At present in the early part of the second decade of the 21st century we have now become heavily dependent on technology. The rate of technological advancement in the past fifty years alone has been incredible, particularly since in development of the first microprocessor, the Intel 4004 in 1971. Since the first incarnation of Star Trek in the 1960’s audiences have been amazed by the technological wonders that seems to be available in the 23rd & 24th centuries. What’s more amazing however is the fact that many of these technologies are now a reality and yet we are still in the infancy of the 21st century. If the advancement of technology continues to increase at its present rate then it is almost impossible to imagine what the world will be like in fifty or even a hundred years, never mind what it may be like in a few centuries.
Tractor Beam Technology
Organic Data Storage
Recent weeks have seen some interesting technological advances. Just a few days ago (25th January 2013) it was announced that a Star Trek “style tractor beam” had been developed by scientists, the project being led by researchers from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. This work makes use of lasers to attract microscopic particles. A simple example of a Star Trek tractor beam in operation on a small-scale can be seen in the S1E3 Episode “The Naked Now”, where Wesley Crusher develops his own “hand held” tractor beam capable of moving furniture and other small objects. In the very same episode he scales up and “reverses fields” on the Enterprises Tractor Beam to help give it a push-off from another starship thereby saving it from being destroyed from an oncoming star fragment.
Just a few days earlier (23rd
Jaunary 2013) a BBC News story
discussed another development in Nature
showing that DNA would be “perfect for digital storage”. A selection of media types were encoded within the DNA including an image, text and audio. All were read back with 100% accuracy. The article states that “One gram of DNA ought to be able to hold about two petabytes of data”. DNA is also a great way to archive data capable of reliably storing information for a much longer period that any technologies we currently have such as hard disks or CDs/DVD’s.
In Star Trek of course we often hear the term “Isolinear Chip” being used, capable of storing 2.15 kiloquads of information. In terms of the use or organics within Star Trek the one thing that immediately comes to mind are the Bioneural Gelpacks featured on the USS Voyager. One disadvantage with the organic nature of the Bioneural Gelpacks was their susceptibility to bacteria and viruses. On the positive side they were able to make a “best guess” rather than computing the solution in a more linear manner.
Touch Screen Technology
I am sure you are all well aware of Star Trek IV the Voyage Home, particularly of the scene where Scotty divulges the formula for transparent Aluminium to a scientist in the 20th century. The interesting thing of course is that a material with very similar properties has already been developed (see this article dated 12 Jan 2012). The material is called Aluminium Oxynitride or ALON & is capable of maintaining structural integrity in temperatures up to 1200 degrees C.
Touch Screens have become very much the norm and are standard on all smartphones of today. I am sure that everybody thought the touch screen consoles in Main Engineering of the Enterprise NCC1701-D shown in the mid to late 1980’s were really amazing.
If you were lucky enough to have attended CES 2013 in Las Vegas they you would have probably seen Panasonic’s 20inch 4K Tablet PC, so certainly table top computing is well on the way.
Another nice example of table top computing is the Microsoft/Samsung SUR 40 capable of sensing up to 52 concurrent touches. Quite appropriately in the vein of Star Trek and exploring the University the application demonstrated in the video below is called NUIverse
that allows one to explore the likes of our solar system and star constellations.
More Science Investment in the News
A BBC News Article
dated 28th Jan 2013 discusses the investment of two billion euro into two research projects. The Human Brain project will seek to develop a computer-based copy of the human brain allowing scientists to understand neurogical disorders and the effects of drugs. The second project will look at the use of Graphene – a material with amazing properties such as being stronger than steel and having conductivity better than copper. The “Possibilities” to quote Spock are seemingly limited only by our imagination.
Some other recent developments of interest includes the news of Intel investing four billion USD to build a 14nm chip manufacturing plan in Ireland helping to keep Moore’s Law going strong.
Has Film/TV Influenced Technology?
So are we there yet?
This post is of course not an exhaustive list of Star Trek type technologies that are currently in existance. I am sure you can think of many more exampes. An interesting question to pose is – has the technology we have seen in film influenced the evolution of actual technology? Certainly every single time I see a Tablet Computer of today I think of the PADD from Star Trek, and similarly with Mobile Phones becoming almost akin to Tricorders with the ever increasing computing and sensory systems that are now onboard.
To Answer my Initial question – Are we there yet? Well certainly from the examples mentioned above it looks like we have already developed many of the technologies that mesmerised us for so many years in the Star Trek TV shows and movies. Perhaps the Final Frontier is closer than we think!
If you would like to find out about some more technologies then you may enjoy watching the documentary below.