It’s been over 50 years since Star Trek first debuted, but even the original series from 1966 was remarkably prescient in its depiction of technology. The sci-fi classic was certainly ahead of its time, and featured a variety of futuristic technology that became reality decades later. With tech like teleporters and tricorders, it’s no question that Star Trek boldly went where no man had gone before. Here are eight technological advances that Star Trek accurately predicted.
Between iPads, Fire tablets, and Surfaces, tablets have become so commonplace that they’re barely considered a new technology. But it wasn’t long ago that the idea of a portable computer—much less one with internet capabilities—lived solely in the minds of the world’s greatest innovators. The iPad, the first tablet to succeed on the market, wasn’t released until 2010.
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But the world of sci-fi introduced tablets long before tech companies. Tablet computers were depicted a few times beginning in the 1950s, but didn’t obtain notoriety until their appearance as an electronic clipboard in Star Trek: The Original Series in 1966 and Personal Access Display Devices (PADDs) in Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. In Star Trek, the device was fairly thin and touchscreen–not unlike the tablets in the world today.
Before the days of “Hey Siri,” “OK Google,” and “Alexa,” there was “computer.” Captain Jean-Luc Picard used voice commands to interact with the ship. Rather than summon the artificial intelligence with a woman’s name, Captain Picard simply said “computer” before issuing an order.
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In Star Trek there were both automated assistants capable of carrying out the most complex of orders, and computers capable of entertaining you with a conversation–not without fault, as Data discovers in the scene above. Data has been spending so much time around humans that he’s picked up the habit of talking to himself, but the computer doesn’t know what to do without a direct command.
Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, the wife of creator Gene Roddenberry, voiced the computer. In her honor, Google gave their voice activation services the code name Majel.
Virtual reality goggles might not be in every household yet, but they’re becoming increasingly popular and affordable. They allow you to immerse yourself in a game or fly around a globe constructed using satellite images. The goggles might not be as exciting as the holodeck, but they’re certainly well on their way.
On Star Trek: The Next Generation, the holodeck has nearly endless possibilities. A staging environment for virtual reality experiences, the holodeck allows its user to travel around the galaxy and interact with a wide assortment of characters. You could virtually travel back to your fifth birthday party on your home planet or have a steamy affair with a hologram. Captain Jean-Luc Picard even elected to use the holodeck to play the part of detective Dixon Hill, one of his childhood heroes. Sounds like a pretty good time. Beam me up, Scotty. I’m in.
Nowadays, translating between languages is as easy as going to the app store and downloading a translation app. There’s less fear than there used to be that people won’t be able to communicate without a formal translator around. Though digital translators may not be flawless with their grammar or colloquialisms, they make it more possible to understand someone speaking a totally foreign language.
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Aboard the USS Enterprise, it would have been impossible to get around without the universal translator. There were always new species and alien languages with which the crew was not familiar. The translator itself stunned audiences and planted a seed for the likes of Google Translate.
On Star Trek: The Next Generation, the crew can recreate any object with ease. While our modern 3D printers are not yet capable of instantly reproducing anything from a digital blueprint, they’re well on their way. Today, a 3D printer can print anything from running shoes to eyeglasses. They’re also being used for medical miracles, such as 3D-printed skin for burn victims, and prosthetic limbs.
The other downside of real-world 3D printing is the wait time. In Star Trek, objects appeared in the replicator instantly, but in 2018, 3D printing takes time. The replicators on the Enterprise also had recycling capabilities. Perhaps this feature will take hold in the real-world as well and assist in the containment of pollution.
In 2018, bluetooth earpieces are so commonplace we barely consider them technology. But when Star Trek introduced Lieutenant Uhura’s earpiece, it was a revolutionary concept. The small device sits in her ear and allows Uhura and others to communicate wirelessly. With her earpiece, Uhura tracks what’s going on inside and outside the the ship.
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Today, hands-free technology is everywhere. Apple’s AirPods are a way to communicate without being attached to a phone. They also allow you to listen to music–an improvement on Star Trek’s design. Hands-free bluetooth technology is found in cars, offices, and just about everywhere else you could need it. Star Trek was spot-on with this prediction.
Seeing someone’s face while you talk to them from halfway around the world doesn’t seem so incredible now, but when Star Trek premiered, the average person considered that sort of capability to be light-years away. Video calls appeared in science fiction long before the tech took off in the real world.
Smartphones and high speed internet made video calls popular, making the reality a bit different than calls aboard a Starfleet ship. Calls would pop up on the large screen on the ship, allowing the captain to speak to people on different ships and planets. Maybe one day video chatting from space will really be commonplace. Unfortunately, for now we’re going to have to stick to taking our Facetimes and Skype calls from somewhere on Earth.
Between the meat substitutes in the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, vegetarians don’t have to miss meat any more. While these are not true examples of cultured meat, in recent years, there have been major breakthroughs in growing meat in a lab rather than on a farm—or even printing it from a 3D printer. Just, a food company on the cutting edge of technology, grows cells in their lab to make cultured foie gras, chorizo, and nuggets.
Two German students also designed a meat-printer called The Cultivator that is eerily similar to the machines aboard the Enterprise. There’s even a chance that lab-grown meat will make its restaurant debut in 2021. Though we’re still far from having replicators to produce anything we want to eat at any time of day, scientists have made leaps and bounds towards producing a viable synthetic meat.
In the original series, the crew chowed down on cultured meat, but as the franchise progressed, they began to rely on replicators for their meat substitutes. Though meat growing in a tank may sound highly disgusting–and highly illogical–the massive breakthroughs in recent years bode well for human consumption of synthetic meat. We can only hope that the real world substitutes will be as fresh and tasty as they are on the Enterprise.
Featured still from "Star Trek: The Original Series" via CBS