, until I'm seen as more of an advisory role than an actual power figure. That would be an end-state goal, though.

comment by GLaDOS · 2012-03-21T20:14:19.452Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Luckily these folks would not yet have been immunized to Nazi-style propaganda campaigns or other forms of indoctrination.

I'm having a hard time thinking of any population that is. I mean sure we won't see a rise in Nazism in our life times but that's because the Nazi's lost the war, not because people became immune to their propaganda techniques. If anything modern propaganda techniques are much better and we are even more helpless against them.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-22T19:18:01.553Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm having a hard time thinking of any population that is [...] immune to their propaganda techniques.

Immunized != Immune.

If anything modern propaganda techniques are much better and we are even more helpless against them.

It's an arms-race. Nazi-style propagandizing included use of radio and television, and control over print media, as well as sponsored postings of visual posters and the like in public spaces. These things are what I was referring to; and people today are relatively immune to such "crass" techniques, which is why modern propaganda techniques are so much more sophisticated: the "old" ones stopped being sufficiently effective.

If we consider propaganda a form of virulent memeplex, then the immunological model describes quite well the history of and reactions to various forms of propaganda by the common populace over time: first there is exposure to a new "strain", and then people become resistant to it in a very similar manner to how we become resistant to various viruses.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-22T19:43:23.344Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if anyone has ever studied Third World propaganda campaigns over time to demonstrate an 'evolution' which recapitulates Western evolution in propaganda?

(I mention this because I saw recently the old example of Liberia's Charles Taylor who was elected when he 'campaigned on the slogan "He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him."'. Of course, his landslide was probably due to "the belief that he would resume the war if he lost." which is why one would want multiple countries. Do they all show this sort of phenomenon where laughably crude propaganda and campaigning works initially and is slowly replaced by subtler psy-ops, or is there no evolution because crude propaganda works best on those of low IQ, say?)

comment by khafra · 2012-03-27T17:06:02.461Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would imagine that any researcher who confirmed such an effect would refrain from publishing, and instead become the supreme dictator of some third world country.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-03T22:57:54.476Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Dictator? You mean campaign manager.

comment by fezziwig · 2012-03-21T20:57:22.834Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Luckily these folks would not yet have been immunized to Nazi-style propaganda campaigns or other forms of indoctrination.

As GLaDOS points out, nobody's really immune, as such, but it wasn't a new tactic. 'Demagogue' is a Greek word, and the techniques involved had been known for centuries before 1AD. Take the brothers Grachii as your bar; if you can manipulate public opinion more smoothly than they did, you might have a shot.

comment by pedanterrific · 2012-03-21T22:15:19.436Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Markdown uses [link text](www.url.com)

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-22T19:14:11.002Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Immunization does not provide perfect immunity. I was referring to the specific techniques and methods used by the Nazis for propagandizing; broadcasts, posters plastered everywhere, and so on, and so on. People today are relatively immunized against blithely trusting the validity of government-sponsored statements. This was not true before that time.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-22T19:18:12.067Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

People today are relatively immunized against blithely trusting the validity of government-sponsored statements. This was not true before that time.

My model of humanity has them cynical enough that they stopped being blithely trusting of the validity of government-sponsored statements about ten minutes after the emergence in prehistory of something which could be loosely described as 'government'.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-22T19:23:20.010Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The history of the efficacy of the propaganda used by both the "Axis Powers" in WWII and the Allies in WWII would tend to conflict with your model, insofar as I understand both sets of data.

"Rosie the Riveter" was a purely government-sponsored fabrication, and yet women signed up to work in factories by the thousands as a result of said campaign. German introduction of anti-semitism literally introduced the practice in Japan -- beforehand the Japanese people had a view of Jews that was quite the opposite (i.e.; that they were a 'superior people') ... which is why before the German/Japanese alliance got fully implemented, the Japanese had an active recruiting campaign for Jewish persons.

There are a vast swathe of such examples from that era. None of these techniques are effective today. See: "Tobacco is Whack-o", "This is your brain on drugs", etc., etc..

comment by bramflakes · 2012-03-16T22:19:02.560Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Forgive my ignorance, but is introducing penicillin such a good idea? It would provide a considerable advantage in the short-term, but once the cat gets out of the bag and the knowledge spreads to the rest of the Empire (I assume it's not that difficult to manufacture), you'd have antibiotic resistance everywhere, and no international medical community to clamp down on over-prescription.

Additionally, showing off what biodiesel can do might kickstart general fossil fuel extraction before the technology exists to monitor pollution and greenhouse gas levels.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-17T01:36:57.569Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Re: drug resistance -- that takes decades to become a problem. By then I'd be soundly in control and could disseminate germ theory freely. I'd need to introduce other antibiotics as well but I'd have the ability to do so easily.

  1. Introduction of biodiesel would bypass the adoption/usage of fossil fuels. Also, the population-at-large would be significantly smaller and would reach postindustrial status at a population far, far smaller than modern population.

These aren't major problems.

comment by bramflakes · 2012-03-17T16:56:20.973Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would disseminating germ theory really help all that much? Rome itself might have been a fairly literate society, but in the time it would take to overcome all the inferential distances in just the educated classes, the drug would have spread like wildfire through the rest of Europe and the Near East by merchants hoping to make a quick sesterce from selling the "miracle cure" to the peasantry.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-17T19:51:58.493Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Romans already believed something very similar to germ theory: that diseases were caused by an invisible contagion that was passed through contact/exposure to those already infested by it.

Also, I would be the primary distributor and manufacturer of pennicillin; so I could have some control over how it was distributed. Ensuring it got into the hands first of medics trained in my courses -- I.e.; people who knew about germ theory -- would be trivial.

Plus, I'd have decades to resolve the issue.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-03-16T06:37:50.402Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

These include factories, vacuum tubes (and through them early-tech varieties of computers), birth control and other forms of concerns for quality-of-life, and various forms of chemistry and so on.

Are you sure this is a good idea considering modern Western civilization hasn't yet demonstrated the survivability of such technology? Let alone an upstart society in underpopulated Roman Spain. In any case the ancients did know means of birth control and it at various points sapped the power of the Roman state.

comment by Logos01 · 2012-03-16T14:29:33.639Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Silphium was reputed to have birth controlling properties because its seeds were heart-shaped. I was talking about something a little more... reliable... such as, say, Premarin.

As to the survivability of such technology -- TFR explosions are a problem. birth control would be introduced to cut down overpopulation resultant from implementing immunological practices (vaccination and antibiotics.) The problems of modern fertility rate have far, far less to do with birth control and far more to do with the economics of raising children in a postindustrial environment. Even then, it turns out that TFR is showing a reversal of the declining trend in the last few years.

Overall I'd say there's pretty little to worry about. Especially since I'd have a good five decades of longevity to play with; I could pretty reliably introduce computing and electronics within that window, and that would be enough to ensure humanity develop AGI sometime in the next few centuries.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-03-21T19:51:04.352Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Silphium was reputed to have birth controlling properties because its seeds were heart-shaped. I was talking about something a little more... reliable... such as, say, Premarin.

You got it wrong. It is the other way around.

There has been some speculation about the connection between silphium and the traditional heart shape (♥). The symbol is remarkably similar to the Egyptian "heart soul" (ib). The sexual nature of that concept, combined with the widespread use of silphium in ancient Egypt for birth control, and the fact that silphium seeds were heart-shaped, leads to speculation that the character for ib may have been derived from the shape of the silphium seed.

comment by HonoreDB · 2012-03-14T20:59:20.799Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Let Me Take That Off Your Hands: Arrive in Rhodes. Future emperor Tiberius is there, fleeing his destiny and trying to live a normal life. Tell him that you're a time traveler from the future, and prove it with detailed prophecies of the next few years, including the fact that Caesar's heirs are about to die, leaving him sole heir to the throne. Warn him that when he eventually becomes emperor, he'll be miserable and unpopular, in part because it was clear that he never wanted the job. Persuade him that you're much better qualified, due to your advanced knowledge and ethics. Suggest that, when he's eventually begged to return to Rome, he do so on the condition that he be allowed to name you his heir. Spend the next decade ensconced in Rhodes, avoiding the butterfly effect, reinventing future technology, and translating The Lord of the Rings into Latin. When Tiberius is asked to become emperor, he invites you to join him as his chief advisor. For a few years, you prove your mettle and win popular support with your technology and literature. Tiberius then retires to Rhodes, leaving you in charge as regent. Nobody wants to assassinate you since that would just force Tiberius to come back. When Tiberius dies, you become the emperor in title as you have long been in fact.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-15T00:38:36.991Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Tell him that you're a time traveler from the future, and prove it with detailed prophecies of the next few years, including the fact that Caesar's heirs are about to die, leaving him sole heir to the throne.

While this plan would work in the scenario as specified by Yvain, we should probably disallow these kinds of solutions. We are trying to simulate a situation where a transhuman AI emerges in our own world; and, unlike Yvain's time traveler, such an AI would not have any foreknowledge of the future... Unless, of course, it becomes an oracle of some sort.

comment by AstraSequi · 2012-03-15T01:51:52.642Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps the foreknowledge could be considered as analogous to the extra intelligence an AI would have.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-15T07:36:37.295Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't the AI practically need to be an Oracle in order to predict all the upcoming historical events down to the specific date ? It would need more than intelligence, it would need nigh omniscience as well, IMO.

comment by AstraSequi · 2012-03-16T01:40:27.585Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Even with current knowledge, we're not really omniscient about what happened in the past. I know the Romans were good record-keepers (I'm not sure how good), but I would be surprised if there weren't at least some errors and omissions in the small details.

If we did have omniscient knowledge, I would suggest that the situation might be most analogous after several years - when you could still make predictions with high accuracy, but never really being sure that something you've done has slightly changed the dates or other details of specific events.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-14T18:12:29.751Z · score: 21 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Do I get points if I seduce an emperor and control him as my puppet or do I have to become acknowledged Empress Regnant?

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-03-14T22:31:19.911Z · score: 20 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Second-order problem: You are to be thrown back in time, as Yvain stipulates, along with everyone else who has already posted a plan in this thread. The winner is the one who becomes emperor first. (My bet is on Alicorn.)

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-14T23:05:59.914Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I doubt, 1000 at least, Roman women were constantly on the same mission, with little or no success for themselves.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-14T23:09:50.074Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But did they have all their teeth and oracular powers?

