Inventions still lag ‘Star Trek’ futuristic technologies

The promised tech future is never quite what it was supposed to be. Darn

Far, far away... Star Trek Enterprise and its computer’s wise female voice

Far, far away... Star Trek Enterprise and its computer’s wise female voice

 

At last week’s re:publica IRL! event in Dublin, a one-day conference on digital society brought to Ireland by the organiser’s of Berlin’s big, annual three-day re-publica extravaganza, I was amused by a session on the augmented reality mobile game Pokemon Go!

 Prefacing a dive into some of the virtual-space privacy implications for the game, Andres Guadamux, senior lecturer in intellectual property law at the University of Sussex, acknowledged to the audience that as a first big public step into virtual reality, the game was something of a disappointment. 

 Here we all were – well, at least the geekier amongst us – waiting forever for the promised virtual and augmented worlds of the Star Trek Holodeck or the film Minority Report or William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer, and what we got was little Pokemon monsters overlaid onto real spaces, via our mobile phone camera lens and a free app.

 Darn. 

 That got me thinking about how many other Real Life disappointments have been strewn in the path of the science fiction faithful. Yes, I know that many of today’s wonders, such as the laptop, the internet or the mobile phone, are cited as the present-day embodiments of things scriptwriters and authors over the years imagined first in fiction or on the large or small screen. 

 But still, there’s an awful lot lacking, isn’t there?

 For example, we hoped for that amazing Star Trek medical assessment and healing device regularly whipped out by ‘Bones’, the doctor on Star Trek. What we got were regular media stories about soon-to-arrive gizmos that would be just like the healing device (er, no). And the Fitbit.

 We hoped for the Star Trek Communicator – snap it open, make trans-galaxian calls at no apparent cost. What we got was first, the Motorola flip-phones of the 1990s, a popular design that made you feel a little bit like Captain Kirk every time you rang your mum. What we’ve ended up with is the Samsung Galaxy, with free additional flames and smoke.

 We hoped for mass space travel in suspended animation followed by a dramatic arrival at distant planets, populated by interesting, statuesque blue hippie aliens. What we got was irritable crowds waiting to rush into unreserved 17 inch wide plastic seats, trollies flogging scratch cards and coffee, and a prerecorded trumpet fanfare when we land at Luton.

 We hoped for huge intergalactic transit spaceports spinning gently to Strauss, transversed by hundreds of travellers and staff in groovy outfits. What we got was a single Canadian astronaut singing Space Oddity in the cupola of the cobbled-together international space station. (But yes: that was still pretty awesome, all things considered.)

 We hoped for the Starship Enterprise Computer’s wise and steadying female voice and capable ability to control complex, life sustaining computer systems. What we got was the disheartening evolution from Clippy the Microsoft animated paperclip, on to Apple’s Siri and her bland jokes, and more recently, Amazon’s Alexa, listening in all day and night to our households (what could possibly be creepy about that?).

 We hoped for flying cars (oh, how we always hope for flying cars). What we got was the Segway. When rumours first circulated about inventor Dean Kamen’s super-secret new transport device and how utterly amazing it was to be, changing transport forever, many quite intelligent A-list geek bloggers were absolutely sure it was a flying car. At last!

 But rumours turned out to be greatly exaggerated for the two-wheeled, firmly on the ground device. It has failed as a transport choice of the people, instead being consigned to use by quirky city tours, and as an airport cop indoor patrol vehicle in locations such as San Francisco, where its jocular appearance is guaranteed to delight the kids. 

 We hoped for small cute robots bearing costumed holographic messengers from a galaxy far far away, and intelligent robot butler-ish companions. What we got were greasepaint armies of creepy clowns lurking around every dark corner, and determined Roombas smearing dog feces all around the house of one Little Rock, Arkansas couple in a Jackson Pollack-inspired poopocalypse (read their hilarious Facebook post here: http://iti.ms/2eayWKg about “a brown-encrusted, vaguely Roomba-shaped thing sitting in the middle of the floor with a glowing green light, like everything’s okay. Like it’s proud of itself”). 

 We hoped for a peaceful Star Trekian Federation of worlds, where people no longer needed to earn money and could live (more or less) peacefully together. What we got was Brexit, and Donald Trump’s loony wall proposals.

 Though the latter two are reminders that Real Life can get a whole lot weirder and crazier than the wildest imaginings of a screenwriter or novelist. Whatever will they think of next?

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