Fun Fact Friday: Star Trek inventions that became reality

Captain Kirk's flip phone (Davidbspalding/Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that quite a few of the technological marvels from television’s Star Trek started out as science fiction, but are now reality, or even commonplace? It’s true!

Cell Phones: It’s funny when you think about it. Remember flip phones? Captain Kirk had one before they were cool! While mobile phones are now a part of our everyday lives, back in the 1960s, the idea of a long range mobile communicator was nothing more than a dream. Land line phones were the norm, and even the concept of dialing a number was new, with telephone switchboard operators still connecting callers manually.

Video Conferencing: Another concept that was conceived by science fiction, video conferencing allows a face to face meeting to happen from across town, or across the planet. Video conferencing has come a long way since the 1990s when video phones began to hit the consumer market, but never really took off. Nowadays, it’s easy to Skype with your grandma about mission critical objectives, like picking up the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

Speech Recognition: For the longest time, talking to your computer indicated you might be a little off. In Star Trek, voice commands were their main way of interfacing with the computer. Anyone who’s ever seen Star Trek IV will recall the Enterprise traveling back in time to 1980s California, and Mr. Scott hilariously attempting to operate a computer by talking into the mouse like a microphone. More recently, through the use of Windows’ speech recognition software, it is possible to control a wide array of functions with your voice, not the least of which being dictation to text.

Tablets and Kindles: On Star Trek: The Next Generation, the crew were always writing duty rosters or reading books on these large flat devices called “data pads”. Just a small flat screen that could be carried around easily, no thicker than a notebook, and could be typed on with fingers to enter information. In the 1980s, it seemed absurd that people would abandon the printed page in order to read a book on a little hand-held screen. Now, everyone owns a Kindle, a Nook, an iPad, or a tablet PC…and if they don’t, they certainly know someone else who does. Isn’t it amazing how times change?

Jet Injector : This last item is something commonly assumed to have originated with Star Trek, but actually didn’t. Known in Trek parlance as a “hypo spray”, this device took the place of a hypodermic needle, allowing an injection to be given without breaking the skin. The Jet Injector was actually invented by Aaron Ismach in 1960, at least 5 years before Star Trek premiered, as a way to mass vaccinate people for diseases like smallpox. Since the average person had never seen such a thing, the common assumption (even today) was that it originated with the show, like the other technologies mentioned above. So, while it wasn’t created for Star Trek, it certainly is a fun fact!

The fascinating thing about these inventions is the “chicken and egg”/”life imitating art” conundrum their existence raises. Is it possible that, had there been no Star Trek, that one or more of these things might’ve never existed? Fortunately, we’ll never have to find out!


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