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-14T23:14:59.625Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Matters a little, A wife or a mistress of an emperor could hope only to survive some more. Her son might become the new emperor. He might, she could not.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-03-14T23:22:45.903Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

By Yvain's hypothesis, she possesses all human knowledge as of 2012. That makes her (along with all the other competitors) strongly superhuman. In my book, she wins simply because her declared strategy means she starts closer to the throne than anyone else.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-14T22:33:42.046Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I mean, I have all my teeth, seducing an emperor should be a snap.

(There were other wrinkles to my plan - I was going to become the emperor's pen pal first as a male persona and present myself as said persona's daughter offered to the emperor as a token of friendship and be "possessed of oracular powers" - but this only works if Puppeteer Empress-Consort is a win condition.)

(If Puppeteer Empress-Consort is a win condition I can cooperate with someone else who is also thrown back.)

comment by DanielLC · 2012-03-14T23:13:06.246Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

(If Puppeteer Empress-Consort is a win condition I can cooperate with someone else who is also thrown back.)

Just teach us all to polyhack and we can all win.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-14T23:14:00.072Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how that would work... unless I hacked everybody bi too...

comment by DanielLC · 2012-03-15T03:55:39.861Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose we could have khafra do that hack.

I figured that being in love with half the people would be good enough, though.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-15T04:07:37.626Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

half the people

I don't think we're looking at that kind of gender ratio.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-03-15T04:53:00.532Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, we'll at least all be in love with you. Is that good enough?

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-15T05:30:49.424Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Aww, I feel so counterfactually beloved.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-03-16T07:47:40.299Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I mean, I have all my teeth, seducing an emperor should be a snap.

Plenty of pretty young things will too. Some of them may even be patrician by birth.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-15T02:28:48.429Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I mean, I have all my teeth, seducing an emperor should be a snap.

Don't be so sure. You've got some pretty severe competition. For example, Procopius, in his bitter Secret History, claims of Theodora (consort to Emperor Justinian) that in her days as a dancing girl/prostitute (before capturing Justinian's heart) she

"Often, even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat. When she rose, it was not with a blush, but she seemed rather to glory in the performance. For she was not only impudent herself, but endeavored to make everybody else as audacious. Often when she was alone with other actors, she would undress in their midst and arch her back provocatively, advertising like a peacock both to those who had experience of her and to those who had not yet had that privilege her trained suppleness."

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-15T03:29:40.004Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't actually think seducing an emperor would be a snap, it just seems more doable for an early-twenties female than raising an army.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-03-16T22:32:39.288Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Early twenties? You realize that you're almost a spinster, right?

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-16T23:12:59.018Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I'd have to figure out how to lie about my age or work around it.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-17T01:15:44.858Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I understand, you would look younger than your actual age to the average Roman, due to the vastly superior health care and nutrition that you'd enjoyed in modern times. So, you should be good on the age front.

comment by Nile · 2012-03-15T18:00:59.450Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting stuff: but I'm going to throw in a few disappointments on technological triumphs, and propose a peaceful takeover by affordable glazed pottery.

Firstly, the printing press: movable type is a great idea but you also need paper. And you'll need the 'killer app' - or rather, the book with a massive pre-existing demand. In 1 AD, that's not the Bible! If you got the authorities interested in the promulgation of official edicts and shool texts, you might be able to scale up the business to kickstart a commercial printing economy - but scaling-up is not the same as starting up, and you'd need a lot of capital just to demonstrate the technology to skeptical officials.

Without official patronage, getting the paper-and-printing economy started will need more capital than you've been given: you'd need a runaway success in some other small startup business or the patronage of someone with a medium-to-large country estate.

Maybe the 'mysterious healing' of some aristocrat's favourite slave and a religious conversion isn't such a bad starting point, after all. It's no less plausible as a way of gaining access to resources to start building a technological power-base.

A guns-and-steel route to power is even harder: handmade guns that offer a significant advantage over a disciplined formation of legionaries supported by archers will be prohibitively expensive in the quantities required to equip a company of musketeers. And that's a dead end: there's only so much money available to you, and a huge entrenched power-base of landowners and spear-wielding legions.

Better, cheaper guns will need very good steel and that, in turn, will need investment in lime kilns, the first successful blast furnace, good-quality coal, coking ovens, and trained workers.

And once you've got the steel, you need to mark out the standard millimetre and weigh out the standard kilogram, and start building the first precision-casting production line; presses, milling machines, lathes, screw-cutting, bench drills...

It took a seventy-five years to move from good blacksmiths and the reverberating furnace (an adapted lime kiln) to a machine shop that could build precision tools, valve-gear for steam-engines, rifle barrels, or machine tools to equip a factory for the volume production of firearms.

Given the knowledge, you could cut that period of not-quite-from-boots 'bootstrapping' to twenty years; but it might take twice that long to bootstrap demand alongside the supply and create a functioning market for the products - and interim products at that! - and that market would be necessary (and, necessarily, damn' lucrative) in order to support the vast investment for a technological expansion that utilises all these shiny (but unfamiliar and unreliable) new tools profitably in order to support continued growth.

No aristocrat will keep pouring money into that forever: you have to achieve profitability and an upward trajectory of organic growth before you exhaust the limited resources of your patron's latifundi.

One thing that is in your favour is that the Romans in 1AD are ready for mass production: urbanised, with good regional and local trade, and already centralising some of their economy into large production facilities (for grain and - with less evidence -for arrows).

So your new world ruler might not need to be Abraham Darby, Joseph Whitworth and Samual Colt, all rolled into one near-superhuman genius of invention, development, process management, and leadership: he or she might become the wealthiest of all Romans with the more prosaic skills of Josiah Wedgewood.

However, I would note that Wedgewood kickstarted the industrial production of consumer durables with a substantial injection of capital from a distant relative. Nevertheless, industrialising artisanal pottery is an easier route to the economic power of a factory economy than emulating Richard Arkwright - he had a lot more to do, to scale up and power-up the existing barn-size 'manufactuaries' of spinners and weavers into the modern cotton mill.

I note that printers did not become amazingly wealthy in Europe: they changed the intellectual 'economy' but they did not start an industrial revolution.

However you do it - printing, pottery, or cloth - you'll need to expand to the scale of a factory-driven county or city-state economy as a prerequisite to equipping militarily meaningful formations with firearms.

But here's the joker: with the wealth to to so equip an invincible legion, you'd be the emperor anyway. That kind of money - Josiah Wedgewood's fortune turbocharged by first-mover advantage and rational training - would buy the patrician families, the senate, the generals and (probably) the incorruptible tribunes.

Which would, in turn, put you in a position to enact the reforms that will - you hope - prevent the later collapse of Rome; establish rational schools, technological colleges, and scientific universities; impose Rationalism as the State Religion (!) and send forth the legions, with firearms, on steam railways to conquer all of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

comment by Emile · 2012-03-14T17:35:25.410Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Fun game!

I would go the Joseph Smith x Christianity route:

I would first spend a bit of time familiarizing myself with the politics and religion of Rome (what gaps do I have in my modern knowledge?).

I would write a holy text claiming to be a divine revelation; it would be written on large tablets of aluminum (aluminum synthesis should be possible, and it is a plausible "unearthly material"; if my awesome knowledge makes it possible to make a metal that would be slightly more impressive or easier to make than aluminum, good). The front face would be readable etchings, but the back face would be usable for printing, so with a simple enough apparatus copies of the text could be easily created.

The text itself would be written in poetic Latin, claiming to be a revelation from a politically acceptable and "plausible" divinity, and saying nice things about the established Roman clergy (the goal isn't to turn them against me), claiming that I am a special seer sent by the Gods. The text would also contain exhortations in various languages (in their own scripts) exhorting Hebrews, Persians, etc. to bow down before the might of the Romain Empire, it's Law, and it's Gods, presented in a non-insulting way (i.e. "Yahveh is Jupiter", not "Abandon your Idols, Heathens!").

The tablets would also contain relatively detailed maps of the world, and especially of the Mediterranean, as well as instructions on how to build more accurate astrolabes to find one's way at sea. I would also introduce a system of decimal numerals, which makes calculations way easier than with roman numerals, as well explain useful things like double-entry bookkeeping, the principle of a joint-stock company, etc.

The tablets would also contain promises of everlasting life for those who worship the Gods the right way, as well as recommended rituals that may be slightly different from the established ones. There would be more detail on the afterlife, the bad things that will happen after death to those who do bad things (damage a copy of the tablets, disrespect a priest, kill a roman soldier, break Roman Law, etc.), and the good things that happen to those who do good things (copy the tablets, teach others about the new rituals, learn the new numerals, make offerings in the local temples, etc. Again, the goal is not to get in the way of the local religion, but to maximize memetic virulence. Some exhortations of how all will be equal in the afterlife could be good for appeal to the popular classes.

The tablets would be numbered to make it more likely that all are propagated together.

The tablets would also contain some esoteric nostradamus-like bullshit, as well as some encrypted stuff - well encrypted. Decrypted, it they would give instructions on how to read a hidden message in the whole tablets (like, for each page, follow the Fibonacci sequence (which would be explained in one of the tablets) to get a set of letters, cycle all those letters alphabetically), and the secret message would that oh in fact, the Gods want Emile to be the emperor, or they will rain fire upon the world. I would ideally have several secret messages encrypted through the tablets (some claiming the emperor is evil and needs to be overthrown, some claiming he needs to step down, some saying that now that he's dead I should take his place, some saying that when the big volcano explodes in wherever it's the sign that the end is near, etc.)

I wouldn't claim to myself know about all those neat things - I would extract them from the tablets, after much time and effort - I'm not dangerous, I'm just a vessel! But through divine revelation I can interpret parts of the tablet, especially the nostradamus-y bits.

That should be sufficient for me to secure a safe and influential position in the official Roman Religion, surround myself with disciples to help me in my study. From then, the best course of action may be to isolate myself with devoted disciples in some mountain or something, show all signs of being inoffensive, "discover" the encrypted revelation that I am in fact the emperor, only show it to an inner circle of disciples, develop firearms, and either assassinate the emperor and take his place, or wait for him to die and reveal the revelation. That would also be the time to release an explanation of the decrypting method to the rest of the world, so that all those copies of the tablets become manifestos in my favor.

