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Monday, August 13, 2018

How accurate were the predictions of Star Trek?

The most accurate predictions were the ones they made unintentionally.

W hat with Patrick Stewart returning to a new, bigger, better, more politically correct Star Trek, it's a good time to ask how accurate its predictions were. It turns out that a few were close, but many were way off.


Here's what would really happen with those communicators.

Kirk: Kirk to Enterprise, beam me up fast!

Computer Voice: You have reached the Starship Enterprise. Your call is important to us. Please listen carefully. Our menu options have changed. Press or say one for English. Presione 2 para Espanol. Drucken sie drei für Deutsch. Press five for Klingon. Press six for Ferengi. Пресс девять для русского языка. . . .

Kirk (tapping foot): One.

Computer Voice: You have pressed 137, Cardassian, Planet of the Large Butts. All our operators are currently busy. Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.

Self-destruct buttons

We still don't have self-destruct buttons on our ships, subs, or airplanes. How are we supposed to convince an intruder we're serious about anything?


While I was writing this, some other blogger mentioned how replicators, which predated our 3D printers, would cause the Federation's economy to collapse through hyperinflation as everybody just started printing up cash, diamonds, and gold bars. In the real world, whenever somebody tried to use a replicator, it would say something like


because the last person who used it didn't jam the plasma conduit tray in tightly enough and the damn machine couldn't figure out what to do.

Safety Violations

Star Trek crewmen trying to walk down the corridor
Crewmen on the Starship Enterprise trying to walk down the corridor

Forget about the poor Redshirts and the exploding consoles that some union guy never got around to installing fuses on. What about those poor crewmen walking down the hallway? Inertial dampeners were still iffy in those days, so they constantly get smashed into one wall at near-relativistic velocity, then the other, because of whatever the captain's doing up there. Sooner or later, somebody from Elfen Safety, as the British call it, is going to show up with a clipboard and a bunch of forms for Kirk to fill out.

What Star Trek really taught us

In the original Star Trek, the universe was depicted as an exciting, unexplored wild west, full of weird stuff, green ladies, and talking reptiles. In later shows, the Enterprise was reduced to patrolling the borders of its empire in a continuing mission to seek out people committing crimes and understand them.

What strikes me most about the early series is how much the characters touched each other. They patted each other on the back. They grabbed people's arms when talking to them. Behavioral scientists tell us that physical contact is essential for our well being. The message that today's social movements like Me-Too are unwittingly giving us is that we must avoid all physical contact with anyone. There may be long-term consequences to this.

Roddenberry's rule was: there is no interpersonal conflict in the future—no good guys and no bad guys. When something bad happened, like the crew getting stuck on old Earth around 1920 or '25, it was always caused by some dangerous object that, by virtue of human frailty or a miscommunication, created a hazardous environment.

An example was when Spock mind-melded with the Medusan ambassador. Being made of pure energy, the ambassador didn't need Spock's protective goggles, so he took them off. This created big problems when Spock returned to normal and the goggles were waaaay over there.

This explains much of its popularity: it was an idealized world with no politics and no financial worries. In the Star Trek world there was no evil, no bullying, and no hate.

People today make fun of Star Trek's naïve political correctness, but it's been around longer than almost any other show, so we can mine it for clues as to how our technology and social mores have changed. Not all the change has been for the better.

Maybe it's true that all fiction is propaganda. If so, given the direction that our entertainment industry is going, I probably won't watch the new show. What we need from fiction is less politics and more truth; less conflict and more science. And more tachyons.

aug 13 2018, 5:07 am; edited aug 14 2018, 3:05 am

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