Between nuclear weapons, climate disaster, and tech bros' unbridled thirst for control over our lives, it sure does feel like the end is approaching "nigh" status.
In a post-apocalyptic future, be it nuclear wasteland or Anthropocene nightmare, a common sci-fi trope is that those able to harness old world technology will have the upper hand. Collapse OS is a new open source operating system built specifically for use during humanity's darkest days. According to its creator, software developer Virgil Dupras, Collapse OS is what the people of the future will need to reconfigure their scavenged iPhones. For now, though, he's hosting the project on GitHub and looking for contributors.
“I'm doing this to mitigate a risk that I think is real. Not inevitable, but likely enough to warrant a modest effort,” Dupras said in an email.
According to the Collapse OS site, Dupras envisions a world where the global supply chain collapses by 2030. In this possible future—kind of a medium-apocalypse—populations won’t be able to mass produce electronics anymore, but they’ll still be an enormous source of political and social power. Anyone who can scavenge electronics and reprogram them will gain a huge advantage over those who don't.
Dupras believes that the biggest problem for tech savvy post-apocalyptic people will be microcontrollers—tiny computers embedded in circuit boards that control the functions of computer systems.
“Computers, after a couple of decades, will break down beyond repair and we won't be able to program microcontrollers any more,” the Collapse OS website explains. “To avoid this fate, we need to have a system that can be designed from scavenged parts and program microcontrollers.”
Collapse OS will work with Z80 8-bit microprocessors. Though less common today than 16- and 32-bit components, the 8-bit Z80 can be found in desktop computers, cash registers, musical instruments, graphing calculators, and everything in between. In a Reddit Q&A, Dupras explained that the Z80 was chosen "because it's been in production for so long and because it's been used in so many machines, scavenger have good chances of getting their hands on it."
According to Dupras, Collapse OS must “run on minimal and improvised machines, interface through improvised [keyboards, displays, and mice], edit text files, compile assembler source files for a wide range of MCUs and CPUS, read and write from a wide range of storage devices, and replicate itself.”
Dupras said he's happy with the project’s progress. “I think I could finish it by myself, but I thought it would be more fun to do with a couple of other developers,” he said. “Participation requires a very specific set of inclinations (believing in collapse) and skills (electronics and z80 assembly). I think that very few people fitting those requirements exist. But if they do, I'd like to find them.”