The firearms (and things like mustard gas, and whatever other military technology is possible) should be enough for a bunch of fanatics to hold the palace in case the army has objections, and once it is apparent that I have broad enough popular support because of the tablets, the rest of the Empire shouldn't insist too much and accept me as emperor.

comment by Emile · 2012-03-14T22:45:02.377Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Some refinements, after reading other ideas in this thread:

  • Split the work into several books: one targeting merchants and navigators, one targeting scholars and lawyers, one targeting priests, one targeting noble families, one targeting plebians, a secret one targeting the army, etc. (the details could vary depending on which targets are the most valuable) The books would reference each other (except the military one) as a marketing ploy.

  • The secret military book would be written in an alternate alphabet (simple replacement of letters with strange symbols as a low form of security), and include instructions on some military technology: crossbows, composite bows, stirrups, better steel, secret codes and how to break them, the tactical implications of the new technology, etc. - the goal is to allow the Roman Army to develop new technology and have the time to perfect it before knowledge of it becomes widespread (unlike the other books, divulging the content of this book to unroman ears would get punishment in the afterlife). This should help the army be more supportive of the new ideas introduced by the books in general, and thus of my eventual claim to the throne.

  • Antibiotics! Also, proper washing of hands by the doctors should be among the religious commandments; the book on medicine should include an explanation of microbes, sterilization and other useful concepts, and describe ways to experimentally test those theories.

  • The messages aiming to be broadcast to the foreign heathens could go along with Latin translations of those texts, as well as explanation of what valuable goods those people are likely to hold, and what they are likely to value, giving an incentive to merchants to try to reach India or even China.

  • The book aimed at the noble families could include well-written adaptations of the stories of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, etc. but cast in a distant semi-mythical past where the main characters are presented as ancestors of those noble families - that would boost the prestige of those families and have them as promoters of the new books as obviously divinely inspired.

  • The horse collar, of course!

Together, those should ensure some support support from the clergy, the army, the merchants and the noble families.

comment by LuxAurumque · 2012-03-15T00:03:17.890Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Do I have to take it over? Can I not just use my body of knowledge to churn out technology and Enlightened thought to (hopefully) allow humanity to skip a couple hundred years' worth of religious intolerance, and ignorance of rational thought?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-14T19:59:43.332Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

some saying that when the big volcano explodes in wherever it's the sign that the end is near

Huh, you'd be very unlikely to make it to AD 79 anyway. (On the other hand, tectonics might (or might not) be chaotic enough that what you do might advance (or delay) the eruption.)

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-14T18:14:42.074Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. 1 AD and Christianity is on the rise. That's one of the prime reasons I didn't want to start a new religion. Sounds like a good way to get yourself killed. See also: Jesus. Jesus threatened the power structure of Rome and didn't get much for it...

comment by gwern · 2012-03-14T18:18:22.304Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Imperial Rome was in general extremely tolerant of new religions, of which there were many new mystery cults - as long as they accepted a few ground rules vis-a-vis politics, and even those ground rules were negotiable. For example, the Jews were allowed to break all sorts of rules like not sacrificing to the emperors or ejecting legion standards from the Temple. As far as we can tell given the sources available (which likely skew pro-Roman), the Jewish revolts were not really the Romans' fault.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-03-14T18:27:45.776Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This also means that there was intense competition among religions which would reduce the chance that any one religion could gain adherents.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-15T00:47:56.245Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, a printing press is an enormous advantage for spreading memes.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-14T18:40:11.880Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's right, and that's also probably why Christianity grew extremely slowly early on. (I wouldn't go the religion route myself unless I had technological miracles to employ.)

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-03-15T02:00:12.334Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder why Christianity won so big in the end then, given that it wasn't displaying early memetic virulence.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-15T02:08:49.369Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

People have speculated about that for a long time. Relevant factors seem to be the decay of the Roman military discrediting Christianity's major rival, Mithraism, lack of vitality in the pagan faiths such as diminished oracular activity discrediting them ('the silence of the oracles'), and good political luck.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-14T18:26:46.670Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My point is more that you're instantly going to alienate a great number of people and make things much, much harder for you.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-14T18:41:59.273Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Who are you going to alienate by starting a new religion? No one unless you choose to. (Even the intolerant Hebrew scriptures were respected among the pagans by virtue of their antiquity, and this was a big selling point for the many fellow-traveler non-Jew Jews, if you will, and for the later Christians.)

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-14T20:18:56.700Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But did the Hebrew's respect the pagans? Religion is mindkilling, and anyone who ascribes to another one is going to be less fond of you. At least that's what I was thinking.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-14T20:41:45.438Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Did they all? Who knows. Xenophobia is universal. We do know there were instances and veins of respect for some pagans who did not go so far as to convert & be circumcised. If they were 'righteous', which entailed following the basic moral code, they might even avoid Gehenna.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-03-14T18:52:18.350Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

1 AD and Christianity is on the rise.

Jesus (if he existed at all) was probably about 5 at that point. He won't causing trouble for another three decades.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-14T19:53:52.432Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh duh. I'm remembering a cached thought that I'd already heard was wrong that there were 20-whatever years between 0 A.D. and 1 A.D.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-14T20:45:45.783Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. 1 AD and Christianity is on the rise.

Not at all. Many decades later.

EDIT: I didn't see the MileyCyrus' post which asserts the same.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-14T20:56:35.610Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I hope you have an expensive gold wedding band but otherwise start off by keeping your mouth shut. Find someone who will take care of you for a few days or weeks and then look for employment in the local church. Your marginal product is quite low, even once you have learned the local language. You might think that knowing economics, or perhaps quantum mechanics, will do you some good but in reality people won’t even think your jokes are funny. Even if you can prove Euler’s Theorem from memory no one will understand your notation. I hope you have a strong back and an up to date smallpox vaccination.

Tyler Cowen

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-17T01:43:32.120Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I propose a slightly altered scenario, which is (IMO) more suitable for simulating an AI:

About you:

  • You are very intelligent; smarter than the smartest person who'd ever lived on Earth as of January 2012.
  • You have perfect recall; that is, you are able to instantly remember anything that you'd ever experienced, including any text you'd ever read.
  • You have read, experienced, and, due to your vast intelligence, understood, the sum-total of all human art and knowledge as of January, 2012. This includes all topics such as science, technology, sociology, public speaking, music, etc.
  • You have infinite willpower. Though you need food and rest, you never get bored or distracted.
  • You can perform arithmetic operations very quickly; in our world, you'd be called a "Human Calculator".

About the setting:

  • You find yourself inhabiting a new body in a parallel world, inhabited by parallel humans.
  • This body is human in appearance, and is of whatever age and gender you choose. Its performance is comparable to any other native of the parallel world, with the exception of the brain, which is able to support your capabilities as described above. While you don't have super-strength, super-agility, super-disease-immunity, etc., you don't have any super-weaknesses, either.
  • The world around you resembles Rome circa 1 AD. You can speak the language fluently, and the culture is similar enough for you to get by. Biologically, the people who live here are identical to those who lived in Ancient Rome in our world; the same applies to other living things.
  • However, this world is not exactly identical to our Rome. For one thing, some of the geography is different: features like mountains, rivers, ore deposits, etc. are in different places or have different shapes. More importantly, history here is different as well. It is similar in broad strokes -- there are Emperors, conquests, barbarian invasions, etc. -- but you cannot predict future events merely by remembering what you'd read in history books in our world.
  • The major political entity in this world is the empire of Emor. It wields power similar to that wielded by Rome in our own world.
  • You arrive anywhere you choose within Emor's borders. You have enough wealth to live the life of a minor Patrician for a year; this wealth can be distributed as you choose between assets (such as land, grain, or slaves) and cash.
  • You cannot take any future artifacts with you; all of your assets must be things that a native Emorian might acquire.

Win/Lose Conditions:

  • You win when you amass as much personal power as the average Roman Emperor circa first century AD in our world, which is how much power the current Emorian Emperor has. That is, you must be able to wield the entire economic, financial, and military strength of Emor.
  • You do not need to obtain the title of Emperor; power is what matters.
  • You lose if you die before accomplishing your goal.
comment by DuncanS · 2012-03-14T23:09:42.430Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think we tend to underestimate the extent to which technologies arise out of the times they are found in - in many cases they arise almost as soon as they are practically possible. In many cases I suspect they arise before they are practically possible, and fail, repeatedly, until surrounding technology advances to the point that it's possible to make them work. Steam engines, for example, weren't invented until the 1700's because metals were so bad at the time that pressure vessels were impossible to make safe - early cannon were extremely hazardous for this reason, and operated at low pressures. Early steam engines also couldn't afford large amounts of metal, and were largely made of wood - a highly unsuitable material, and tended to use vacuum rather than pressure to work, as this kept the cylinders in compression, which was safer. They were consequently immensely inefficient, making a horse much more practical unless you happen to have lots of coal lying around.

Without any of the modern suppliers that we are all used to, it will be surprisingly hard to do much better than the Romans themselves did.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-15T02:21:34.966Z · score: 12 (11 votes) · LW · GW

On IRC, papermachine mentioned incredulity that horse collars took so long to be invented - a millennia or two to not choke your horses? I commented this had always struck me as pretty bizarre too, and I had long wondered whether there was some unmentioned factor at play (suggesting that either wooden plows didn't put enough weight to choke horses or that the choking only happened after horses were substantially enlarged after centuries of breeding).

He went looking on Wikipedia and indeed found subleties not usually mentioned:

While Lefebvre's experiments clearly demonstrated that the throat and girth design he used rode up on horses and cut off their air, images from ancient art and partial yokes found by archaeologists suggested that with proper placement and the addition of a stiff partial yoke, the breastcollar remained on the chest, and wind was not in fact cut off while pulling.[30][31] Further studies conducted in 1977 by Spruytte and Littauer, followed up by Georges Raepsaet, with more accurately reconstructed ancient designs suggested that horses with ancient harness designs could pull nearly as much as with the more modern horse collar.[32] The primary benefit to the use of the modern horse collar, it is argued, was that it allowed a lower point of attachment and in doing so the increased usability of horses for ploughing.[33]

comment by Nile · 2012-03-16T22:44:46.681Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is wrong, but less wrong than I thought:

" Steam engines, for example, weren't invented until the 1700's because metals were so bad at the time that pressure vessels were impossible to make safe "

Not quite: the development of high-pressure engines was delayed, but the initial deployment if low pressure engines was an immediate success.

The first steam engines were, of course, atmospheric engines: fill a large piston with low-pressure steam, squirt cold water, and - whoosh! - the steam condenses to water and a pretty good vacuum, leaving the piston to be forced in by atmospheric pressure.

