From EMP Apocalypse to Mechanical Utopia: A Steampunk Vision for the Future

Imagine a world without electricity, where society rebuilds with steampunk-inspired solutions.

From EMP Apocalypse to Mechanical Utopia: A Steampunk Vision for the Future
A modern workplace in a steampunk futurist utopia - Powered by MidJourney AI

So, I was at this old steam engine museum the other day. You know, the kind with giant machines that look like they belong in a Jules Verne novel. There's a certain element of elegance to these steel-clad machines with their Victorian aesthetic.

And as I was standing there, being all nostalgic, I wondered what society looked like if we had gone down the steampowered route back in the day.

Now, there's all this talk about how an EMP strike might end society as we know it. So what if we found ourselves in a world where it would be impossible to use electricity?

Then I decided to mush the two together, and explore what a modern futuristic steampunk utopia might look like.

The Impact of an EMP Strike on Society

Electricity has become the lifeblood of our society. That much is obvious. Everything is connected and powered by electricity.

Without electricity, our food supply chain would slow down, potentially leading to mass starvation. People who rely on advanced medical care would lose immediate access to these life-saving devices, which could lead to countless deaths. Communications and financial transactions would also be affected, so if all your money is in a bank account, you're out of luck. And it gets worse! If you ran out of toilet paper, you'd have to shout through the house again instead of texting your partner to get some.

And while we're on the subject, the sewage system would clog up, rendering your toilet unusable, while the water supply would become poisoned over time.

This would mean that access to information would once again be bottlenecked by physical devices, with everyone interested in the same book having to queue.

This could be good news for the post office, the school system and printers. The gold bugs would rejoice. The Church would call for repentance in the face of impending doom, and the Amish would shrug their shoulders and call it a Tuesday.

I dare not even think of the consequences, if we were to have transitioned to a CBDC by then.

Might also be pretty bad for any state that relies on technology for mass surveillance, but luckily we do not have this problem these modern times.

An Alternative to Post-Apocalyptic Chaos

You may be surprised to learn that we don't actually need electricity to run our devices. What we do need is energy. Electricity happens to be a convenient way for us to move energy from where it is produced to where it is needed.

So let's take a look at how electricity is even generated.

If you consider nuclear power stations, they produce heat, that heat produces steam. That steam is driven through turbines, which then produce electricity. Most fossil fuel plants do the same. Hydro and solar use kinetic energy to produce electricity. Solar panels are a bit more special because they can use both heat and sunlight to produce energy, which is then converted into electricity.

It would make it difficult for us to do many things at first, but the task would not be impossible.

Transitioning Critical Infrastructure to Mechanical Solutions

So let's focus on restoring critical infrastructure. Food, transport, communications, health and computing.

Food and transport would probably be the easiest to restore. We'd go back to the old fossil fuel tractors and buses. Trains would revert to their steam variants. So there would be a severe impact on productivity at first, but society would adapt over time. We assume it would be a simple matter of adapting and upgrading old mechanical solutions.

The health service would immediately lose access to all equipment that relies on computers. But let's focus on what we can do. For most automated equipment, we may need steam-powered variants or a return to manual operation.

Emergency helicopters would have to revert to steam-powered aircraft. So would ventilators or dialysis machines, while your dentist might have to revert to mechanical drills. Lighting is critical for surgery, so we'd have to design operating theatres with advanced oil lamps. Paperwork would have to be done by hand again. Lord, have mercy and save us from doctors' handwriting!

But since computing and communication seem to be the biggest challenges, let us focus on them instead!

Mechanical calculators have been around for a long time. One such device was the Curta, a hand-held device designed by Curt Herzstark. While these calculators only did mathematical calculations, we can say that given enough time and enough of them chained together, they could be used to find better solutions.

Now one may wonder how we could see what is going on on the computer. Tape , after all is not very practical. together with Split-flap displays to generate a similar effect as modern digital displays. In fact, here's a video of a flip dot display with 74,088 pixels.

Now that we have recreated the basic performance of a 1960s computer, we can assume that, given more time, engineers could recreate the modern computer using gas, gears and pneumatics. We will therefore consider this problem solved.

Let's move on to communications. Now that we have access to modern computing power, the question is how to send it over long distances. The answer could be either by using the optical telegraph or hydraulic telegraph.

The optical telegraph uses light to send signals over long distances, which we could channel through existing fibre-optic cables, although that might be a bit tricky.

The hydraulic solution is more promising, as it could divide a cable into tiny individual streams of water, which we could analyse using our advanced computing power. It wouldn't have the power of today's internet, but if we put our faith in the power of engineering, we might just come up with some new solutions.


While we have not yet recreated AI or quantum computing, neither would be impossible. Quantum steampunk is a field that is still being explored today, albeit in combination with current understanding of electrical engineering.

Given that our capabilities are limited by our imagination, I think it's important to explore these aspects, as I've had many conversations with people who have assured me that society would have to start from scratch in the event of an EMP attack. And as we have seen today, that is simply not true. Even in the event of an EMP strike, society need turn into Mad Max World.

The challenges are difficult, especially without the internet or AI to help us, but not impossible. And perhaps in many ways we will find new ways of solving problems that will allow us to take society even further than it is today.

With that in mind, if today's topic has got your gears turning, then subscribe and join the eternal quest! At Aeon Cortex we explore the past, present, future and beyond by asking questions and stretching our imaginations.