Tech Talk Thursday: TREK Talk – Real Trek-nology from Star Trek

For a futuristic show that aired in 1966, Star Trek was ironically ahead of its time. Along with being one of the most popular and long running Sci-Fi TV series, multi-million dollar movie franchises, and widely versed references in popular culture, Star Trek seems to have had the ability to predict the future. Arguably, there is technology in existence today that made its appearance in Star Trek’s mythology long before it became reality. Some devices are popular today, while other things are still being worked on. But undeniably, Star Trek definitely had a premeditative pulse on the tech community.

Here’s a look at the technology Star Trek predicted that is now here, and some soon to come. You might ask: Did Star Trek creators see into the future, or are we just using the past as inspiration?

First lets take a gander at the stuff that’s actually in play today. How about cellular phones? A lot of articles and forums pose the theory of life imitating art. In an interview with Martin Cooper, the American inventor credited with making the first cell phone, Cooper credits Star Trek as inspiration for a wireless communication device.

Star Trek’s Voice Assistant, Intelligent Personal Assistant (or just any time Kirk or one of the crew talk to a computer and it responds with answers), has become none other than Siri, Echo, Alexa, and/or Cortana.  To the excitement of some and dismay of others these personal assistants are here to stay and have already been improved upon.

Star Trek PADD – the older sibling of your favorite tablet device!

Universal translators are here in the form of Google Translate, Bing Translator, Babelfish, and about a million other websites, software, and apps. The hands-free phone device Uhura fashioned is now the Bluetooth earpiece that makes us think perfectly normal-looking people are talking to themselves in public. Tablets were also introduced on Star Trek! They were used sporadically during the early years of the show, but with Star Trek: The Next Generation the show expanded and promoted tablets with Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s PADD (Personal Access Display Devices).  Eye Top Computers are what Google desperately tried and failed at with Google Glass, and where Microsoft triumphed with the new Hololens.

There is a galaxy worth of technology inspired by Star Trek and many more nebulas I haven’t mentioned (like Bionic Eyes and Video Chat) but there’s more to discuss in what technologies the show has inspired, and where the scientific community is still boldly exploring. For instance:

Teleporters: While we can’t teleport anything of substance yet, scientists have been working on quantum teleportation. Quantum teleportation is transmission of communication of quantum information with the aid of classical communication and theory of quantum entanglement.

Tractor beams: In 2015 the UK announced it had created the first “Tractor Beam” by using sound waves to move a 5mm object. Learn more:

Replicators: In 1997 scientists discovered a way to make light into matter; a later theory suggested using this in combination with 3D printing could begin replicating food. It has not been done yet, but in 2016 NASA launched the Star Trek Replicator Challenge in union with the ASME Foundation (Future Engineers) and asked kids to find a way to replicate food in space. The winner of the challenge was able to grow algae! Learn more:

We should all take a page from Star Trek and with an open mind explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations while always holding the prime directive sacred.  It’s exciting to look back and see how far we’ve come and how far we can boldly go.

References and Additional Resources

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