Inefficient? Actually, no. Heavy, yes: this is a building with an engine in it, not a locomotive; and slow. But good for pumping and acceptably efficient at it; beam engines remained in use as municipal pumping stations well into the twentieth century.

They were two or more orders of magnitude more efficient than a horse, given access to tons (but not tens of tons) per day of coal. You simply could not link up enough capstans and horses to do what an early beam engine did.

Crucially for our purposes, a working beam engine can be constructed by blacksmiths and coopers, with a little bit of skilled brasswork and solder for the valves. This is feasible and affordable, in Rome, with our limited start-up capital.

What we need next is a profitable application, and we can copy de Savary's business model as well as his first crude invention: drain a once-lucrative mine that's failing due to flooding.

The Romans had mines - huge ones for copper, in North Wales - and probaby silver elsewhere. If they had mines, they had flooding.

The question is whether we can travel back in time with a well-memorised geological map that shows the proximity of such an opportunity to any small (or large) coal measure.

So we might have an opportunity to make a lot of money from an abandoned and unprofitable enterprise that the owner will be delighted to sell or rent to us.

Note, also, that we're travelling back in time with some seriously useful - and profitable! - ideas about mining engineering in general.

Armed with a lot of money, we might just have the cash flow to kickstart an industrial economy in the region, and start constructing a reverberating furnace and a real machine shop with some interesting uses for good steel. High-pressure boilers included.

comment by Nile · 2012-03-17T00:06:53.871Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's bad form to reply to my own post, but a strong cup of tea has invigorated me with some ideas that follow on from building the first working beam engine.

I'm introducing a second invention, halfway through, because you need something to pump industrial quantities of capital as well as water.

Firstly, you probably won't have the cashflow to purchase another mine and build another engine for at least a decade. Not unless you're mining silver, or there's a severe economic supply contraint on copper, tin, or whatever you're extracting, permitting you to make extraordinary profits.

You will have the cashflow to improve - and probably replace - your engine, your workshop, and your craftsmmen in two or three years.

You now have a business model. No, TWO business models.

Firstly, municipal water supply already exists in the Roman Empire: there's an existing demand for big beam-engine pumps, and you can demonstrate a profitable and reliable working model. Your craftsmen might defect and start up a rival business - if they can get capital (which they can't) or interest a Patrician - but you can let them go, secure in the knowledge that they can only ever copy what you've already done.

They cannot compete with your next technological improvement, or the one after: your emerging commercial rivals are no better than the industrial pioneers and inventors who took decades to develop things that you know completely, a century ahead of their best possible learning-curve.

Your second business model is that you know where the all good ore lodes are, and how to get at them - flooded or not. Even if you don't, mine-owners with a flooding problem are going to tell you where the few known ones are...

...But developing those resources still needs far more capital than you possess; and your objective is to become Emperor, not just a provider of steam pumps to grand patricians with an ore lode, and Proconsuls with a municipal supply problem.

No, you need a second invention: the Joint Stock Company. Lots of wealthy families and merchants would love to have something to invest their money in - Rome's a surprisingly rigid economy, above a certain level of family wealth - and you've got an idea they can see working.

So: get the articles drawn up - and sworn before a Quaestor (and a Vestalis if you want it to be a convincing demonstration of good faith that'll get people killed for suborning or betraying) - and open up another mine.

And another. And a bigger one, with a horse-drawn tramway to move the ore and the coal. Lucky you, knowing the Mass Haul calculation, and the principles of bridge design, soil mechanics, and a simple optical level...

So now you have cashflow, an expanding demand for steel and machine tools, bulk transportation, and coal. And capital.

Sounds like an industrial revolution, right there.

And you're always going to be first with the right technology, at the right time: whatever significant technology anyone else invents - or copies - you will always know its flaws and how they were overcome in subsequent improvement and developments - or how that particular technology was superseded by something far, far better when materials became available.

You also have a substantial political power base among your shareholders: merchants and mid-level patrician families who will, within a decade or two, be wealthier than the entire senatorial class of Rome.

Purple rather suits me, don't you think?

comment by see · 2012-03-17T02:16:29.509Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Before you're wealthy enough to actually have a significant political power base, it's going to be obvious you're getting wealthy. At that point you're going to need political patronage to avoid having, say, joint-stock companies outlawed.

If the means by which you're gaining wealth are not seen as legitimate, you won't be allowed to accumulate enough to do you any good—and in a society with no ideology of economic liberty, any new means of accumulating wealth undertaken by anybody who isn't already on top is almost automatically seen as illegitimate by the people who are already on top.

comment by Nile · 2012-03-17T10:49:44.817Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Partially correct, and partially wrong. The great patricians and senators will try to keep down a plebeian, but this is equally true of a fellow-patrician emerging as a dominant power.

But people could and did succeed in Rome: your point is an objection, not an insoluble problem.

I would point out that not getting assassinated - or coming up against a power bloc that can stop you - is a problem with all 'Become Emperor of Rome' scenarios: and it was solved by all emperors.

It boils down to politics. A strong point of the Joint-Stock plan is that you make a lot of people wealthy: a broad power base is a strong power base.

Consider this: many ancient and noble Patrician families are in a state best described as 'genteel poverty'. Give them enough of a share to regain a place in public life - but about the same, or slightly less, than the share you sell to merchants, so that these aristocrats cannot dominate the power base and - and you've got a very powerful influence in the senate.

The other place to secure influence is the Army. Families of successful (or influential) generals and mid-level commanders must get a share. At least one Legion, within reach of Rome, should start receiving mass-produced high-quality equipment ....Or mass-produced equipment as good as the standard issue, but at factory prices - much to the profit of the commanders and the procurator. (This is legal in Rome: cost-effective supply was properly incentivised).

"The Joachimsthaler Legion stands with Rationus' is a declaration that will put a stop to any drastic setback.

Incidentally, I wouldn't even start on trying to get the Praetorian Guard 'onside' - too obvious, certain to alarm the Emperor, and fatal.

Improving the water supply, temple donations, and economic mobility: that's a good route to popular support - and the 'Vox populi' was a matter of importance in Rome. Not that it was a democracy by that time, but the ruling classes took great care (and great expense) to maintain popularity. And there was a direct 'Will of the People' channel in Rome: the Tribunes.

Arguably, they are a point of failure: your public works, equalisation of wealth for plebeians, and temple donatuons would count in your favour - and should - but the Tribunes are a point of failure if your enemies seek influence there. Note, however, that the tribunes existed explicitly as a counterbalance to the great patricians and the emperor: that's the way you play against 'the people who are already on top'.

Finally, be sure that you and your supporters are liberal with donations to the Temples. And, indeed, to the causes and projects of the existing Emperor's supporters... Some of whom will be happy to be shareholders, discreetly, because they're not all rich - old families, again - and financial dependence on the Emperor is an uncomfortable thing.

In short, you'd play politics. But politics powered by an important invention of the modern age - Shareholders - with crude steam engines to prime that particular pump with money.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-17T17:16:25.870Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, you need a second invention: the Joint Stock Company.

You might have infeential distance problems explaining that one.

comment by see · 2012-03-16T05:38:47.483Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on the technology. Sure, for steam engines you need good metallurgy, but it turns out that good metallurgy needs relatively little in the way of technology as opposed to knowledge of chemistry and minerals. With the knowledge of chemistry available in 2012, it's very, very easy to move Rome forward to late 190th-century steel metallurgy. Bessermer converters and open hearth furnaces are reasonably within the capabilities of Roman brick technology to build; they just didn't know enough about the chemistry of steel to know what they should be making.

comment by fezziwig · 2012-03-15T06:24:21.639Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think that in general, the thread is underestimating the importance of tribal politics. In particular, you're not going to be appointed emperor unless you can make a compelling case that you're a Roman citizen (a bastard, presumably, since there aren't any records). If you're too black or too blonde or too female to pull that off, you're going to have to win by conquest (see below) or play power-behind-the-throne.

Assuming you have the right looks, I think you want to slow-play it: build up a fortune in business, get adopted by one of the elite families (not the Julians!), marry into another of the elite families (still not the Julians), and transition into a career of able public service. A generalship would be ideal, if you can swing it. At that point I see two options:

  • You can set yourself up as Tiberius' successor, aiming to fill the void left by Sejanus' fall. Getting Tiberius' favor will be tricky, but at this point you should have immense personal wealth and 30 years of accomplishments to draw on. This is why you don't marry one of the Julias - they mostly died in the purge.
  • Hold out even longer, and help restore the republic in the aftermath of the whole Caligula thing. The hard part here is surviving six years of Caligula; he was perpetually broke and will definitely try to steal your money.

"Holy shit, Fezziwig, you're saying it'll take thirty years minimum?" Sadly, yes. It's tempting to try to sidestep Tiberius entirely and become Augustus' successor, but I don't buy it. Augustus and the senate won't accept you unless you're over 50 (or so) and have a proven record in governing stuff, and there's just not time to get that together before Gaius dies in 4AD and Tiberius gets officially tapped as successor.

So if you're impatient (or black, female, &c), you have to conquer Rome. That sounds harder than it is; all you need is (1) a group of people who'll let you lead them against Rome, and (2) a military advantage that's better than the tactics and discipline of the Roman legions. I had a strategy for generating (2), but Logos01 describes a better one, so let's go with that.

(1) is tricky. You need to be allowed to amass a military power base, so thoroughly Romanized provinces are out. You need access to a functioning economy to get your raw materials, so semi-nomadic herders like the Germans are out. You need a vaguely reasonable logistical chain, so Mexico and China are out. You need a state that actually wants a fight with Rome, so the Persians and the British are out.

If you have a solid ethnic in with the Egyptians or Jews, they're good choices: nominally Roman, but with a proud history of self-rule that should help you through the early delicate period where one informer ends the whole game. Failing that, I think your best option is a slave revolt: amass wealth, buy into one of the slave colonies, and recruit from there. You'll have to do the metallurgy yourself, at least at first, but at least your forces are hard to bribe.

