Will a MacBook Survive a Thousand Years From Now?

Sherrie Campbell  |


Time is the ultimate killer. Powerful kingdoms and precious objects of art vanish from the face of the Earth as if they’ve never existed. Time has no mercy to glass, clay, or even stone. Question is, what about the materials that people invented nowadays that cannot be exactly found in nature?

In other words, will the artifacts of our culture survive, say, a thousand years from now to amaze our descendants? An interesting question! One thousand years is a huge time span at the beginning of which people built gloomy stone castles and used bows and arrows and night pots (some of them did). Now we have jet planes, laptops, smartphones and bathrooms. What will remain of these things in the year of 3018?

The X century A.C. left a lot of artifacts: not only castles, but also crockery, gold, silver and bronze figurines, coins, decorations and tools. Most of them are destroyed beyond any recognition but others look only slightly disfigured. Made by primitive tools back then when the craftsmen knew very little of the materials and their characteristics, these artifacts still survived. So, why can’t a MacBook, the product of far more advanced and complicated technologies meet a similar challenge? Only last year Apple  (AAPL) sold 3,750 million laptops. There are more MacBooks around than there were coins in the tenth century in the whole inhabited world. So, the odds that some archaeologist of the 31th century can find plenty of those devices are pretty high. What will he or she see then? Let’s imagine!

Let’s take a MacBook Pro from 2017. Macbook’s bodies are cut out of a solid aluminum block. The display is made of copper, plastic and glass. The hardware is made of silicone, gold, silver, platinum, nickel, palladium, copper, aluminum as well as zinc. The worst enemies of these materials are corrosion and fatigue. Some metals are more prone to corrosion than others. Some corrode quicker when exposed to air, some - when exposed to moisture. There are metals that stay more or less intact. Let’s imagine that there are two MacBooks. One will be forgotten somewhere in a landfill where it will be exposed to snow and rain and slowly be drowning in soil. The other will be left indoors. It will be secured from the atmospheric phenomena until the house collapses and will end up buried inside.

Aluminum is one of the lightest metals, but it’s fragile too. It can be scratched and dented as every MacBook Pro owner knows too well. The outdoor MacBook Pro will be the first to suffer mechanical damage and fallouts. It’s casing will dent very quickly cracking the screen and/or revealing the hardware. The indoor laptop will be in a more secured environment. Perhaps, the owner was meaning to sell the old MacBook Pro later, put it away and forgot about it. Then, apart from minor scratches that appear from usage, the casing will stay intact for quite a long time, perhaps, for several years or a decade until the battery swells and leaks. That will be a shame, I should say, with so many companies around wanting you to trade in the old MacBook. The good thing will be wasted, because the lithium electrolyte is a very pyretic solution. It can eat the best part of the hardware. If both our MacBooks Pro suffer an abrupt rise of temperature like a fire or a summer heat wave, they will burn down to a mash of plastic and metal.

Let’s be optimistic though and imagine, that the scientists of the 31th century will be lucky to find the MacBook Pro in the good condition. They’ll clean it from the dust with their brushes and try to open it. The hinges will go at once, because aluminum is also very fragile and after ten centuries it will likely break from fatigue.

But what about the hardware? Will the descendants be able to run the machine and study the data? Remember, that our laptops have hundreds and hundreds of years ahead full of rain, snow, wind, floods and underground water. Most of the metals used in computers are corrosion-proof like gold, platinum, nickel, and palladium.

Gold, platinum - is used in chip pins, and logic board circuits.

Nickel, palladium - is used in logic board circuits.

Other metals either corrode or react with air and water elements.

Zinc - is used in some alloys and can corrode as rapidly as steel in a hostile environment.

Silver - is used in logic board circuits, reacts with sulphur and hydrogen in the air and water, can turn black, but it’s just a thin film that can be cleaned.

Copper - is used in displays and chips, reacts with oxygen and corrodes, covers with green ‘moss’ as a result of molecular linkage damage.

All of this is bad news. Firstly, copper wires are used in displays. They are so thin that corrosion will leave only green flakes of them. Secondly, the processor chips feature a thin layer of copper. Its degradation will ruin the transistors. In other words, scientists of the future won’t be able to restore the screen and the ‘brain’ of the laptop unless they discover some method of restoring the materials on a molecular level.

Gorilla Glass from the display, the logic board plastic plate and the silicon-made SSD storages will survive, only in parts. Remember, the outdoor MacBook Pro will undergo a mechanic impact from dust and soil particles. Besides, after it drowns in the soil, it will be stressed and stretched by the ground’s moving layers. The indoor MacBook Pro might get luckier. Archaeologists will have to get some intact plastic plates with intricate golden and silver geometric patterns on them. Perhaps, they’ll place it in a museum and label it as “Part of the barbaric decoration, probably of religious purpose”.

As you see, the MacBook Pro won’t survive the next thousand year as a machine. It will fall apart or be damaged by natural elements and there will be no other way to learn what it once was but from books, papers, and ads.

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