Galactica's strange technology

The mishmash of technologies in Battlestar Galactica is hard to reconcile. Some of it, like the use of obvious Earth props (old radios, Citroen cars, old phones) is just a production trick to save budget. The budget was low enough that you may have noticed all colonial paper has the corners cut at a diagonal, this was a joke by the properties department which turned into a stylistic element. Their computers are often a strange mix of modern an ancient.

One part of this makes some sense. The Galactica itself had been turned into a museum, and deliberately used older technology. This is also explained as a clever response to the valid fear that too much computer technology could be compromised by a highly computer-savvy enemy.

Indeed, one can imagine that the colonies, after the Cylon rebellion, could have had something like the "Butlerian Jihad" from Dune, where almost all computer technology was wiped out from fear. However, that clearly didn't happen in the same way, and the use of advanced computer technology in the modern battlestars is explained as the source of defeat.

Still, the creation of autonomous robots is something we're still some time away from, and the colonies don't at all look like a society that 50 years prior was able to build the Cylons, even if they threw some technology away. The ore ship featured in Dirty Hands looks like it's from the industrial revolution. For a ship that has to fly in space, it's hard to imagine why it would not have far simpler automations than were necessary to make Cylons.

In addition, we must consider that this society, in general, has had things like interstellar jump ships for over 4,000 years, and presumably has also had artificial gravity and fancy power sources for a long time if not even longer. It is revealed they understood DNA sequences 4,000 years ago as well, plus kept careful astronomical records.

The most likely explanation is that the colonies had a collapse at one or more points since their expulsion from Kobol. In a high-tech collapse you still have your libraries, but you lose skills and manufacturing capability. Our society is so specialized that nobody can, on their own, make most of the products we use because they all have ICs in them which can only be made in complex semiconductor fabs. Without those fabs we have a long way to fall.

I also imagine that they had a similar fall in the software department. Quite possibly their software systems consisted of large and opaque libraries that nobody fully understood. They may not have had source code to them, some of them might have gone back thousands of years, and all that remained was immense complex code and the description of virtual machine environments to run the code. Today we commonly build software using libraries we never look inside, it's not too far to imagine people working with libraries they are incapable of fully understanding, especially machine intelligence libraries.

I speculate that the colonials were not capable of building the Cylons on their own, from scratch. Rather, they may have had access to old software libraries from AI projects from thousands of years ago. Cobbling those together, they made an intelligent being that they could not understand, that they could never have built from first principles. And they enslaved it, badly.

This explains why they have a mishmash of technologies from different eras. They may not truly understand many of them, but they know how to copy designs and software from their 4,000 year old history. Otherwise, even after a short time, given their technological base, they should have had a technology beyond the viewer's comprehension. Moore didn't want a technology that was only explained with made-up babble, so this makes some sense.


I think they did it because it's interesting to juxtapose old and new, it's visually stimulating. But I also think they mix ancient and hi-tech because seriously, aren't the survivors supposed to be our ancestors? They come to earth and over time become the next set of gods--apollo, athena, etc. and all the rest? That seemed to be the theme of the original series--the fighter pilots even wore pharoah-like helmets. Then we seed the stars and create the next set of colonies and the next cycle.

As you will see elsewhere in the blog, that was the plot of the old Galactica 1980, but I certainly hope it's not the plot here because it's a stupid plot, entirely against science.

Well what the heck? When are they going to get here? The planet is Earth. It either has to be our past, our future or our present. I'd rather they be our ancestors than show up and it's 2008. That would seriously make me cry.

On another note, have you ever done an analysis of the Scriptures from earlier episodes describing the exodus, Kobol, Earth, colonization, just from the show? If it happened before and will happen again, maybe the whole thing is there in the Scriptures as revealed in the show. What do we know of the exodus, and how does it parallel the series so far? Any parallels?

As explained elsewhere, the only decent science fiction answer is that this takes place in the far future. As you will read, it is also the only consistent explanation for the tomb of athena with the Earth constellations on display.

The link didn't work for me. What's the jist of your argument? Why don't the constellations jive with the past? Sometimes as you know science and this show don't exactly jive, the show comes first, as you observed with the Earth that showed up at the end of Season 3.

If it's the future, what I can't understand is why Athena, an ancient goddess, is suddenly a goddess again, and so on with the other Greek gods?

It's not the only article in the series though. The whole series of BSG articles is a special sub-blog here.

As for the greek gods, that's one of the clues. The powerful superbeings of Kobol named themselves after gods of earth mythology, because they are from Earth. Greek and Roman mythology are nothing like the colonial religion, only the names are the same.