Even with a military power-base, you probably want to wait until late Tiberius or middle Caligula, just so that the empire doesn't turn on you or fragment the instant you seize power. I guess you technically win if a rump session of the Senate coronates you while Rome burns outside, but it feels like we should award points for a smooth transition of power.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-15T11:37:12.873Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you have a solid ethnic in with the Egyptians or Jews

Physical appearance isn't the whole story-- cultures change, and I'm not sure how hard it would be for a modern person, even with the appropriate appearance, to be accepted solidly as an insider.

comment by fezziwig · 2012-03-15T17:12:47.975Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A very cogent point, and one I took too lightly. I do see two causes for hope:

  1. You have Mad Oratory Skills, and so have some scope to set fashions of behavior.
  2. News travels slowly, so you can field-test your approach in small communities before the big show.

It might be smart to start in another country, so that none of your eventual targets see you make your newbie mistakes. It's not as good as being born in Egypt/Judea/wherever, but as you point out that's really hard to fake.

comment by Slackson · 2012-03-15T20:18:26.668Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the cultural differences are one reason that people might choose the Prophet path. Prophets are supposed to be weird anyway.

comment by shokwave · 2012-03-14T16:37:43.914Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You know all human knowledge as of 2012.

My existence obviously invalidates some of my knowledge of how the history of Rome played out, but the broad political strokes remain similar. After fifteen years of backing the winning side in nearly every conflict I should have a phenomenal powerbase; a coup is almost a formality at this point.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-14T20:00:46.547Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

After backing the winning side once or twice, things change, and your knowledge of specific details of history will become less and less valuable.

comment by shokwave · 2012-03-14T21:25:44.620Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I plan on displacing some other backer so that the total support is roughly the same, such that the events proceed as similarly as possible. Once the disjunct becomes too big, I have to actually think to pick the winning side, but that's not that much harder.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-03-15T05:53:41.139Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The butterfly effect is going to screw you over long before 15 years have passed, in many ways, but even directly via the weather: how many naval battles could have turned out differently if the weather changed?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-15T11:17:36.686Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Land battles, too. Before modern communications, the direction of the wind had a large effect on how fast and far orders could be heard.

comment by atorm · 2012-03-14T16:47:04.832Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How much did you do to back them? Are you just a boot-licker, or have you been contributing in some way as to draw support away from the historical winner and to yourself?

comment by drethelin · 2012-03-14T16:46:31.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. Political power is much less interesting than building an army but I think it's a much safer path to ruling rome than trying to take over either through rome's military or through your own. You can use your patrician wealth and knowledge of the future to jumpstart a fortune that can dwarf any other roman's and become the foremost citizen in rome, and from there it's not a long path to being emperor.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-14T17:20:23.831Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You can use your patrician wealth and knowledge of the future to jumpstart a fortune that can dwarf any other roman's and become the foremost citizen in rome, and from there it's not a long path to being emperor.

You actually don't even need knowledge - you just need a low discount rate. I read a little bit about Roman banking once, and they were charging 10+% interest in periods of essentially no inflation, with apparently fairly low bad loan rate.

And as I pointed out on XiXiDu's post, knowledge of black powder alone is valuable and very feasible in an Italian setting. Even if we generously assumed that our omnicompetent individual couldn't develop gunpowder suitable for small arms (or the metallurgy necessary), crude gunpowder is fantastic for siege warfare, which the Romans engaged in plenty of and had well developed and expensive siege weapons. Sell it to the military and profit.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-03-14T17:57:13.383Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Augustus would quickly capture you if you produced black powder. Tiberius would torture you for the formula and then kill you and nearly everyone who he suspected you might have given the formula to.

See:

In the reign of the emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD) a Roman glassmaker demonstrated a remarkable new glass at the imperial court. Unlike ordinary glass, it did not break: it must have seemed almost supernatural. The event was recorded by contemporary writers Pliny and Petronius. They called his glass vitrum flexile (flexible glass). The craftsman displayed a beautiful transparent vase to the emperor and then dashed it to the ground. According to the story, it dented but did not break. Tiberius asked if the glassmaker had told the secret of unbreakable glass to anyone else. When the answer was in the negative, the emperor had the unknown genius put to death and his workshop destroyed fearing that the new material would reduce the value of his imperial gold and silver.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-14T19:00:00.614Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's a cool story, but it's not like innovation stopped in the Roman empire.

comment by Alex_Altair · 2012-03-14T21:46:17.370Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is this story considered likely true? Did he invent plastic?

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2012-03-14T23:10:56.380Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently, Pliny himself was skeptical.

Pliny (NH 36, 66) makes it pretty clear that he does not believe in vitrum flexile. He starts his short account by stating “They say” or “There is a story.” The only thing he says about the glass is that it was flexible. He then says that the glassmaker’s entire workshop was destroyed so that the value of copper, silver, and gold wouldn’t suffer [because people acquired flexible glass instead]. Pliny comments that the story is more frequently told than it is reliable.

...

Not surprisingly, no example of Roman vitrum flexile is known to exist.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-03-14T21:48:30.429Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-03-15T03:04:11.394Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A fun thought experiment but I think many are over thinking it. Penicillin alone should be enough to make you the richest person in rome with much influence. From there you'll have quite a few options that don't bear premature optimization for.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-15T11:33:52.602Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How hard is it to mass produce penicillin?

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-03-15T20:47:54.067Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

who said anything about healing the plebs?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-15T22:50:21.698Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Keeping them healthy gives you a larger potential power base.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-03-16T02:09:24.659Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

unless Rome itself is insecure during the time I'm there I don't care. Seeking populist support doesn't seem useful until I have skin in the game politically.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-03-18T02:57:01.921Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Very hard.

comment by Oligopsony · 2012-03-14T19:17:39.312Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If you like, play with these additional constraints:

1) Your goal is to be maximally calamitous from the perspective of first century humanity's CEV.

2) You can't kill people with disease.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-03-14T23:15:15.547Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your goal is to be maximally calamitous from the perspective of first century humanity's CEV.

How does that matter? No matter what my goal is, I'd start by taking over the world.

comment by Oligopsony · 2012-03-15T01:03:20.620Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's mostly a challenge to the analogy (with a willingness to be surprised by the creativity of suggestions to the contrary.) UFAI is scary not just because it can easily attain power but because the sort of power it could obtain would allow it to pursue its goals unilaterally; emperors, meanwhile, get their power from the consent of the governed (for values of "consent" that include compliance with coercion.) History is basically one unfriendly emperor (or social institution more broadly) after another, but this has posed existential risk only recently.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-03-15T04:56:11.867Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I can build infrastructure faster than people can reproduce, which should be easy once technology advances far enough, I just have to eventually have enough automation that I can take everyone out. Or I can just ignore the humans until I've mined most of the solar system, and then take them out.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-03-14T17:48:15.266Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

modern humans don't have much greater raw intelligence than the Romans,

The Flynn Effect might make this statement false.

The diseases I carry but have immunity to might soon leave me as the only living person in the Empire. Ignoring this:

Demonstrate my knowledge of mathematics to win fame. Demonstrate my superior medical skills to become the Emperor's personal doctor. Further prove my value to the emperor by pointing out locations of underground gold and silver that can be mined. Get the emperor hooked on the most addictive drug I know of. Go on a vacation outside of the direct reach of the emperor. Let the emperor know that I will only continue to supply him with the drug if he turns over control of the empire to me. Give the drug to my generals to keep their loyalty.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-14T18:11:39.561Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

A friend of mine says that most of the emperors and generals were already addicted to some pretty serious drugs.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-03-14T21:04:01.992Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Could you get a more specific claim?

A cursory search suggests that opium was available and Marcus Aurelius was addicted, but not that addiction was common.

comment by khafra · 2012-03-15T17:02:04.236Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

opium was available and Marcus Aurelius was addicted

Whoah. Seriously? That throws his legendarily insightful writings on Stoicism into an entirely different light.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-15T18:43:42.991Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Opium was available, but only as a poppy juice or tea used routinely in Roman medicine with little reports of addiction. The same thing happens in Chinese medicine - it's introduced around the 900s as a new useful medicine from the Silk Road which is especially useful for settling one's stomach & aiding digestion and only later as time passed did methods change, did the bulbs get scratched to extract the sap which could be eaten and eventually smoked, leading to its final apotheosis when it is chemically processed into heroin and an injectable fine white powder (discussed in McCoy's The Politics of Heroin).

The theory that Aurelius was addicted stems from his doctor Galen's well-recorded constant administration of various potions some of which included poppy juice, Aurelius's recommendation of poppy-using recipes in his Meditations, and general argument based on his Stoic detachment and perspective (McLynn's Marcus Aurelius: A Life).

To state he was addicted with no qualification is to overstate the case - we're talking probabilities greater than 5% but probably less than 50-60%, my own belief is.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-15T00:42:39.255Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That's just a recipe for getting ganked by someone who a). wants to have your kind of influence, and b). mistakenly believes that he could replace you by acquiring your drug supply and/or reverse-engineering your formula.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-15T00:35:27.551Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You are intellectually near-perfect.

You could also throw in the Eidetic Memory and Human Calculator perks, in order to simulate an AI with a little more fidelity.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-03-14T20:53:08.453Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

L. Sprague de Camp wrote Lest Darkness Fall, in which a historian took over Rome a few centuries after this. Taking over wasn't his main priority, but rather ensuring that the dark ages got skipped. I'm not going to ROT13 the spoilers because similar ideas are going to be presented here.

Basic strategy was, 'invent' distilled liquor and base 10 arithmetic to gather capital. Use this to produce the printing press and the semaphore. By this point, he was influential, and used his foreknowledge of history to prevent a royal assassination and gain favor with that king. He never actually took over, but he was the man behind the throne for that king and the next.

And he didn't even need to be super-smart, though he did need to know the language, be reasonably lucky, and better at hand-to-hand combat than one would expect (if he had been super-smart he wouldn't have needed that).

comment by djcb · 2012-03-15T06:28:50.187Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, that sounds like an interesting book -- would you recommend it?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-15T11:23:41.602Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'll give it a moderate recommendation-- it's been at least twenty years since I've read it, and I don't know how it would look to me now.

However, I've read it several times, and enjoyed it as a light-hearted and moderately realistic (not everything Padway tries succeeds) account of rationality winning.

One other reason to read it if you haven't read golden age sf-- it moves. It's quite a short novel, and compared to modern sf, it's astonishing how much story can be well told in how few words.

comment by djcb · 2012-03-15T23:19:57.807Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks -- any other alternative-history involving classic times you would recommend?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-16T02:11:27.992Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm exceedingly fond of Richard Garfinkle's Celestial Matters about an AH where the Greek theory of elements is true. Greece has become a superpower (the background is still pretty classical, but I think it's set five or six centuries later) in opposition to China, because feng shui is also true. Unfortunately, the feng shui isn't worked out as well as the elements, but who can argue with an expedition to the sun to get some primal fire?

