Many have maligned and mocked my love of Star Trek from a very young age. In what I may have considered a somewhat “sheltered” childhood my now somewhat distant memories extend to endlessly watching Thundercats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks (don’t ask) and the emergence of Star Trek The Next Generation.
I’ll admit that even before that I’d watched the original series so many times that I almost knew Spock like the back of his Vulcan nerve pinch (no, that’s not a euphemism), but with only 80 episodes it was never going to take anyone that long to make it through those.
My main reason for liking it wasn’t all about the exploring of space; encountering aliens looking remarkably human- with a bit of makeup and a third eye-esque, able to speak immaculate English on a planet looking not too dissimilar to last week’s episode (just rearranged slightly) by a group of unbelievably good looking people wearing uniforms that most of us would only consider wearing to bed as their pyjamas – I liked it in spite of those.
What ST portrays is a future where we all work with each other for the benefit of mankind, have technologies that allow us to explore new boundaries and cure many of the diseases we’re currently still trying to eradicate. It was one of the first shows to tackle racism head on by screening the first inter-racial kiss – something many wouldn’t give a second thought to these days despite it still be a highly divisive issue. If you think back to the 60s when it first aired, the thought of everyone walking around with their own communicator, able to contact anyone else thousands of miles away at the flick of a switch was ludicrous, wasn’t it? If you’re saying yes and aren’t a ST fan don’t look at your mobile/smartphone now or see how long you can go without using it!
If you think that’s the only example (It’s a pretty big one given there are over six billion registered phones!) then you’d be wrong – big style. Jet injectors were based on hyposprays; teleconferencing was around on Star Trek long before Skype came into existence; The iPad was a datapad; the replicator was an inspiration for 3D printers. That’s before we even look at how inspirational the series has been in driving individuals down particular career paths – Just look at Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space amongst many.
Now we have another breakthrough, the medical tricorder. Famed for making that “Widdly-wee” noise at most and a mixture between Wikipedia and an X-ray machine, the device rose to science fiction fame on the show because it could virtually detect anything with just a scan.
The X Prize Foundation is offering a $12.5 million prize for the creation of a first-generation tricorder that could be used for medical diagnoses. Spock’s counterpart Leonard Nimoy said recently, “The tricorder for us was kind of a magical tool, I always believed we were doing things and showing things and explaining things that would be part of the future.” The device certainly captured the imagination of not only science fiction fans, but the general public, because it was an icon of things to come.
“The winner of the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize will change the way diagnoses are performed,” says Dr. Paul Jacobs, chief executive officer and chairman of Qualcomm. “Importantly, in the developing world, it will enable greater access to health care in areas too remote to have nearby skilled health care professionals.”
The tricorder won’t be too far from the one in the show, will be able to take vitals and detect from a list of 15 diseases. Walter De Brouwer, chief executive officer of Scanadu believes science fiction can provide blueprints for real-life products. “Star Trek has been the inspiration for many inventions. Technology has caught up to our imaginations, and we’re now able to create tools that once felt out of reach.”
Although still a couple of years away, Trekkies, tech-buffs and the rest can all get excited about the possibility of owning their own tricorder – that way we can all hopefully live long(er) and prosper. (ba-dum dssh)
Update 9th March 2013: by the looks of it holodecks may not be far off according to this report!