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Star Trek: The Next Generation Technology That We Have, or Are Working On

Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation with a tablet - Star Trek: The Next Generation technology we already have

When Star Trek: The Next Generation first hit our TV screens in 1987, it featured technologies so far-fetched at the time that we couldn’t fathom them existing until the 24th century.

But much to humanity’s surprise and delight, not only is much of the Star Trek: The Next Generation technology available today, but many available examples are even more advanced than those used on the show. Others, of course, are still pretty rudimentary by comparison, but there was absolutely no indication that these were even possible in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

There are still some things on the show that elude even the most distinguished experts, but in many cases, the question isn’t about whether such technologies are possible, but rather how they can be carried out. But whether they’re within our grasp at Best Buy or still far out of reach, there’s no denying that Star Trek: The Next Generation is just short of prophetic.

Touch Screen Computers

Take one look at the bridge on Star Trek: The Next Generation and you’ll notice that regular buttons are a bit scarce. When Captain Picard utters his famous “make it so” order, all we see are officers plugging in whatever needs to be done on massive touchscreen keyboards. In 1987, the show’s creators led us to believe that we’d need to wait about 300 years to see that happen, but they missed the mark by just a little bit.

Believe it or not, touchscreen technology was experimental back in the late 1960s and started inching its way on a very basic level into the 1980s. Whether Gene Roddenberry was aware of this is unclear, but touchscreens in computer keyboards still aren’t mainstream. Odds are that cost and necessity are the biggest roadblocks, but it’s not a stretch to say that, like DVD players, prices will drop dramatically as time goes on.

Virtual Reality

The Holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation - Star Trek: The Next Generation technology we already have

Holodeck Image: CBS Studios

A particularly compelling technology in Star Trek: The Next Generation is the iconic Holodeck. With a few simple commands, people can create any scenario they want within a limitless world. More compelling, however, is the fact that users can actually disable the safety protocols, potentially turning the simulation into a lethal situation (which came in handy when Picard used a tommy gun to kill borg drones in First Contact.) While we’re nowhere near this kind of complexity, there’s one other example we can look at.

In the episode titled The Game, unwitting Federation soldiers (including Picard), are subjected to a VR game that indicates what would happen if Tetris had kids with basketball. The game itself is played via a headset that’s easily comparable to the virtual reality devices we can use on smartphones. Funny enough, the VR games we have now are way more advanced, but probably just as addictive (minus the whole sinister mind control thing).

Holograms

In Star Trek: The Next Generation we see miniature and life-sized holograms pop up from time to time. Cool as they may be, we haven’t quite figured out how to build them to that point; but judging by today’s technology, it’s really only a matter of time.

There are different ways to make holograms these days, which are found in everything from toys to posters to pieces of art. In most cases, you need to look at them a certain way to perceive the effect, but the foundations are clearly there.

Voice Commands

An everyday technology touted by Star Trek: The Next Generation is the use of voice commands. All our characters have to do is say “Computer,” followed by the action or question they want and presto, she responds.

Of all the technologies in the show, this is arguably on par with what we have now. First, we had Siri and then Google followed suit. Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon shortly after with Cortana, which is now a standard feature with Windows 10. Like “Computer” in TNG, we start our request by either saying “hey Siri,” “okay Google” or “hey Cortana.” Depending on the question, we may get a voice response or a search result. Frankly, nothing’s more fun than asking Google to define some profane word on Urban Dictionary and hear her drop the F-bomb in a British accent.

Laptops

Multiple scenes in Star Trek: The Next Generation show officers with their own personal computers that resemble stationary laptops. Funny enough, they don’t nearly look like their comparatively paper-thin counterparts that we can buy for $500.00 (or $450.00 if you want to risk your life on Black Friday).

Of course, their older look is offset by the yet-to-be-implemented touch keyboards, but it’s still funny to see how back in the ’80s and ’90s, people thought these devices would be the same size as a Compaq Armada.