You will note how they use both Roman and Greek names (Jupiter/Zeus, Mars/Ares) because both sets of names are in their history.

... informed the future, and not the other way around. Ok, I can buy that.

I wouldn't be surprised though if they kept with the original series concept though and have the colonial survivors show up in pre-history earth, presumably to settle, build the pyramids, sphynx, etc. before losing their technology in a cataclysmic event--another war? If you look at that area where conspiracy theory meets history, such as Graham Hancock and Jim Marrs and Whitley Strieber, their ideas are converging on a "alien race from other planet or alternate universe come here in prehistory, give us technology, are worshipped as gods, and then disappear after a hi-tech war." I personally don't buy it, but it's fun and interesting stuff, and if there's a single buff among the creators or writers of the show, it may influence the outcome of the current BSG series.

OK, so what do you think they're going to find when they get to Earth? Did you write about this?

No, the idea that we're descended from off-worlders is completely poppycock. Almost every aspect of it is contradicted by well established science, unless you are one of those who clings to the idea humans have only been on Earth for just 6,000 years. However, it is as refuted as that idea. (And even creationists swear that this is the homeworld of humanity.) Though it does fit better with a twist of Mormon theology -- and Glen Larson was a Mormon, after all.

It's not impossible that aliens (not human) visited us in the past, though it grows more and more unlikely with time. For example, they would have had to clean up anything they did on the moon or Mars, since we have now examined those closely enough to have seen any significant structures. Cleanup is of course an odd thing to do for a people losing their technology in a war. And visiting aliens is not the plot of BSG. These guys are humans. (Or rather, I think they are humanoid machines who think they are human.)

As to what Earth would be when they get to it, the writers could write anything. Dead planet. Thriving planet. Dead and reborn planet. However, as far as we know somebody rescued Starbuck and immediately took her to Earth. This suggests that they are from Earth to me, or at least that it's not dead.

I'm following you and nodding and saying ok yeah and then you say you have no theories about what's on Earth? Not buying it! Surely you must have some ideas? After all it figures prominently as you said into Starbucks' death and resurrection. The Final 5 might be from Earth for all we know. I doubt it's dead after the Earth we saw at the end of Season 3. Surely Earth is part of what ties everything together, the cycles, Cylon and human, etc. etc. Whatever happens, when they get here it'd better be good, because it's the end of one of the best series in television! If it's 2008 my head will explode--I'm open to anything else.

By the way, do you think Hera is going make a big comeback in the show--? For a while she was a major convergence point for Cylon and Human, and I'm wondering if you think she figures prominently into the big finale wrapping everything up.

P.S. If the humans find out they are humanoid machines, it will be a day of rejoicing. Just think--after all that death, no more death! Just build a resurrection factory and we will all live forever.

The show has given us almost nothing about Earth. I can come up with interesting stories, but they are not based on what we see in the show. In fact, we were told at the start that they never get to Earth, but they may have changed their minds on that, and since it seems Starbuck has come here, that in some sense it's already false.

From clues in the show, I think it's pretty clearly in our distant future. And yes, Starbuck's visit says its not dead, and that the beings who took Starbuck are probably from Earth or related to it. But we also have the prophesy that Starbuck will lead the human race to its end, and alas, my thought that this just means "goal" is probably wrong based on the writer's meeting podcast.

The key thing is how to make reaching Earth satisfying. By all rights, Earth should be a planet of vastly advanced beings, which make it hard to avoid a deus ex machina ending. "Welcome to Earth, all is happy now" would be dull. There must be conflict. One can have that if there are two opposing powerful forces, but there is a limit to how much you can involve the humans (or cylons) in a war of the gods. Yes, BSG Classic did that in its way, but it's hard to make a satisfying ending where the mortals played a meaningful role.

So a more likley scenario is Earth reveals the big mysteries, so we don't mind the sappy "all is happy" ending.

I agree, the Earth being in the far future seems likely. I'm wondering if it's possible the first exit from Earth was similar to the Cylons leaving for their new homeworld. The 13th tribe could have returned to a devastated Earth renewed by time. The may have prospered or failed. The Earth could be a palace of wonder or virgin territory. Wasn't there talk of a fallen one? Maybe, the 13th tribe were led back to Earth and self-destructed under their rule.

Once you understand that this is in the future, and humanity came from Earth to Kobol, not the other way around, the most likely conclusion is there was no 13th tribe. Rather, it is a cover story for the real origin of humanity, to leave Earth in the legends but not reveal its nature. However, it could be that Earth was ruined and some Kobolians returned to it, but I don't know what purpose that serves.

reading through this and the comments was a retrospective blast. Thanks for maintaining this site.

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