Tech Trek - Part II

By Fred Shedian
Posted at June 6, 2000 - 9:03 PM GMT

Since it first aired, Star Trek has prided itself on an attempt to mix fantasy with reality. Many times, this included the presence of technology we (in the modern world) couldn't image really existing until the 2200's. However, over the years it has become clear that Star Trek has almost become a test bed of ideas for developers. Is this idea something someone might actually be interested in or think is a complete joke? For a moment, let's take a look at some of these inventions and how Star Trek played a role in forecasting their existence. This week's column is indeed a followup to Tech Trek posted back in August 1999, with me giving the issue more attention than I did before.

To begin, in the 1960's we face a time when "powerful" computers had no more power than a modern day digital watch. This was an era surrounded by problems, but with several quality bright spots. With the dedication to achieving John F. Kennedy's goal of setting a man on the moon before January 1, 1970...the country mobilized. Not since the time of World War II had scientists across North America been focused on one goal.

Late in this era, when a man's presence on the moon was still not yet a reality, a science-ficition show displayed technology that seemed "way out there." However, by modern day standards, many of the items seen on the 1701 in the 2260's are present in the 1990's/2000's. To begin, there are the famous examples. Communicators bear a striking resemblance to cell phones, a thought that most wouldn't have dreamed possible in the 60's and 70's. Indeed also true are floppy disks, used on the TV show to store information and act as a replacement to books/papers. Although the replacement has yet to take hold, floppy disks in the configuration seen on the show appeared in the late 80's/early 90's.

There are also others many are just now beginning to see. For example, the clipboard's seen on the original show bear a striking resemblance (in function/ability) to Palm Pilot technology. The first tricorders, technology with the ability to scan an individual and provide information on their present state, were first seen less than two years ago. In some cases modern day is a lot better than what the early Trek displayed, with computer systems today apparently much faster than the M-5 computer.

As the franchise grew, and time went on, so did advances in technology. Other examples can be found in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Here, communicator's are found to be wrist bound watch type devices. Apparently, these items hold many functions...and have also entered modern day with wearable computers/cell phones/beepers featuring a design very similar. When we look at The Wrath of Kahn, the plot alone was one most didn't think possible for a hundred years. Attempting to deal with the issue of cloning and genetic manipulation? In the 60's, 70's and 80's it was a thought most discounted as pure ficition....and although we did not have the Genetics' Wars in 1993, the issue finds itself as a hot topic of debate in our society.

When The Next Generation aired, many items presented there also raised eyebrows. The now famous PADD devices, objects which replaced books, were seen everywhere. In 1987 forward, most said this was not possible...although within the last three years the first "virtual ebooks" have come on the market. With the ability to download information into a small, never changing book, once again it appears Star Trek might have forecasted the future yet again. And living to the age of 100 or above? Although a pleasant surprise many years ago, this too is now very common place...with a growing percentage of the population between 100 and 120.

There are other items, in general theory, which are quickly becoming reality. Not too long ago, scientists produced the first antimatter. With it commonly believed/known that mixing matter and antimatter creates a large explosion type event, would it be possible to harness this energy to use for power or propulsion systems within the next fifty years? With men like Stephen Hawking looking at TNG's warp core and saying "I'm going to build one of those," I can't help but hold high hopes.

And just recently, early reports show that it might indeed be possible to break the light speed barrier. This seemingly minor event has the potential to launch our society into a whole new direction...making long distant space travel that much more of a plausibility. With the Hubble Space Telescope taking pictures of our galaxy, finding black holes and the presence of dark matter, ideas and theories mentioned in our franchise are quickly finding themselves to be longer fiction but now science.

Although the general public has yet to confirm, without a doubt, that alien life exists, we do now think one of Jupiter's moons has an undersea ocean...with the presence of life similar to that on Earth's deep trenches now a plausibility. We know now there are planets outside of our solar system, with technology quickly developing to soon discover if there may indeed be other Earth type planets.

When you look at how far our society has come since "Star Trek" first aired in 1967, it is simply amazing. In thirty years, we gave grown in ways many didn't think possible for one hundred. If humanity remembers that it is part of a bigger picture and should step above the meaningless fights for power/money, the sky is the limit as to what our world will be like in 2050.

For a moment just much of what is science-ficition today will be science fact in twenty years? Indeed...a question to ponder.

Until next time...

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Fred Shedian writes a weekly 'A Take On Trek' column for the Trek Nation.