Not quite AH, but David Drake's Birds of Prey is fun. It's a noirish story about the last honest man is corrupt Rome. It's kitchen sink science fiction, full of good things. To list them would be spoilers, so I'll rot13. Gurer'f n cyrfvbfnhe va gur Gvore, n fvqr rssrpg bs gur gvzr geniry sebz gur sne shgher jub'f pbzr gb Ebzr gb fgbc na nyvra zranpr.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-03-15T18:57:50.956Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. It's not perfect, but good.

comment by djcb · 2012-03-15T23:16:38.478Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks -- perfection is too much to ask for anyways.. I really like the description of injecting some 'simple' concepts like base-10 arithmetic are so important - I can see really see changing such a 'simple thing' changing many, many things.

Just think about multiplying XCV by MCII...

comment by TobyBartels · 2012-03-25T21:17:25.893Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A predecessor was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, whose influences (past and future) are currently detailed on Wikipedia. [Edit: typo, actualy mouso.]

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-03-15T11:40:30.350Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Technology is one part of the victory. The other part is working with people, because you can't take over the world alone (unless you are able to build an invincible battle robot, but first you need to get there). You need strategic skills, business skills, psychology skills, and cult-leadership skills, because you essentially face two types of risks -- one is the risk that your technological and military strategy fails (just like when you would lose in a strategic computer game), other is the risk that generally everything will go successully, until in some unexpected moment someone you trusted (or just did not think too much about) stabs you in the back (either literally, or steals or sabotages your technology, incites revolt, etc.).

I guess it would be wise to surround yourself with a cult following, and spend extra energy on convincing those people about your supernatural powers (there need to be some extra secrets, beyond your technology and medicine skills that people see). Those people must be convinced that killing and replacing you would not be even in their short-term interest; otherwise someone will be tempted someday, and it only needs one assassin to kill you. You can always promise much more than you can really deliver... and so can your enemies. Even if you bring education, medicine, food and technology, someone can kill you in exchange for a hope of eternal happiness. Or they can be blackmailed.

I am not sure if it would be safer to stay hidden and surround yourself with brainwashed puppets (skilled enough to do their jobs) -- so when someone must go to the Roman court, or someone is assassinated, it's them, not you. Basicly, for each skill you will exhibit (military strategy, technology, education, medicine, agriculture), select one or two persons already skilled in this area (leader, scientist, philosopher, healer, farmer), teach them, brainwash them, and let them pretend to the public it's their skill. You can also appoint a false prophet for the public. You would delegate some tasks to some people anyway, with this strategy you just hide yourself from the attention of the outside world.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-03-15T00:24:55.346Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

For extra credit, toss out knowledge of specific future events that some solutions are relying on!

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-03-15T10:20:16.667Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That should not be "extra credit" but a necessary condition for acceping the solution.

By coming to the past and doing something, events change. Butterfly effect et cetera. History is influenced by what people do, and people are influenced by thousand random events every day.

Knowledge of the original future would only be useful to guess the existing tensions in the year 1 AD, but not for predicting which day someone will decide to attack someone, not even whether they will really attack them.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-03-15T13:02:36.057Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some events (volcanoes, large social phenomena etc) would not be ruled out by butterfly effect, so they're not strictly cheating.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-03-15T13:28:55.824Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Vulcanoes, sun eclipses, et cetera are fair game.

Large social phenomena could come a few days / years / months sooner or later, they could have different leaders, different victims, somewhat different endings, etc. (It may be good to bet on possibility of slave rebellion in -70s, but becoming friends with Spartacus may be useless.)

comment by lionhearted · 2012-03-14T17:17:11.672Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Arrive somewhere with good horses and poor leadership on the edge of the Roman Empire, implement Mongolian horsemanship/mobility/unit-tactics, most of which should be possible with the current day's technology in a horsemanship culture -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_military_tactics_and_organization

Consolidate/build up for a couple decades, then lead an invasion against Rome sometime during one of the low points of Tiberius's reign (between AD 14 to and AD 37) -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiberius#As_Emperor

comment by James_Miller · 2012-03-14T18:05:38.348Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Much of Rome's military strength came from it being much better organized then its neighbors and its army having better discipline and courage than its competitors. Your plan wouldn't counter these key advantages.

Plus, even with superior military tech you almost certainly would not be able to convince even a few barbarians to accept your leadership or probably even advice.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-14T18:25:41.377Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Arrive somewhere with good horses and poor leadership on the edge of the Roman Empire, implement Mongolian horsemanship/mobility/unit-tactics, most of which should be possible with the current day's technology in a horsemanship culture -

Is that true? Edward Luttwak in his book on Byzantine strategy remarks that the Mongol's reflex bows were very complex to make and hard to master - the Byzantine cataphracts had to constantly train just to keep their horse archery up to snuff.

comment by bramflakes · 2012-03-16T23:12:50.185Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What is the most recent time period in which one could be transported to (with full 2012 knowledge), and still have a high chance of taking over the world, or at least a powerful country or nation-state?

comment by LucasSloan · 2012-03-16T23:20:53.884Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I think that given all the powers that are provided, you could take over the world now. Admittedly, most of that power is provided by the immunity to akrasia.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-17T17:10:12.138Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not convinced this is a simple cutoff. In particular it seems like it would be easier to take over the world during time periods when there exist large empires that have done some of the work for you.

comment by Nick_Roy · 2012-03-15T02:24:08.410Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would die of smallpox.

:(

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-03-18T02:56:02.735Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You could probably find yourself some cowpox virus to inoculate yourself with.

comment by beriukay · 2012-03-15T05:01:07.545Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That was one addendum I was going to suggest. Perhaps we can add a stipulation about getting a vaccine that hypothetically protects you from the worst of biological fates. After all, what good is a massive knowledge and no tools if we die before we can even find/make some basic anti-biologicals.

comment by Turgurth · 2012-03-16T02:11:42.152Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

One possible alternative would be choosing to appear in the Americas.

comment by DanPeverley · 2012-03-14T21:56:50.729Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you are getting into a military conflict, the introduction of stirrups would give your cavalry forces a serious edge. I think the most difficult part of this problem is getting an initial powerbase though, once you have that you can implement all of your future tech ideas and go crazy on Rome, but before that you're just a sitting duck.

comment by fezziwig · 2012-03-14T21:08:04.574Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Fun! I'll post a serious answer when I've more time; for now, some off-the-top observations:

  • 1 AD is in the middle of Augustus' reign; the empire is in decent shape financially and is pretty religiously and culturally diverse.
    • So the hardest part of the God gambit is in getting people to pay attention.
  • Roman politics included assassination, at all levels; extended engagement with Roman political life requires some safety measures, no matter how valuable you've made yourself.
  • The German barbarians hadn't yet recovered from their losses in the previous century; provoking another great migration would be very hard.
    • And their religious practices were never well-documented, so boosting off of their existing structures is probably a no-go.
  • Egypt might be more fruitful, I'll have to check.
comment by johnswentworth · 2019-05-25T00:27:44.105Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

General notes, before I actually propose a solution:

  • A lot of proposals so far involve things like "use my education and predictive talents to achieve a high position in society". Given how quickly smart people with amazing predictive talents walk into the White House today, combined with the political talents of LWers, I doubt that has any hope of working.
  • A lot of proposals involve introducing technologies like mills, cannon, etc which would be massive capital outlays by the standards of the time. You'd need to already have an empire's worth of resources on hand, and early-modern tech probably still wouldn't be enough to make the economy more efficient right away.
  • In terms of real economic value, probably the largest chunk of potential is corn and potatoes - both are New World plants, corn has caloric yield an order of magnitude higher than wheat (in terms of both land and labor requirements), and potatoes don't get burned when an army comes by. If I could manage a round trip to the New World, bringing back those crops would be huge - although that still leaves the question of how to capture the value. Conversely, it would be hard for any ancient economy to accumulate capital - and thus begin the trek to automation - without higher-yield crops. Unfortunately, a New World round-trip would itself take a massive capital outlay.

Thinking about low-capital-investment tech which could be implemented without advanced manufacturing...

  • RSA encryption & signing
  • logarithms & the slide rule
  • sextant & compass & associated navigation techniques
  • 18th-century design of chimneys and stoves (before which they were impractical for heating)
  • demonstration-scale telegraph (two magnets and some copper wire would suffice for material)
  • maybe very rudimentary radio (magnets, copper wire and copper foil suffice in principle)
  • aniline dyes - relatively easy once you know to look for them, and would be worth a fortune in ancient Rome
  • incremental metallurgical improvements

... I'm sure there's more to think of here, but that should be enough for a viable solution.


Proposal

Tech is the big edge, obviously. Moderns don't have a major edge in politics or war (absent the tech needed for modern military doctrine). Economically, most tech involves large capital outlays, and value capture is difficult when you're not already emperor. Given all that, general shape of solution I want is:

1. accumulate some initial resources using a low-barrier technological advantage

2. bring together a relatively small group of people (company-sized), in a remote location, for rapid vertical development of higher tech - not necessarily all the way to modernity, but enough to decisively swing the balance in a war

3. Go shopping for allies who don't like the Romans

Most of the effort is in step 2 - our relative advantage is tech, so our strategy puts most of the work in tech.

Let's flesh all that out.

