Weekly Trek – February 1-7, 2016

Weekly Trek is going to be more than just recommendations of Star Trek (or in the case of last week, Star Trek-related) episodes and movies.  I am planning to explore many different aspects of Trek, from the shows to the characters to the technology to its impact on popular culture and beyond (And later in the year, Star Trek Beyond as well.).

This week I’m going to start with a piece of Trek tech.  Science Fiction often offers visions of the future.  Some horrible, such as the future envisioned by the Terminator franchise, and others far more optimistic, as is true of Star Trek.  Aside from giving us possible futures to avoid or aspire to for society as a whole, they many times include ideas for technological advances that can and do inspire the scientists and inventors of today.  Last year was a great example of this, as different groups demonstrated their versions of the hoverboard seen in Back to the Future Part II in honor of reaching the “future” date seen in that film.

Star Trek technologies originally introduced when the show premiered in 1966 still have scientists hard at work.  There is currently a contest underway with a $10 million dollar prize for anyone who can produce a working tricorder (Details HERE).  The tricorder would be a fantastic advance for medical science, and transporter technology would make the travel nut in me so very happy. 

But if I’m honest, what I REALLY want is a holodeck.

The holodeck is a room that uses a mix of holograms, force fields, and solid matter produced by replicators to create any environment that the user desires.  Most often characters on Star Trek visit the holodeck for recreational purposes, such as the Dixon Hill detective stories that Captain Jean-Luc Picard enjoys; however, these simulations can also be used to investigate crimes, solve engineering problems, train officers, and so on.

While holodecks are associated with later Star Trek, beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation (It was featured in the series’ very first episode “Encounter at Farpoint.”), the concept was actually first introduced in an episode Star Trek: The Animated Series from 1974 titled “The Practical Joker,” and reportedly the concept was first proposed for the original Star Trek television series but never used.

Once they were available, though, the writers made use of them quite a bit, so much that the “Malfunctioning Holodeck Puts Characters in Danger” plotline became something of a trope on Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as its two follow-up series, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

We have come a long way with virtual reality technology, and new ideas are pushing it farther all the time.  The Oculus Rift headset has been getting a lot of press of late, and it combined with a multi-directional treadmill like the Omni hold the promise of letting players “walk” through a VR environment in their own home.  A start-up in Utah called The Void takes in one step further, mapping virtual environments onto a real location (Check THIS out.  I absolutely want to try it!). 

The problem with all of these, though, is that I, as the participant, have to wear extra stuff that pulls me out of the illusion of being there.  A true holodeck will be completely immersive and allow me to live out my every fantasy. 

Of course, that could be a problem, as THIS Cracked.com article makes clear:

Imagine how you'll react if you're in your holodeck and somebody interrupts you. Say, you're halfway through your chess game with Darth Vader, when suddenly he disappears, Scarlett Johansson is no longer sitting in your lap, and pizza costs money again. You'd find the guy who turned off the machine and snap his damned neck. Dilbert creator Scott Adams jokingly points out in his book The Dilbert Future that the holodeck, "will be society's last invention." It's no joke; once we had it, there'd be no reason to have anything else.
It's not just that it would be addictive; it's that it would literally fill every possible human emotional need and utterly eliminate all motivation to ever do anything ever. Everyone's only goal would be to do just enough work to keep food and electricity coming into the holodeck, to keep those interruptions by reality to a minimum.

So that’s a minor drawback. 

But would it really be that bad? 

I mean, if I had one, sure I’d want to go in and try a few things.  And a few others.  And…

Ok.  I wouldn’t be coming back out again. 

Is having a holodeck really worth the end of human civilization?

Oh yeah.  Absolutely.

- Alan Decker

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