In this month’s Scientific American column, I wrote about Hollywood’s depiction of personal technology in the future. Lots of it is pure wishful-thinking silliness. But sometimes, you can sense the thought that’s been put into these props, and inventors eventually create them for use in the real world.
“Star Trek,” of course, was one of the most influential sci-fi shows of all time. Even the technologies of the original series, which ran on TV from 1966 to 1969, have inspired all kinds of inventions that have become commonplace in the real world. How many? Let’s have a look at the “Star Trek” Prediction Scorecard.
- Bluetooth earpieces. There it was, stuck into Uhura’s ear: The original Bluetooth wireless earpiece, looking and working just as they do today.
- Hello, computer. What are Siri, Cortana, and “OK Google,” if not the kind of call-and-response computer that Captain Kirk routinely queried?
- Communicators. In “Star Trek’s” day, phones were wired to the wall; the first cellphone prototype was still eight years away. Eventually, of course, our calls went wireless. And for about 30 years, the flip phone—a close lookalike of the Enterprise’s communicator—is what “phones” looked like.
- Universal translators. How do you think the Enterprise crew was able to converse with aliens speaking their own wacky languages? Using a Translator, of course. Now, products like Google’s Pixel Buds and Skype Translator purport to do the same thing: To translate a language someone is speaking into your own language, directly into your ear.
- Sliding doors. Yep. They’re everywhere now, primarily at entrances to buildings you enter with your arms full, like airports and grocery stores.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987–1994) scored some bullseyes, too, including the tablet computer and the Holodeck, whose creation of virtual worlds around you is precisely what our virtual-reality goggles attempt to do today.
Then there’s the show’s depiction of racial harmony, well-meaning space exploration, and teleporters. On those developments, we’re still waiting.