The revival of the Star Trek franchise raises an interesting question - how does science fiction impact on technological advancement in reality?



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The new Star Trek film is seated firmly in the captain’s seat at the UK Box Office, blazing a lens-flare trail across the Big Screen. Nearly fifty years after the original series was shown, the public still appear to have an appetite for Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Gene Roddenberry universe. But surely we’ve moved on from phasers, teleporters and malfunctioning warp-drives by now? Urban Times recently looked at the psychological impact of the Star Trek universe on humans, as well as the social aspects of science fiction in general. It’s time to go boldly where no man has gone before and look at how the technological aspects of science fiction will, without a doubt, impact upon our future.

Jules Verne wrote about submarines and scuba tanks in the book, ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea‘, years before they were conceived as real-world technology; the designer of the submarine, Simon Lake, has credited Verne as his  inspiration. If you look back at original Star Trek technology, the fiction of the sixties is now functioning reality. OK, so there’s no warp-drive or interstellar travel, but we do have communicators (smart phones), phasers (stun guns and military lasers) – and now a functioning, real-world Holodeck.

It gets better. If you watched Iron Man 3 and cooed over Tony Stark’s advanced technology, how far away are his malleable screens from the Xbox One’s Kinect? How different is the digital crime scene Stark uses from SeaDragon Software’s Zoom-It? One doesn’t need to wait fifty years for the future; the building blocks are in place and it’s a small step to the next technological advance. If you had asked someone in the ‘fifties whether the Star Trek gadgets could be made, they’d have laughed in your face. Does this mean that scoffing at the cancer-curing booth in the trailer for Neill Blomkamp’s new film, Elysium, is just as naive?

The Imagination Foundation work on new ways of thinkin, using clothing to bring their message into contemporary society. The group believe in imagining a future and then forcing the present to catch up with it; technological advancements are very much the same. An invention is a thought’s physical manifestation, similar to a pianist’s control of the melody in his mind and the music that comes from his fingers.

Is this the world of tomorrow today? (digitizedchaos / Flickr)

Is this the world of tomorrow, today? (image: digitizedchaos / Flickr).

Science fiction is a way of thinking. Whilst millions of people enjoy science fiction as a form of entertainment, sci-fi also shows that technology’s power comes from what we as a species choose to do with it. At a talk called ‘Improving Reality 2012‘, Warren Ellis mused that science fiction advances the future because ethics is a better concept than morality. By writing about science fiction, authors are free to ‘improve’ the future with their imagination and passion, rather than being hindered by the ‘reality’ of outdated dogmas and political policies.

It’s important to note that scientific progress isn’t restricted to literature; it encompasses design, art, sculpture, music and other cultural media. The next Jules VerneH.R Geiger or Paul Williams could be finishing school as we speak, formulating ideas that are inconceivable to the minds of present-day society. One day in the not-too-distant future, however, these technologies could be at our disposal.

Technological advances are not to be feared, despite the sometimes nefarious reasons they are often be used (or depicted in sci-fi to be used) for. If the first Neanderthal who used rocks as tools had been warned against its potential as weaponry, the human race would still live in caves. If the first person to pick up a pen had been told all the sorrows a single word could bring, society and culture would refuse to exist and evolve. If you can’t be excited about your own future, what’s there to be excited about? Let Jason Silva tell you.