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I don't think just developing a Z80 operating system is enough. The whole ecosystem needs to be preserved.

In agriculture, we have the doomsday seed vault [0] just for this purpose. If we anticipate collapse of the current economic system or society, I think we should build a doomsday computer vault, that keeps everything we need to rebuild the computing industry in a underground bunker. It keeps everything we need in a controlled environment, such as 8080, Z80, m68k, motherboards, logic chips, I/O controllers, ROM/RAM, generic electronic parts, soldering irons, oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, schematics, documentation, textbooks, software. We also keep some complete, standalone computer systems such as desktops and laptops, and all the parts that need to service them. We also need to preserve the old semiconductor production lines around the world, although probably not in the same bunker. Even if we fail to build better systems, 8080s are already useful enough!

Meanwhile in peace time, we need to form a team of experts that makes a roadmap to rebootstrap the computing technology for the future using parts from the bunker, with a step-by-step plan, that can be easily followed and executed.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svalbard_Global_Seed_Vault

> The whole ecosystem needs to be preserved.

Indeed. It takes a civilisation to build an iPhone.

I don't think people appreciate that even within the highest-tech manufacturing industries there is a lot of tacit knowledge. People shake their fists about "technology transfer" to China, and before that Japan; but that's taken decades for them to reach parity. And that's with running, copyable examples and all the parts of an existing supply chain widely available. Similarly the process for making a nuclear bomb can be written in a short paper, but few countries have successfully replicated it.

"Post-collapse recovery" and "technology transfer" are the same problem, except that post-collapse recovery is cribbing from a dead example rather than a live one and in much worse circumstances.

Collapse recovery is a fun little competence fantasy to play out in your own head. Like "the rapture" for atheists. But within our lifetimes, we have to put in the work to avoid the collapse.

> It takes a civilisation to build an iPhone.

The point here is that we don't need to build an iPhone, we only need a radio. Building a 8080 is much simpler, the USSR did it, the East Germany did it, China did it, all around the same time without too much difficulty. It's certainly would be much more difficult if the current civilization collapsed, but I think the author doesn't anticipate a total collapse, just a breakdown of the current economic system, thus it should be doable.

> Similarly the process for making a nuclear bomb can be written in a short paper, but few countries have successfully replicated it.

My understanding is that the physics of achieving the nuclear explosion itself is relatively straightforward. The real difficulties are to produce the weapon-grade materials needed, and to transform the explosion to an useful weapon, all under external sanctions, and even sabotage.

Taiwan had a nuclear weapon project in 1970s, significant progress was made in the beginning, if the U.S. didn't discover it and dismantle everything, it would be interesting to see how it turned out to be.

> breakdown of the current economic system

As the author themselves admits, this requires a very narrow band of Goldilocks catastrophe. Not catastrophic enough that you still have electricity, but catastrophic enough that all the plants on this list are destroyed or rendered unusable or embargoed from you? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_semiconductor_fabricat...

How is that going to work exactly?

No, it's a fantasy disaster, like Day of the Triffids and all the other John Wyndham style "cozy catastrophe" novels.

Real catastrophe is slow and grinding. Think "decline and fall of the Roman Empire" - a multi-lifetime process. Or something like Venezuela, where crumbling power infrastructure took out their aluminium smelter. This causes it to freeze solid and is unrecoverable without rebuilding the crucibles.

> but catastrophic enough that all the plants on this list are destroyed or rendered unusable

All the fabs on your list are fairly modern, and it is easy to see how they would be impossible to maintain in a Tainter-style collapse.

I would be looking into what you can do with ~1 um processes, which are currently accessible to amateurs. E.g. designs like https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11720289

Tainter-style collapse over what time period, though? One of his examples seems to be the Roman Empire, which depending on how you measure it took over a hundred years.

> ...East Germany did it

Not sure about the Soviet Union, but East Germany had to "import" complete production lines from Western Germany in order to bootstrap their chip production. Of course the West prohibited exporting such sensible technology to the East, and there's some wild stories around involving the secret service, setting up a proxy chip manufacturing company in Western Germany, shutting this down, and "losing" the production lines, which showed up a few months later in East Germany.

But there will be plenty of Z80 and other 8-bit chips to scavenge after a civilizational collapse, and those chips are simple and slow enough to be used in computers built from breadboards and wires.

Are there any good books/podcasts/documentaries about this? Sounds fascinating.

I don't have any really watertight first hand info unfortunately, only bits and pieces I stumbled over in German internet forums when I've been researching stuff for emulator coding.

