# The Sword and Laser discussion

This topic is about The Three-Body Problem
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The Three Body Problem > TTBP - human computer, spoilers, middle of book

message 1: by (new)

I am not tech savvy and therefore ignorant as to the inner goings on inside my computers. I found the scenes in which Newton and co. create a computer, using all familiar computer terms, with sets of people holding flags to calculate complex problems neither comprehensible nor believable. So I'm asking those of you with an understating of how these things work, is this feasible?
Overall I'm enjoying all the scientific shenanigans, even the ones I don't fully understand, but I'm really stuck on this. Was someone reading this and thinking, yep, that's exactly how this works?

message 2: by (new)

I'm not an EE, or a person named Sky specializing in computers on this forum (we have 2 of them), but it more or less matches up with my understanding of how at the simplest levels computers work.

This video on Logic Gates may give you a better understanding. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ng8-B...

I still felt that the Calvary bus speed would be an even bigger slow down then they described, but hey who knows it was a fun description.

message 3: by (new)

Yep, that's exactly how it works.

The concept of small constituent parts that can only send one of two signals (a bit, 1 or 0) is accurate, and the computer architecture they created with CPU and memory, etc. is the actual architecture the real Von Neumann created.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neu...

But of course computers don't need to sleep or eat, and I agree that the bus would probably be more of a slowdown.

message 4: by (new)

And the cavalry bus is already the major slowdown in computers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neu...

message 5: by (new)

It *could* work, computers are built using mechanical mechanisms all the time and there have been some larger scale computers built using Minecraft.

My immediate concern was the speed and accuracy problem, both of which were then addressed in the story: they killed the first unit to make a mistake and the units weren't actually human, but a race with much faster reflexes and travel speed.

The fast travel speed of the aliens also solved another problem for me in the three body game ... how the heck was a guy on a horse outrunning the sunrise in every cycle!?!?!

message 6: by (new)

Robert wrote: "My immediate concern was the speed and accuracy problem, both of which were then addressed in the story: they killed the first unit to make a mistake and the units weren't actually human, but a race with much faster reflexes and travel speed."

Yeah, they said in the book that the human computer couldn't actually work with humans. Whether any living creature could be fast and accurate enough to make a computer with, I doubt, but it did add some verisimilitude to a cute part of the story.

message 7: by (new)

The rather vague description of the Trisolarans as being able to dehydrate at will, being evolved from plants with a similar ability, and having a reflective outer surface/skin, also helps with creating a living computer.

I suspect we probably get a better look at them in the sequels.

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One aspect I couldn't remember/don't know if it was explicitly said: How long was a trisolaran "year"? It must be much shorter than our year but it can't be that much shorter if we're out-teching them. I'm trying to get a feel for how long it would have taken them to restart their civilization each time it was destroyed.

message 9: by (new)

Brendan wrote: "One aspect I couldn't remember/don't know if it was explicitly said: How long was a trisolaran "year"? It must be much shorter than our year but it can't be that much shorter if we're out-teching t..."

I suspect the Trisolarian concept of time would be very different than our own given ours is based on periodic changes in nature and their natural world is not periodic.

message 10: by (new)

Hate to only have a me-too response. But, yes, that's exactly how computers work. I had to build a simulation of one in software during my undergrad.

message 11: by (new)

Brendan wrote: "One aspect I couldn't remember/don't know if it was explicitly said: How long was a trisolaran "year"? It must be much shorter than our year but it can't be that much shorter if we're out-teching t..."

There's no way they can have a year as we understand it, because the three-sun system is so random. That's why they counted everything in hours. Which in itself was just an approximate translation to our counting system so the game made sense.

Which brings up a question I hadn't considered before: how WOULD you come up with a concept of time without a regular solar or stellar stopwatch? Everything we do is based on the day and the year, which has remained steady for billions of years.

Without the invention of the clock, how do you invent the computer?

message 12: by (new)

Okay, so I looked some of the numbers up. An earth year is equivalent to 9883 trisolaran hours, which means their hour is actually pretty close to ours.

message 13: by (new)

Good question. We know they count time with giant pendulums, at least in the game, but how did they even get there?

Maybe they count time by their heart beats (or equivalent)? Water dripping or a kind of hourglass? We measure time (now) by the oscillation of atoms, maybe they could do something similar with macrostructures such as crystals that produce sound when hit? The planet might have a moon, so maybe tides?

message 14: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Mod
Trike wrote: "I suspect we probably get a better look at them in the sequels."

(view spoiler)

message 15: by (new)

Tobias wrote: "The planet might have a moon, so maybe tides?"

If the game is accurate then the moon came along late in their development. I think it might have been after the computer thing, but I wouldn't swear to it.

message 16: by (new)

Tassie Dave wrote: "Trike wrote: "I suspect we probably get a better look at them in the sequels."

[spoilers removed]"

OMG you're tempting me!

message 17: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Mod
Trike wrote: "Tassie Dave wrote: "Trike wrote: "I suspect we probably get a better look at them in the sequels."

[spoilers removed]"

OMG you're tempting me!"

Definitely DON'T READ the spoiler if you're going to read the sequels.

message 18: by (new)

When you have a double-tiered spoiler, you know it's major!

message 19: by (new)

Trike wrote: "Tobias wrote: "The planet might have a moon, so maybe tides?"

If the game is accurate then the moon came along late in their development. I think it might have been after the computer thing, but I..."

It was. It happened during the civ that invented the computer.

message 20: by (last edited Jan 24, 2017 07:21AM) (new)

Tobias wrote: "Yep, that's exactly how it works.

The concept of small constituent parts that can only send one of two signals (a bit, 1 or 0) is accurate, and the computer architecture they created with CPU and memory, etc. is the actual architecture the real Von Neumann created.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neu...

But of course computers don't need to sleep or eat, and I agree that the bus would probably be more of a slowdown. "

Jeez I must of been sleeping this day in class because I didn't notice they were using the Von Neumann design while reading this book, all I remember feeling during this part was getting angry that their design was shit and I could do better.

I can't remember what they were using for a clock but I remember there being something very wrong with that.

Or maybe they weren't using one at all and just trusting that everyone would move precisely when the one in front of them moved with precisely the same delay (which even computer parts cannot be trusted to do).

message 21: by (new)

One of the investors of the computer in the game was even named Von Neumann ;)

message 22: by (new)

My biggest problem with that section wasn't the description of how computers worked, but the idea that Newton and Von Neumann (being the avatars of human beings playing this game on a computer), would have known how to construct this machine, but wouldn't have known what any of the constituent parts were or even that it should be called a "computer." It's not like they were ACTUALLY Newton and Von Neumann. Maybe they were supposed to be role-playing, but this was never made clear.

message 23: by (new)

Wasn't Von Neumann an NPC? I seem to remember that was revealed?

message 24: by (new)

Was he? I may have missed that bit. The book seems to be intentionally obscure about who's an NPC and who's a player. But I was under the impression that they were both other players (though whole "Newton fighting Leibniz over calculus" thing does suggest he was an in-game character).

message 25: by (new)

For me I didn't see any indication of any other players, or interaction at all. It just seemed like the player was listening to the NPCs and seeing a bunch of cut scenes.

message 26: by (new)

Maybe I was completely misinterpreting that. But wasn't there some indication that, at the end of that civilization, Newton had gotten the "achievement" of discovering calculus and von Neumann of creating the human computer? I thought this was the same as Copernicus figuring out the true nature of the solar system in the first level.