Posts Tagged future

Five things that make Star Trek better than reality

Star Trek TOS castFor those of you who don’t live in an imaginary universe, today is First Contact Day. In the Star Trek mythos, Humans and Vulcans first met on April 5, 2063, after the inaugural warp flight of Zefram Cochrane’s Phoenix caught the attention of a Vulcan survey ship.

In honor of First Contact Day, I’d like to (try) to explain what I love about Star Trek the most. It’s not the aliens or the reliable sound effects, it’s that Star Trek depicts an ideal society that we should all work to make real. Here are five things that make living in the Star Trek universe better than living in reality.

Klingon replicator1) No Money

Obviously, this is a good thing. Money might make the world go ‘round in 2013, but it would be pretty sweet to live in a world without poverty in 2213. Also, because it will never have to worry about paying bills again, humanity can become more goal-oriented.  How many investors do you think would be interested in financing construction of a massive starship just so William Shatner can cruise around the galaxy in it?

Granted, this isn’t something that can be realistically achieved without a massive technological breakthrough. Star Trek’s money-less society relies on matter replicators, which can easily make all of the necessities of life like food, clothing, and even large machines. Since most commodities are infinitely replicable, there’s no point in charging money for them.

So far, we’re not even close to building replicators (3D printers don’t count).

USS Enterprise refit engineering2) Machines that help Humans instead of replacing them

I read a lot about how robots and computers will eventually replace the human worker, thanks to their efficiency and the fact that they never ask for raises. Star Trek shows us an ideal human-machine relationship and, while the machines do a lot of the heavy lifting, humans are still doing the work.

Every Trekkie recognizes the voice of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, because she’s the audio talent behind every starship computer. These computers do plenty of things: they operate systems, run diagnostics, and conduct database searches. But they don’t do that on their own: Starfleet officers are always telling the computers what to do, and analyzing the information they provide.

If it were any other way, there would be no point in sending the Enterprise on a five-year mission of exploration; a robotic probe would be much cheaper. Starfleet even has an android officer, Data, but all he wants is to be human. That’s the right attitude.

The Federation doesn’t just explore space to gather data, it explores to give people the opportunity to see new things. That’s why the Enterprise’s helmsman puts the ship into Warp 9, even if a computer is actually firing up the engines.

Data playing guitar3) People who do what they love

The result of a money-less society and healthy amounts of automation is that people are able to do things because they want to. No one in Star Trek takes a job because they need health insurance, and they have plenty of free time to enrich themselves.

It’s amazing how many people on every incarnation of the Enterprise are musicians, artists, or actors. It’s also cool to think about how wonderful life would be if everyone had time to pursue things like that.

A hobby is a great way to take one’s mind of the drudgery of everyday life, and it’s even more enjoyable when there is time to devote to it. Today, it’s hard to conduct recreational pursuits for their own sake because our time is so valuable, but in a future where income and manual labor don’t exist, that won’t be the case.

USS Enterprise NCC-1701A4) Spaceships

Of course, people will need something more substantial to do. Humanity requires more substantial tasks than cottage industry (sorry, Etsy and Kickstarter) and space exploration is a very substantial task.

Spacecraft are cool in their own right, but their most important role in Star Trek is keeping people productive. If we no longer need to work for a living, and if we’re displaced from today’s jobs by machines, we can’t just sit around all day posting photos to Instagram.

Luckily, Starfleet is very labor-intensive. The original USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) had a crew of 432, while the Next Generation-era Enterprise (NCC-1701D) had about 1,000 souls aboard (including civilians). There’s also the armies of people needed to build these things, plus command staff, diplomats, designers, and other Starfleet personnel.

Most importantly, Starfleet gives people a chance to go to new places and experience new things, which brings us to the best thing about Star Trek

Starfleet5) Imagination

Something I find very annoying about life in 2013 is that we constantly talk about how high-tech our society is, but can never find any good uses for that technology. Facebook is fun, but whatever happened to going to the moon, or curing diseases? What we have is a lack of imagination.

Gene Roddenberry wasn’t lacking in imagination. He imagined how technology could solve humanity’s greatest problems, and enable its greatest achievements. It wasn’t a realistic vision, but at least it gave us something to shoot for.

Restricting ourselves to only thinking of new ways to use existing technology will never advance anything, because its doesn’t give people a reason to. That’s how technological advances happen: people think of something that doesn’t exist, and try to create it.

Constantly recycling today’s digital tech won’t do that. Yes, we could have “smart” toothbrushes that play our Pandora stations, but if our predecessors had the same attitude we’d still be riding stagecoaches.

No cleverly named app will unite the world, but a ship that can travel faster than the speed of light just might. Maybe we’ll find out in 50 years.


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The future of nostalgia

Lexus LS600hL engine compartmentThe chrome gleamed in the sun as golden oldies blared on speakers. It was a car show where, like so many across the United States, the most desirable rides of yesterday lined up for their adoring fans. It makes one wonder: does this kind of thing have a future?

The foundation of the classic car hobby is the lone tinkerer who takes on a restoration as a weekend project; open a magazine like Hemmings Classic Car and you’ll find dozens of these stories.

The problem is that new cars, the antiques of tomorrow, are getting harder to work on. With yards and yards of wiring controlling everything, today’s cars are very complicated. Engines won’t start unless dozens of sensors for everything from the fuel pump to the gauges are connected.

Some companies, like Volkswagen, use specialized screws and bolts that make simple tasks nearly impossible if one doesn’t have the correct tools.

Patching a rusted steel panel is a relatively simple matter, but new cars include many materials, such as plastic, aluminum, and composites, that are difficult to work on at home. That also means replacement parts will be more expensive: the catalytic converters on a 2005 Subaru Outback are full of precious metals, and cost thousands of dollars each.

The problems aren’t just technical. There are some great cars on the road today, but people don’t seem to have the emotional attachment that collectors share with their chromed and finned 1950s cruisers or ‘60s muscle cars.

A new Corvette would destroy its vintage counterpart, or any vintage Ferrari or Porsche for that matter, in any race. Yet it doesn’t turn heads the way the 1960s Stingrays do.

Back in the day, cars loomed large in popular culture, but now they have to share the spotlight with other consumer items like smart phones and tablets (who knows, maybe those will become collectible).

Car show denizens shouldn’t despair, though. There are still plenty of dedicated gearheads (just look at the plethora of car magazines and automotive reality shows) who care about nothing else. As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” even if future car restorers have to learn a little more about software.

There is also a significant aftermarket industry that makes everything from trim pieces to tires for the current crop of classics. If enough people want to restore a 2012 Volkswagen GTI or Dodge Charger in 25 years, there will certainly be a business case for said companies to produce parts for those cars that can’t be fabricated in a garage.

The classic car hobby probably won’t go away, but it will face a few challenges. This hobby may be all about nostalgia, but even people who love the past (definitely not a crime) need to think about the future.

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