Some of the stories of how Western machinery was procured is mentioned from time to time in articles like this one:


It seems to have been less "broad sweep style" than I mentioned above though, more like that new products required specialized machines which were only produced by a handful Western manufacturers, and which were under the CoCom embargo. And the "grey-importing" of those machines went through various shadow companies in different countries to cover everything up.

> “A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C.


"The vault managers are now taking precautions, including major work to waterproof the 100m-long tunnel into the mountain and digging trenches into the mountainside to channel meltwater and rain away. They have also removed electrical equipment from the tunnel that produced some heat and installed pumps in the vault itself in case of a future flood."

Oh, no. I can’t believe it’s gotten this bad. I’m amazed we haven’t done much in the way of climate change control. It’s going to be too late very, very soon.

> It’s going to be too late very, very soon.

Sorry to ruin this for you, but it is already too late. We are already in the process of damage control.

Climate models indicate it's not too late to avoid a 2°C average temperature increase by 2100 if our energy matrix and heavy industries (concrete, steel and fertilizers) move away from fossil fuels. This takes political conviction and government policy, which in turn requires correct understanding of the situation.

"it's too late" is a dangerous statement because it suggests actions no longer matter. And if no action is taken, several climate models project >4 °C average warming. The majority of the planet will be become uninhabitable at the current human density levels, with billions of people having to relocate and/or die.

Due to delayed effects, we aren't even feeling current escalations but CO2 we let out while watching The Terminator.

Isn't our best course of action to achieve technological progress and fix the situation instead of 'preventing' it?

Like build dikes around low lying areas rather than trying to coordinate a worldwide slowdown of economic activity which faces the worst outcome of prisoner's dilemma.

How was this not built to be waterproof?!

it's extremely difficult to build waterproof subterranean buildings, especially if they're built into permafrost (which seems these days to be more like tempofrost). this very long but fascinating video discusses it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nphxoUxSvgY


This website got posted to HN in the past, definitely something that should be part of the attempt.

Yes I agree, a Z80 is not enough.

Especially that the people who will restart from a Z80 will face technological edges when their skills and needs grow. We faced the same in the 80's: going from 8 bit to 16, then 32, having memory addressing problems, being pushed to new and hardly compatible architectures, having programs to rewrite...

Then why not leaving behind us a technology, still simple, but that will save them most of these issues?

I feel an 8-bit data bus and 32-bit address bus would be a good way to make long-live programs, edge-free when extending memories, and still not so complex processors and main boards. The address bus does not need to be fully wired in the first processor versions, so it can scale over time with more complex processors when skills and needs grow.

Besides, it would be smart to leave in a vault a kind of FPGA technology with sources to flash the FPGA components. So no need to create a production line for many different integrated components: only one output, and the components are specialized by flashing them.

Indeed even microprocessors can be flashed on an FPGA.

Well, just ideas...

FPGA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field-programmable_gate_array

Low tech CPU to support 32 bit code: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorola_68008 (8 lines data bus, 20 lines of address bus, 32 bit programs, 70 000 transistors)

Microprocessor on an FPGA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_microprocessor

This is already being done in some places, eg libraries and museums, it's called Digital Preservation, although it's for normal curatorial purposes rather than Doomsday scenarios.

While the focus is on the data, it also necessarily involves access to original hardware at times, which is additionally also often stored for curatorial purposes in its own right.


I'm pretty sure the internet, PDFs...etc fail heavily next to the printed form in the case of a complete collapse. As long as people can read, books should be good for this purpose.

The thing is, in the case of the complete collapse "the printed form" will be likely the last thing we will be worrying about.

I'd like to see a log being kept in orbit. Like every 10 years it's rotated (FIFO, oldest comes down, new one is launched) with a large delta so that it might survive our current civilization in case of global / climate craziness.

Most likely the source of the end of the world is going to be the Sun throwing a X class solar flare at us and just frying everything in its path.

What you need is a super-deep immortal vault that isn't anywhere near any known fault lines, and who's ingress point is sufficiently above ground, and can be accessed safely if under water, and supplies its own electricity for thousands of years.

Everything outside of the facility will have to be electrically neural up to extreme voltages (due to the possibility of plasma storms arising that make the worst thunderstorms on Earth look like a nice day outside).

Little do we know, there are five of them in existence already, by several ancient civilizations :)

I kid, but the more secure a vault is the more irretrievable it is, which only makes it useful to aliens, not us.

I remember reading a worldbuilding stack exchange question about what would be left of mankind in millions of years, were we to disappear today.

The unanimous response was "not much". Mostly anomalously concentrated resources. So... if they are right, even though we have no reason to believe there was a developed civilization before us, it's not that crazy to merely entertain the possibility.

