A peek at technology, Star Trek style

Future inhabitants of the universe interact and visualize information in dynamic and alluring ways

In the Star Trek movie, the Romulan enemy Nero produces a mug shot of Spock in the hopes of finding him. But it's not just any mug shot. It's the 3-D floating hologram kind, thrown into the air like a ball before halting in mid-air before its onlookers. Certainly, it can be a little discomfiting to be faced by a floating head, but we don't live in star date 2233.04 where visual displays are so not like we know them today.

Future inhabitants of the universe -- be they Humans, Romulans or Vulcans -- interact and visualize information in dynamic and alluring ways. The young Spock's education is a solo process as he sits encircled by a screen displaying words, graphs and images narrated by a female voice. In a bar on Earth (yes, there are still bars), Uhura flips through a menu card that markets beverage options with moving images, before ordering a Cardassian Sunrise among other things.

It's not difficult to imagine that in a little more than 200 years from now, we really could be viewing information -- data, images, videos -- in a non-static fashion and in a form factor beyond the traditional desktop monitor. And, that the technology would be sufficient enough to even replace school teachers as we define them today.

Indeed, some elements of current technology exist in 2233.04. Chekov makes ship-wide mission broadcasts by using biometric authentication to gain access to the system. But even in the future, identity management is not without its issues when Chekov is denied access when the system doesn't understand his Russian accent.

And the Starfleet may be skipping across the galaxy at warp speed, but basic technology still abounds amid all that complexity, as Captain Pike reminds us in his question to Sulu, when attempting to ascertain why they haven't jumped into warp speed yet: "Is the parking brake on?"

Earth of 2233.04 is filled with other cool technologies like a super-fast and smooth elevator that shoots Spock up to the bridge in the blink of an eye, and winged police motorbikes that fly and hover above ground. But amid all the cool stuff that the future world has to offer, there are some surprising elements of technology that one would expect in a different form. In the loading dock, as the U.S.S. Enterprise prepares for its maiden voyage, a forklift, albeit with what appeared to be 360-degree rotating wheels, slowly maneuvers around the ships carrying cargo. Could a world with hovering police vehicles and warp speed-enabled spaceships not have a better system than a forklift?

But just as the new Star Trek movie is a voyage for audiences to revisit the original crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, so is the story a trip back in time through alternate realities, courtesy of a black hole. Thanks to that bit of time travel, we're able to witness how technology evolved from advanced to extremely advanced. Take the famous transporter. In about 25 years, it went from being unable to lock on a person's signal if he or she was moving too fast, to actually beaming people onto a ship moving at warp speed. Believable? Sure.

But however advanced the technology is, it was not the only useful tool in 2233.04, proven by the fact that people sometimes resorted to more basic yet effective means. The Romulans used Centaurian Brain Slugs, mere beetles if you will, that latch on to a person's brain stem, forcing them to tell the truth. And, Spock's Vulcan nerve pinch proved swifter than a phaser set to stun.

One thing lacking, though, in 2233.04 was any talk of green IT. Perhaps being mindful of the environment and employing green technologies is so ubiquitous that it doesn't need to be said. Or maybe the characters were so engrossed in saving their planets from being engulfed by a black hole that nobody cared to mention it. But if anyone was being green, it was the Romulans whose ship was a recycled old mining vessel, ugly as sin and almost void of interior lighting. But to heck with green IT. Who wouldn't prefer to be aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise instead?

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Kathleen Lau

ComputerWorld Canada

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