Star Trek Tech
Art is increasingly inspiring reality. So many things that are just commonplace now were inspired by sci-fi that came before, namely the automatic door being an effort to recreate the sliding doors of the original Star Trek series from the 1960’s, and we also owe the creation of mobile phones and the bluetooth headset to go with them to the communicators and Uhura’s earpiece. Tablet computers were seen in The Next Generation long before Apple released so much as an iPod, but for an earlier example go to the 14-minute-mark of this episode of Blake’s 7.
Wearable technology is so widespread in sci-fi who can say what inspired the early progress? Our preconceptions of artificial intelligence we derive from Asimov’s Laws that were written in 1942, something that will be weighing more heavily on our minds as our research into the field deepens over seventy years later. We have even seen the rise of telepathically controlled technology thanks to the mysticism of the Jedi in Star Wars.
And yet, no lightsabers, no replicators, no teleportation, no vast space-stations accessible to the public by hourly shuttles, or research platforms on the moon. That’s not to say that science isn’t trying of course, and bending the laws of physics far enough to do what you want without breaking them (and the knowable universe along with them) is no small task to accomplish, even with the radical advances we’ve made in the past.
So in the week where people drilled holes in the new iPhone to get at the “secret audio jack” I’d like to take a more optimistic look at the advances of technology.
I’ve talked a little on the subject of 3D printing before but never really gone into any kind of depth. As a means of mass production we’re still a long way off, and certainly we’re nowhere near being able to turn our waste produce into safely edible and palatable food.
That said, the advances we’ve already seen in the technology in the last decade have been staggering, and it’s become a financially viable means for smaller and smaller companies to produce cheap prototypes, bespoke or small-batch products, or create tangible displays for a finished project such as architectural models printed straight from the rendered plans. Injection moulds and other methods of machining are not exactly a thing of the past, for mass-production and big-batch items they’re a must, but it’s putting power into more hands to create and invent like never before.
As for food, 3D printing is still very much an overly expensive novelty that hasn’t been utilised to the fullest extent yet. Manufacturers are beginning to see new possibilities such as three-dimensional circuitry, a possible replacement for the old printed circuit board that could save space and power and lead to more radical product designs. In other industries however it’s possibilities are either lost or nonviable, but a little imagination has already taken us a long way.
This one I learned about today. Today in my case being Wednesday 21/9/16… sometimes it’s easy to forget that these articles are read weeks later in some cases.
Teleportation is a difficult moral quandary because at it’s core lies the concept of destroying something or someone to create an exact copy in another location, and while the copy would be identical in every way – in the case of living creatures right down to the memories and personality – there is a fundamental question of whether or not the thing you’ve created is in fact the same. Has someone died in order for someone else to be created or has the same person been moved from one place to the other without occupying the intervening space? The question I rarely hear asked, can this teleportation method be used to create a quantum clone, and if so what are the implications?
Despite the moral boundaries there’s still a great deal of research being put into the possibility because of the staggering benefits teleportation could yield. Instantaneous travel from anywhere to anywhere. The process may require a “sender” and a “receiver”, so it would still take time to get to a new locations (such as Mars or a new solar system for example) but once there we’d have the power to move freely between the two points, supplying and populating new colonies in days rather than decades.
Still a theory though, right? Well, not so much. Studies into Photonics have been able to transmit data by switching the quantum properties of paired photons at either end of an optical cable. While the paired photon has to be sent the required distance, whilst there it can transmit data freely depending on the state of its partner at the opposite end. Studies since 2012 (at least as far back as I’ve found) have managed to send basic data packets this way over 140km, and the study is being replicated right now.
It’s a step in the right direction. People may be a little chunkier than light particles, but when defying the usual boundaries of space and time a baby step might as well be a quantum leap… or some other scientific misappropriation.
Gadgets and Cool Stuff
Ok, so we’re a long way off lightsabers still. Turns out it’s rather difficult to stop light without putting something in the way.
But Star Trek’s holodeck is starting to look remarkably close to virtual and augmented reality. Our computers are voice activated and achieving more and more functionality everyday, they even talk back to us. Oh, and have you seen you can get a badge-communicator now? Hooks right up to your phone and everything.
We’re the most staggeringly advanced civilisation there has ever been. What we do now is indistinguishable from the fiction of the 1960’s and that makes us crazy future wizards. Be very proud of yourself.