Tablets

Trees are awfully scarce on the U.S.S. Enterprise, and stopping for paper can be a bit difficult when they theoretically run out every few hundred years (depending on the size of their office stationary storage deck). That’s why it makes perfect sense for people to exchange sensitive documents on thick tablets. Again, the show’s creators thought this would be 24th-century level innovation, but it looks like we overtook them pretty quickly, with Apple’s iPad being the most recognizable.

These days, we have tablets of all brands featuring different operating systems. While plenty of businesses use them as tools to pass information, they’re also perfect for media consumption and even creation. There’s absolutely nothing on Star Trek: The Next Generation to indicate such features are available on those tablets, making them not just more compact, but also more powerful.

Replicators

Nothing puts a damper on your day like craving a burger at 3 A.M. without a 24 hour McDonald’s nearby, but Star Trek: The Next Generation solves that with replicators. These handy devices can literally create anything, but they’re mainly used for food.

Today, we certainly can’t make food by typing it into a console, but the basis is still there if you look at 3D printing. These days, 3D printing has been used to create everything from machine components to prosthetic ears.

But don’t write food off just yet. Believe it or not, NASA commissioned a company called BeeHex to create a 3D printer that can actually make a pizza. Rather than using chemical ink to make the product, BeeHex generates the food using the same method with edible inks that feel and taste like pizza. They hope to use it as a way to feed astronauts on trips to Mars, but according to Digital Trends1, we could see this hit fairgrounds by 2017.

Even desserts aren’t off the table (no pun intended). The Foodini 3D printer can generate a variety of dishes, including brownies; however, in some cases, it’s limited to individual ingredients, such as dough.

In Germany, created an alternative to conventional purees called Smoothfoods, which are apparently more appetizing and nutritious than their conventional counterparts.

Don’t expect to own a 3D food printer anytime soon, nor are these technologies anywhere close to creating instant food (in fact, printing it takes a while). But it makes you wonder how long it’ll be until that changes. Just think about the painfully slow ’90s printers compared to today’s industrial ones that spit documents out at machine gun speed. Maybe that’s the direction we’ll see for 3D printed food.


In Star Trek, by the 24th Century the Federation has evolved beyond money. People do things not for the acquisition of belongings or wealth, but for the betterment of themselves and others.

But why? Are the theorized economics of the United Federation of Planets based on the naïve belief that in the future everyone will become an altruistic communist? Because the likelihood of that happening [Click here to read more…]


Warp Speed

We’re still wracking our brains trying to plan a trip to Mars, but Star Trek: The Next Generation seems to have that one in the bag thanks to warp technology. Of all the discoveries on the show, this one’s the most improbable — or is it?

Believe it or not, physicists have actually figured out the math needed to bend space-time and create the effect used to propel the Enterprise across the universe. The most prominent model is called the Alcubierre Metric, but that’s about as far as the average layperson can understand.

The formula2 is extremely complex. Want to see what it looks like? Well, here’s a fraction (no pun intended).

Part of a formula for warp speed

Again, this is just a very short excerpt. Copying and pasting it all would easily double the length of this article, and we’re not here to learn math (a more eloquent way of saying “this makes no sense whatsoever”).

The real problem here is figuring out how to create this reaction, event, or whatever it’s supposed to be. Naturally, we’d need a system capable of somehow making this work, plus a fuel source strong enough to create and sustain the energy for it. To date, we’re not even close to finding a way to generate that kind of thrust; but hey, the moon landing seemed nuts 100 years ago. Give it time.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy for us to label something as impossible (such as the Star Trek: The Next Generation technology) when viewed through the limited lens of our current world. Just because something seems far-fetched now doesn’t mean it might not happen with time. Considering how innovative and determined we’ve become, it’s unfair to dismiss any technology, no matter how ambitious it may look.

Featured Image: Star Trek: First Contact, Paramount Pictures

Footnotes:

1 – Dyllan Furness, NASA Wants Astronauts to Have 3D Printed Pizza, 6-13-16

2 – Holtzer, N. (2013). A Theoretical Warp Drive: The Mathematics of Faster than Light Travel. Stetson University.

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