  • Aniline dyes are the hot item for step 1 - they don't require advanced manufacturing or materials, capital investment required is relatively low, and given that ancient Rome was already hemorrhaging gold to buy Chinese silk, they'd definitely sell like hotcakes. Care must be taken to make sure we paid for the dyes rather than arrested or enslaved somehow, but that's probably tractable.
  • Round trip to the Americas is the next big step - we can't support people off the trade grid without high-yield crops, and fertilizer alone won't get us there. Outfitting a long-range ship should be viable for a dye-lord, and modern knowledge of sailing and the trade winds should help out. Ancient seafarers did not like leaving sight of land, but that's the kind of problem which can be solved by throwing money at it - and we'd want to train them in modern sailing anyway. Pack to trade in both directions, the voyage should be quite profitable, and we come back with all-important corn and potatoes.
  • At this point, it's viable to hire a couple hundred people with varying specialties and move to a remote patch of land somewhere on the edge of the empire where nobody will pay much attention, with running water and wood. Coastal would be useful, but not if it increases visibility too much. Get the corn and potatoes growing, and it should be viable to support the whole crowd with a fairly small agricultural base.
  • Now we have the base to make some capital investments while safely capturing their value, without fear of seizure. Let's say we have half of our two hundred people farming (comparable ratio to early modern England); most of the remaining hundred are artisans - smiths, carpenters, etc. They'll build most of our capital assets. We'll import most raw materials, like wool and metal ore, plus some processed material like sailcloth (until we can produce it ourselves), necessaries like salt, and whatever luxuries our team can enjoy without attracting undue attention.
  • Early capital assets are mainly ships and water mills - the former for trade, the latter for automation. Note that overland trade is not a high value prop - ships in any era have capacity multiple orders of magnitude higher than wagons/trucks, and premodern roads were pretty bad anyhow. The ships will sail the trade routes, and should provide ample profit for anything we need to buy. (We won't be able to keep our navigation secrets under wraps forever, but they should last long enough - ancient sailors' fear of the open sea works in our favor here.)
  • With plenty of wood and artisans, the mills can provide power for whatever light industry we want, but that industry itself will probably not be profitable - labor is very cheap relative to capital in the premodern world. The point of the mills is to power anything we want to keep away from prying eyes, in our remote corner of the world. Metallurgy will be the first and biggest priority - we can import ore, but the secrets of steel need to stay local.
  • The precision manufacturing feedback loop: build more precise tools, and those let us build even more precise tools. High-quality materials are a limiting factor for that loop, thus the importance of metallurgy.
  • Building a dynamo shouldn't be too hard, once we've imported magnets. We'll want to produce crap-tons of copper wire for anything electric - that shouldn't present any difficulties. Electricity would mainly be useful for chemical processes, e.g. splitting water - communication wouldn't matter much in our tiny remote town, and we don't want any secrets getting out. We'd need a dam to get useful power production, but dam-building isn't too hard.
  • Hand-cranked radios are still a maybe, but they'd be pretty cool and a huge military advantage.
  • Haber-Bosch process is the next big jump: with a source of ammonia, both chemical fertilizer and explosives become viable. (We could go the old-fashioned route for explosives, but Rule of Cool.) Against the famed legion phalanxes, we're looking at tight-packed targets - ideal for things that go boom.
  • At this point, we'd probably have the pieces to move on Rome. A decent-size trade fleet provides both support infrastructure and mobility for any troops we ally with, and a trade business provides connections throughout the empire and surrounding areas. Explosives would, honestly, be as much about marketing ourselves to potential allies as about actually winning fights, but they'd be awesome marketing. Encryption and (maybe) primitive radios would be a less flashy but more practical military advantage, if it actually came to a fight. All that's left is to find someone with a reasonably-sized military who's more interested in beating the Romans than in taking their stuff, and strike a deal.
comment by scientism · 2012-03-14T18:47:17.408Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm fairly certain that knowledge of modern engineering, medicine, weaponry, etc, would make it trivial to defeat the Romans, provided you had enough to people helping you. The hard part is figuring out how to gain control of people and I think there's very little we know now that would help. Probably the best bet would be to arrive somewhere there's relatively easy access to gold (provided this doesn't violate your first rule) and simply pay for workers and mercenaries. As it became obvious that you know what you're doing, I think they'd become more liable to follow you too. But even then I think the odds are not great that you could get enough people involved.

comment by mstevens · 2012-03-14T16:41:52.650Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's not an identical scenario, but the obvious book on the topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lest_Darkness_Fall

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-14T16:45:39.273Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The original reference that started this descent into fictional evidence was Rome Sweet Rome.

comment by Liam Goddard · 2019-05-24T21:37:38.398Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Use your wonderful "inventions" and knowledge about the "future" to show your amazing powers. Then explain to them that you are Mercury, god of a lot of different things, including some forms of prophecy. But like Jupiter had done previously to Neptune and Apollo, Jupiter has now sent you down to Earth in the form of a human to work off a debt as you have committed a grave crime against Jupiter (Neptune and Apollo had tried to overthrow him.)

As Mercury, you are assigned by Jupiter to serve the Emperor of Rome. Continue to impress them, and as they worship you, gain power and strength in the society. Also, use your modern rationality/science to advise the Emperor until you control most of his decisions, leaving him as merely a puppet while you receive most of the praise and make most of the actual laws of Rome.

While you are gaining power, you also are trusted by the Emperor and manage to steal money. Even if you are caught (which, if possible, you aren't) they would never dare beat or kill a god, and it wouldn't hurt your image as "Mercury"- after all, one of the things he's best known for is being the god of thieves. Eventually, you start bribing officials to help you. You build trust inside of the leaders of Rome.

When the Emperor is "mysteriously assassinated" you, Mercury, prophet, inventor, god, nobleman, wise, skilled at rulership, wealthy, trustworthy, high-ranked, and adored, become his replacement. If anyone asks why a servant is going to become the Emperor, you tell them that your orders were to serve the government of Rome, and its people, and what better way to do that than to rule it in a way that makes life for the people better?! Especially after you make some donations from the treasures of Rome that appease some of the groups that include the people questioning you, and kill the other questioners for blasphemy.

You are the Emperor of Rome.


I know this solution requires a lot of luck, and could be foiled, but it seems to me that impersonating a god would be the best option.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-03-16T16:57:55.943Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The large number of responses to this post provides a bit of support to the simulation hypothesis.

comment by Kevin · 2012-03-18T03:35:24.506Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How does this follow?

comment by James_Miller · 2012-03-18T19:25:43.517Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The simulation hypothesis comes in part from believing that some people in the future will want to run "like life" historical reenactments.

comment by LucasSloan · 2012-03-16T23:32:38.956Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe, but I don't think that it provides much evidence for us living in a simulation. Our history doesn't include stories of weird messianic figures showing up from nowhere suddenly increasing human knowledge by a lot while simultaneously gathering lots of political power.

comment by HonoreDB · 2012-03-17T15:13:10.441Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Some of these plans have made me a little suspicious about Rasputin, who showed up out of nowhere with mysterious medical abilities and used them to take over a great empire.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-03-15T00:28:55.314Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty much such a de facto takeover of Egypt (relying on an equivalent of knowledge of the future) is portrayed in the biblical story of Joseph. But it required some improbable events, so no cigar.

comment by mstevens · 2012-03-14T16:55:12.785Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Potentially useful tech: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_collar

comment by gyokuro · 2012-03-29T00:54:54.310Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know plenty of smart people, and I'm intelligent as well. I'd like to believe I'd gain power by cult-godhood, seduction, etc, but I can't see my smart friends succeeding at a high rate in my mental model of how they would behave. That makes me reluctant to believe that I would have any better chance. Some of the comments sound cocky, and require much too many things to go right. If we were properly pessimistic...

That being said, a 21st century timetraveler has a significantly greater chance of winning than an average Roman, just not a good one.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-03-22T13:25:59.192Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

[comment deleted]

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-03-15T00:22:21.997Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hint: those fkd up Roman numerals. There are many paths from there...

comment by DanielLC · 2012-03-14T23:10:48.412Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd appear somewhere that doesn't make a big deal about citizenship, and start a business. I'd find something that doesn't require too much technological capital, like building a printing press, or producing steel. I would take care to have good PR. As I get more money, I'd spend large amounts on R&D to build technology I don't remember or completely understand. After I get a large enough industrial empire, I would sponsor a revolution in some country, and become their leader. Thanks to my advanced technology, it would quickly become a powerful country and I will take over others. I would also make sure that the standard of living improves, so that people would believe that I really am doing it to help the people. Eventually, one of the places I'd take over is Rome.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-14T18:08:11.084Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming my diseases don't automatically kill everyone I come in contact with:

  1. Find someone who is sick with a disease, preferably viral, that I have immunity to, most likely through vaccination. Harvest the infectious agent from them, culture it, and store it as a potential weapon.
  2. Invent banking and insurance. Use the diseases developed in 1. to kill or disable anyone who threatens my monopoly. Because Romans lack knowledge of virology, molecular pathology, et al. (see what I did there?) I could do this and remain fairly undetected.
  3. Look up the most valuable currently (1 AD) unknown deposits of some resource, and harvest it. Use it to fund my business. This is largely optional, but could help.
  4. Find the greatest minds of the time and teach them something relatively simple, like Newtonian physics, ingratiating them to me, and convincing them to join my faction. (We're going into Northern Europe.)
  5. Use my massive wealth to fund an army. Use steel for weapons instead of iron. Develop cannons. Attack Rome.
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-03-15T00:52:49.165Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Because Romans lack knowledge of virology, molecular pathology, et al. (see what I did there?) I could do this and remain fairly undetected.

Their folk beliefs about diseases (diseases are caused by evil spirits that can spread from person to person) are close enough to the truth that his probably wouldn't work. Also they believe in witchcraft and would notice if all your enemies suddenly started getting sick.

comment by gwern · 2012-03-14T18:19:37.421Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As far as #4 goes, there are plenty of classic simple experiments - Pasteur's disproof of spontaneous generation and the demonstration of oxygen/carbon dioxide (mice and plants in bell jars) come to mind.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-14T17:12:28.639Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How would you take over Rome?

Sounds dangerous. Having extreme levels of power seems to be a good way to get myself killed. Pretty soon I'd find myself telling my best mates "Et tu Justin" and suchlike!

comment by DanielLC · 2012-03-14T23:17:55.685Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, extreme levels of power are necessary to get things done. If you're afraid of being assassinated, find a way to prevent it without giving up the power.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-15T03:11:34.762Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, extreme levels of power are necessary to get things done. If you're afraid of being assassinated, find a way to prevent it without giving up the power.

Choose a more versatile form of power. Militaristic political control is absolutely necessary if your task is sweeping social change - and even then political climate asserts much more influence over what you must choose to do than your 'power' exerts on the environment. Money is a far more flexible and reliable form of power for the purpose of getting nearly everything you want to get done.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-14T22:26:35.230Z · score: -9 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I was amazed by how little is enough to conquer the world. Issac Asimov in one of his Foundations cycle invented a character named Mule. His only great ability was to induce whatever emotions he wished in other people. That way he conquered many stellar systems.

Of course, it would work in Ancient Rome as in a today civilization. We have no technology yet to induce a mass hysteria near to what Hitler delivered bare hands. But some trans-cranial influence by some ultra-tech equipment would suffice to take over even the today's world. How hard that could be? A piece of cake for a very advanced AI.

