A New Zealand company wants to recreate the planet in virtual reality. They plan to enlist you and me to help them do it. And, they just got a major grant from

Imagine that the entire humanity spawned on a planet just like earth with nothing but our current knowledge. How long would it take to build a society and infrastructure just like today and what would be the major hurdles in this process?

At minimum, the same amount of time it took us to get from basic herding and agriculture to modern society (over 10,000 years). And that’s a rosy scenario.

If 7+ billion humans suddenly teleported to a completely wild Earth (so all plant & animal species are wild, not simply feral; they have no experience with humans), with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the knowledge in their minds, the most immediate result would be mass starvation.

Per the question, these transplanted humans didn’t bring much (if any) food with them. Without modern, industrialized agriculture (with all of its fossil-fuel-powered machines and fossil-fuel-derived fertilizers), it would be impossible to feed even a fraction of the current human population. Even assuming they had seeds and tools (which they don’t), they can’t grow food fast enough to feed anyone. Growing crops takes months… and that’s assuming you have good, tamed cropland to plant it in (something this sorry batch of homo teleportus also lacks).

Worse, these people don’t have the tools to make the tools to make the tools they would need to survive. Consider the most important survival tool (according to Gary Paulsen): a simple hatchet — a wedge of sharpened steel on a wooden handle. Without some sort of cutting tool, you aren’t going to be able to make the handle. Without iron (no pickaxes to mine it) or a smelter or charcoal (which requires wood and an oven) or a forge, you can’t make the blade. The best tools you’re going to be able to make are napped rock axes tied to handles of dead wood, or sticks with one end rubbed down to a point. And even those take time to make.

The only people who would survive this first phase are a handful of modern humans who have the skills to survive in a total wilderness without modern tools (or those lucky enough to be mentored by such a survivalist). But only if they can escape the hordes of desperate homo teleportus who are causing an ecological catastrophe by eating anything they can lay their hands on — berries, roots, fungus, grass, tree bark, or any animals too slow to get out of the way (such as other humans). And these survivors need to be lucky enough to avoid any serious injuries or infections.

So after a few years, the bulk of humanity is dead, and the handful of survivors can start work on agriculture (again, without much in the way of tools). They have no draft animals — they need to tame those; a process which takes at least several generations — which makes the task of clearing land for farming very difficult, if not impossible. They also need to find some plants that are both calorie-dense and respond well to cultivation, and teach the local teach the local predators that humans are not to be messed with (again, this takes time).

So best-case, the 1st generation of homo teleportus is only a few thousand individuals, working on bare subsistence agriculture. More likely, humanity starts out at the hunter-gatherer phase.

How much modern knowledge can these folks at the bare subsistence level transmit to their descendants? Not a lot. No form of craft can be learned without hands-on practice — at best, they would be able to teach some herbalism, crude tool-making, and basic sanitation. Forging and smithing ain’t gonna happen. Even sanitation practices would be gradually abandoned once the reasons behind them were forgotten, unless they were encoded into some sort of religious doctrine.

There’s no way good way to write down anything that would survive. You can’t make paper. You might be able to weave some sort of papyrus-like material or write on tanned animal hide (don’t ask where you’ll get the acid for the tanning… you won’t like the answer), but that’s labor-intensive. Not to mention you need those hides or woven fibers for clothing. Without at least bronze tools, stone-cutting won’t work (and you can’t write much on a stone… it’s slow going). The best option would be clay tablets, but you would need to find some clay, muck it up, write on it, then bake the clay in some sort of oven (if not baked, clay will dry out and crumble). A particularly far-sighted individual, one who knows how to make brick, might figure this out… but it’s pretty unlikely. It’s also unlikely that the 1st generation would have the resources and (both in time and in calories) to start making something that doesn’t directly contribute to survival.

Likewise, without any need for book-keeping (the earliest forms of writing were government records), there isn’t much point to training people to read or write, and no reason to practice the art. Archeologists estimate the earliest writing systems developed around 3500 B.C., over 5000 years after the advent of agriculture.

Without some way to provide food for a sizeable community, and a way to leapfrog up the technology-tree that is human tool-making, these humans will be staring off at the bottom. Within a generation or two, the only bits of of the original settlers’ know-how that remain will be those directly relevant to survival. Their descendants will have to re-invent just about everything.