Star Trek Me This

A while back I posted a poll on Twitter about which Star Trek technology would be the most significant. Usually when I bring the topic up in conversation, people jokingly say the Holodeck, and then say, “But seriously, warp drive is the most significant tech.” I generally argue that the replicator is the most overlooked tech in Star Trek, because its invention would solve world hunger, put manufacturing centuries ahead, and make scarcity a thing of the past. I was pleasantly surprised to see that on Twitter, most folks think along the same lines.

But, I want to elaborate a bit on the items, because sometimes I have more than 280 characters of thought on a topic. 🙂

Holodeck

The holodeck got little love on Twitter, and I understand. It seems the most frivolous of the items listed. In reality, the Holodeck is the one we’re probably the closest to actually having. It’s basically VR to the Nth degree. There are obvious differences, what with actual physical interactions and all, but VR is like a poor man’s Holodeck, and we can try it out today.

The use cases for an actual Holodeck are pretty incredible though, to be honest. The show generally stresses its usage as a vacation simulation, which would be important on interstellar trips. But the training, learning, physical fitness, and full immersion would make life better in so many ways.

That said, I think we all know, most Holodeck use cases would devolve into sexual deviance pretty quickly. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, I’m not here to judge. The takeaway though is that a Holodeck could do more than just entertain us. It could level the playing field for everyone such that privilege of wealth and/or location wouldn’t matter as much.

Transporter

There was some discussion on Twitter about whether the transporter was its own tech, or whether the replicator and the transporter were really the same thing, since the technologies are closely related. But since I was specifically referring to the transporter as a “mover of objects and people”, that’s what I’ll focus on here.

Quite frankly, the transporter tech creeps me out the most. The notion of converting mass into energy and then that energy back into mass seems fine for chairs and pepperoni pizzas, but for a living thing — it’s oogy. This is a trope in the Star Trek universe of course, what if people are “recreated” twice. What if the “pattern degrades” in the buffer. But I’m more concerned about what makes a person a person. When an object (or lifeform) is converted into the stream of energy, their existence is nothing more than a record of what they used to be. If you then rebuild them into that same record, are they the same person? Is there a spark of life that is more than matter/energy? Is there a soul?

Deep stuff, I know. But the transporter has always bothered me in Star Trek. And while I don’t want to get into a big philosophical debate about souls and the meat they may or may not inhabit — if the transporter idea for living things doesn’t creep you out, I’m a little worried about you.

Warp Drive

Arguably the most exciting Trek tech, it’s oddly the one that would probably affect humanity the least. Well, at least initially. With things like hunger, inequality, and scarcity eliminated, Warp Drive would allow for exploration without the sole purpose of exploitation. That would be amazing. But as a “first” tech? Yeah, I’ll pass. I don’t want to solve our energy problems by drilling for oil on a remote planet. That’s just putting the cart before the horse.

Obviously cool tech from a scientific standpoint. And not outside of the realm of “maybe someday something like what it sorta implies” — so I’m not anti-WarpDrive. I’m just not in the, “We need Warp Drive first” camp.

I already talked about the replicator, and why I think that would be the most important and civilization changing tech. But something that didn’t even make my list has gotten me thinking a lot lately…

Universal Translator

This is probably the most practical tech from a, “could we ever actually do it” standpoint. Not with the whiz-bang features of learning and deciphering an unknown language in near real-time, but as a way for people to communicate with each other regardless of their native tongue. Language barriers are more than just inconvenient. When we can’t communicate readily with someone, it changes how we see them. Being self aware enough to realize that our differences are insignificant when compared to our similarities helps — but when we can’t communicate, relationships break down.

When someone doesn’t speak our language fluently, we perceive them as less intelligent (even if we don’t speak THEIR language AT ALL). When we can’t express our intentions to each other clearly, it creates a mental us/them separation that bleeds into every other aspect of our relationship. When we can’t understand each other, we can easily dehumanize each other. And that road leads to the darkest of darkness. If we can’t communicate with people, we can’t get to know them. And if we don’t know people who are unlike us, it limits who WE are as a part of humanity.

There’s a much larger topic about diversity, inclusivity, and expanding our views of “us” — but this was just a post about Star Trek technology. So I’ll save the other stuff for another episode. 🙂

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