What about burying something on the moon, with monoliths and radio sources marking its location?

Maybe we already did that in a previous civilization, but lost the ability to recognize the beacons.

The Sentinel anyone?

Isn't the moon protected even less from solar flares? How deep would you need yo build something on the moon for it to be protected, compared to on earth?

Gravity is a pretty reliable signal; doesn't decay much on million-years scale, and doesn't get obscure much either.

Not to imply those were from unnatural processes, more to indicate that basic spacefaring technology implies ability to detect such: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_concentration_(astronomy)

How would we get at the information if we don't have the technology to launch a rocket/spaceship to retrieve it?

Apparently they would fall, and as long as we still have the required technology and resource, we would send updated versions regularly.

The satellites orbit would naturally decay to the point of reentry. I'm not sure of the engineering, but it might be possible to do a controlled descent to a specific place for survivors to rendezvous with.

I could see that causing a huge poo-storm. If our supply chains collapse and all this knowledge is lost... but, we know when and where the knowledge will be returned to the Earth.... then that location is going to be ground zero for a lot of turmoil. Everyone will know that whoever gets that returned knowledge will have dominion.

If it’s just data on them, why not VERY MANY of them, so that they remain in living legend. With slightly different orbits so they deorbit all over the globe, a number of a year for decades or centuries.

Controlled descent is not necessary if they are built to last.

Thrusters with some sort of controlled decent if it doesn't receive a signal in some period of time?

Ham Radio.

like graveyard orbit

I think about this all the time. A technology vault to take people from the water wheel to the Z80 would be smart. Expensive and I hope never needed, but there is a lot at risk.

Technology evolves so fast that a tech vault would become obsolete very fast. People in the future may not know how to deal with such obsolete technology. Technology also degrades over time. Unlike seeds you cant "freeze" technology to keep it from degrading. At least I dont know how.

And generators (or maybe solar cells). For that vault to be useful, you have to be able to generate electricity.

The embryo of this idea is in Software Heritage [0]. It's a great project, well worth supporting. Of course this doesn't include the requirement to store and maintain hardware, and even though we can store well-written documents detailing how to build these sorts of machines from scratch, it might not be feasible for post-disaster societies to do this.

[0] https://www.softwareheritage.org/

If you like Unix, Cromix was built on the z80.

I recommend also checking out Fuzix, a modern small-platform UNIX-like which targets Z80 among others

> The whole ecosystem needs to be preserved.

I disagree. If humanity collapses, and a new fledgling civilisation grows out of the ashes, then maybe we should let them follow their own path, and make their own discoveries and mistakes.

It's massive hubris to assume that future generations can only survive if they have access to our knowledge.

Many civilisations have fallen only to be replaced by newer betters ones, even when they've had no previous records to refer to.

We're just a stepping stone along the path of human evolution, we are no greater or lesser than the stones before us, or the stones that come after us.

This is one of my concerns. If there is a large-scale collapse, that is a very concrete statement of "what you tried did not work." Preserving as much of that past as possible would be a mistake. Any large collapse should be an opportunity for rebirth. We already drag along old mistakes in the technology industry after many repeated attempts at a fresh start always failing to a competitor offering to hack in backwards-compatibility making the initial deployment easier.

A collapse would be the perfect and likely sole opportunity to ditch the mistakes of the past and forge something completely new with the benefit of a "foresight" forged from hindsight.

Sorry if this is a naive question, but if the assumption is "doomsday", how would one know how to access vault and that it even exists?

The vault will have a fingerprint sensor, which will be stuck on an incomplete online firmware update.

And people are baffled that the 2fa SMS to reset it can not be delivered.

And what about the opposite issue: too many people know and enter in a greedy and bloody competition?

It reminds me an 80's cartoon where Spanish, aliens and 3 children run after a golden city and destroy it out of greed when they find it.

dont we have many programs on archieve org

I like the idea. But I ask (not being annoying), do we really need it? Seems like having all of that more distributed in the hands of users would be a better protection against unavailability.

Usually the idea behind a doomsday vault is that you're keeping everything securely in one place in case there is widespread disaster that sufficiently wipes out the distributed knowledge. They're not mutually exclusive.

And to expand on this: ideally we wouldn't have just one repository of hardware and knowledge of how to use/recreate that hardware, just like how ideally we wouldn't have just one repository of seeds and knowledge of how to plant/cultivate those seeds. We should be aiming to have as many redundant Svalbard-style doomsday vaults as possible, for all sorts of things (seeds, computers, medicine, you name it).

Gotcha. Thank you for clarifying.

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