Rome has already fallen, our present world would also, at least under some Mule type agent.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-15T10:16:26.701Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

His only great ability was to induce whatever emotions he wished in other people.

Only? That's absolutely huge. Overwriting the decision making in other agents is about the most fundamental and far reaching power you can have over them. Given how much power emotions have in decision making controlling those is a big deal. Obviously it needs to go along with some solid strategic thinking. Even if that strategic thinking just happens to be finding someone else with better strategic thinking and making them your emotional thrall first off. In terms of superpowers that isn't quite up there with the big ones like time travel but it is way, way above most mundane combat oriented powers.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-15T10:29:25.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Only? That's absolutely huge.

No doubt it's absolutely huge, but it is the only power he had.

To say it differently. Instead of armies and colonies and such, with this ability he was able to get everything else. Including generals and their armies.

OTOH, what Hitler had? Nothing except the hypnotic power over the individuals and over the masses. What a democratic leader has? He or she can induce the right emotions in other people. This, inducing emotions in others, is the fundamental tool for power gathering. Mule was only very, very strong.

As they say, you must win their hearths. Emotions, all the specter of them.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-15T10:57:20.924Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No doubt it's absolutely huge, but it is the only power he had.

Yes, I just don't see why this is particularly impressive. To me it sounds like saying "He won the fight but he was only five times the size of the other guy." Hardly surprising and the emphasis is jarring!

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-15T11:10:45.087Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Let say it is the key power. Having others to feel the way you want them to feel.

Everything else follows and every politician knows that.

So, if you want to go to Rome and be the Emperor, you must ensure they will desire to see yourself on that place. Either by inducing love or fear or something else in them. You can go a normal way which maybe takes decades - or just walk in and trigger a deep love toward you in every Roman. That would be the Mule's way. Currently unavailable, but what's another 100 (?) years in the context of already more than 2000?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-15T11:28:57.875Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Even then, it's a more subtle problem than it appears to be.

Everyone loves you, or worse, everyone fears you. Suppose you have a bad idea like the Great Leap Forward. Who's going to tell you? Fear guarantees that they won't. If they don't love Rome as well as you, they might not tell you because they don't want you to feel sad.

If they do love Rome as well as you, there's a risk they might decide you're bad for Rome.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-15T11:40:00.811Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You are already the Emperor, game's over.

But you can reign happily forever, by cleverly manage their emotions, to avoid "bad news filtering" and such.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-15T10:23:07.602Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We have no technology yet to induce a mass hysteria near to what Hitler delivered bare hands.

Mass hysteria? That's easy enough. Mass fanatic devotion not so much.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-15T07:54:07.268Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not that I mind much (since I collect the both sides of karma, the positive and the negative and they are almost equally valuable to me) - I still wonder why -8 for the above post at this moment?

Do you believe, that the Mule's powers are inherently magical, and not obtainable by some advanced tech? You think it's too far fetched?

Then again, never mind!

comment by TimS · 2012-03-16T16:39:10.406Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The original question could be paraphrased as "What could someone who knew all the state of the art of 2012 do in the era of ancient Rome?"

The answer to that question is not something that no one in 2012 is able to do. Also, as wedrifid said, it isn't that interesting to notice that someone who can modify the utility functions of others at relatively low cost is able to defeat a major empire.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-16T16:44:53.278Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Since when you reckon, it is forbidden to go a little out of the initial post settings?

If not forbidden, then a cause for a downvote?

comment by TimS · 2012-03-16T17:03:09.642Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's changing the topic of conversation without saying so. Many people take that to be quite rude.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-15T10:21:54.444Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you believe, that the Mule's powers are inherently magical, and not obtainable by some advanced tech? You think it's too far fetched?

Mule's powers are inherently magical, for all intents and purposes. It is just one more variant of the telepathic abilities that abound in Asimov's universe. Fortunately as far as I know Asmiov never pretended that they were scientifically based - no midichlorians in that world!

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-15T10:40:48.528Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Mule's powers are inherently magical, for all intents and purposes.

Not necessarily so. I would not be surprised if some "trans-cranial magnetic emotions modulation" is possible. Even a complete control of anybody near or not so near.

Nothing mystical at all, just an elaborate EM influencing which aligns your emotions with mines.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-15T10:48:56.367Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily so. I would not be surprised if some "trans-cranial magnetic emotions modulation" is possible. Even a complete control of anybody near or not so near.

If I were reading a book that didn't include multiple other sources of clearly magical mind control then I would be inclined to agree with you. But looking at the universe this particular instance comes from we see multiple other forms of clearly 'magical' (counter to physics as we know it, introduced for the purpose ) forms of mind control. Even FTL instantanious mind control from a distance powered by a planet-wide hivemind.

Nothing mystical at all, just an elaborate EM influencing which aligns your emotions with mine.

This was not just some guy with an advanced technological device that controls people via EM. It's a dude that can control folks with his brain. The advanced tech is closer to being physically possible in the real world but this is a fantasy universe where characters really do evolve and then train telepathy powers. In one of the stories some folks actually did invent technology that could engage in the telepathy magic too. They even had a three way mind control standoff between a coven of Jedi types, a planetary hivemind representative and the guys who used the machine to do it for them.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-15T10:53:59.939Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They had also faster than light transportation, scientifically impossible and Asimov knew it.

But when you throw the water away, the baby which remains, is pretty interesting. And I call this baby "some way to control other people emotions".

And the baby is huge.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-15T11:02:52.459Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have no idea where this throwing away the baby with the bathwater stuff is coming into it. From what I saw it was debating whether the particular bathwater in question was magic or technological. No particular need to throw it away.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-15T11:26:42.614Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have no idea where this throwing away the baby with the bathwater stuff is coming into it.

I said the water. The baby remains.

comment by knb · 2012-03-15T10:07:42.241Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm equally mystified by the downvoting. I upvoted your comment, FWIW.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-03-15T10:23:43.269Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(Likewise, despite not exactly agreeing with it.)

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-16T15:16:54.203Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I hadn't read your comment prior to now. I would downvote it though, if it weren't already so low. This is not mentioned by anyone else, so I don't suspect it's why, but not only are you generalizing from one example, it's a fictional example.

Edit: I'm upvoting your comment now. I don't think it's a great comment, but it doesn't deserve that much. I think it should be at -2.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-16T16:08:41.970Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that the karma system is about how much low or high a comment deserves to be. It is about whether you like it or dislike it. So you upvote it or you downvote it, regardless how high or low it already is. Of course, you can be neutral as well and then you don't vote. Again, regardless where it currently is.

But it seems that many people are just policing around, judging is there already enough up or down votes for a post and mending the situation.

This is wrongly understood karma system. Downvoting you.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-03-16T17:03:12.957Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You may well be right about what the LW karma system is about.

My $0.02 on a related subject follow, though.

A reputation system provides me with value insofar as it gives me feedback about how valuable various pieces of content are judged by people whose opinions I value.

LW-karma's biggest weakness in this area (which it shares with every other reputation system I've ever seen used anywhere) is that it doesn't distinguish between the judgments of people whose opinions I value, those whose opinions I anti-value, and those whose opinions don't matter to me at all.

Ignoring that for the moment (in effect, pretending I value everyone's opinion equally), a system modeled on "ignore the current value, upvote or downvote based on whether I like it or not" means that when comparing comment A with a score of N to comment B with a score of N/2, all that tells me is that twice as many people who read the comment net-liked A than B. This might be because twice as many people read A, and the comments were approximately equally likable. It might be because 20 times as many people read A and A was far less likable. It might be because 20 times as many people read B and A was far more likable.

In other words, a karma system modeled that way means I can't really tell based on the karma scores of a comment to what degree people found the comment likable. Since that's exactly what I want to know, a karma system modeled that way is relatively useless to me, unless I can assume that roughly the same number of people read A and B. On LW, I don't consider that assumption warranted, so to the extent that you are correctly describing the LW karma system, that system is relatively useless to me.

By contrast, a karma system modeled on "if I like it more than its current rating, upvote it, if I like it less than its current rating, downvote it," doesn't have that defect. It would, of course, have the defect that late voters count more than early voters for most comments, which creates incentives for vote-withholding and generally makes it hard to extract the information I want from vote totals. I am to a large extent prepared to ignore that failing, as it strikes me as falling into the wireheading category, and trying to stop a system that's able and inclined to wirehead from choosing to do so is like trying to push back the tides.

So on balance, I think that RobertLumley's model is more useful than yours.

Again, I'm not arguing that he's right about which model is actually in use on LW. I suspect that in practice it's neither; the actual system is far messier and more embarrassing to articulate, and in practice karma scores don't provide much useful information except in very extreme cases.

Mostly, karma scores are a mechanism for silencing people whose contributions are sufficiently widely disliked so they stop pestering everyone else. Which is fine, and I don't object to that, but let's not make more of it than it is.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-16T17:34:58.261Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can mostly agree with what you saying here. What I dislike a bit, is playing two different games simultaneously. One is the debating, what a like a lot, the other is karma shooting what I still find funny but a little annoying in the midst of the first.

For the first is important and the second does

silencing people whose contributions are sufficiently widely disliked so they stop pestering everyone else

But do I really want to read only what I already know or agree with?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-03-16T17:40:38.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But do I really want to read only what I already know or agree with?

Beats me. Why do you ask?

It kind of sounds like you're trying to equate "people whose contributions are sufficiently widely disliked" with "people who only write stuff I already know or agree with"... in which case I would ask you to defend that equation, since it seems pretty unjustified to me.

comment by Thomas · 2012-03-16T18:02:15.224Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Beats me. Why do you ask?

Never mind, it was a rhetorical question.

you're trying to equate "people whose contributions are sufficiently widely disliked" with "people who only write stuff I already know or agree with"

I suspect somebody of this crowd might write something very interesting to me, had he not been such a karma whore. I would gladly pay that with some more digesting of empty and silly posts, which are inevitably when there is no karma system.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-03-16T18:31:42.900Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I expect that the more empty and silly posts there are, the less likely the members of "this crowd" who have something interesting to say will be to continue posting here.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-03-16T18:21:48.022Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Related

For what it's worth, I have changed the way I operate significantly since I joined LW. If you read the link, I originally operated by one, but now almost exclusively aim for two, primarily for the reasons TheOtherDave points out - karma is largely meaningless if you operate by one, because it doesn't tell you proportion of readers who voted.