SciFi Technology: Truth or Dare? - Acrux Fanzine

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Monday, 8 October 2018

SciFi Technology: Truth or Dare?

Science officers of Star Trek fan clubs, such as myself, take glee in pointing out how the technology of Star Trek is being brought to life in modern technology. However as Peter Suciu pointed out in his thought-provoking article in TechNewsWorld, "Our Sci-Fi Future: Silly vs. Terrifying', this is not the whole story. He believes that when science writers describe how 'today's technology was predicted by [insert name of favourite fiction here]" these are usually just superficial likenesses only, take two examples from s and transporter technology.

Take the Star Trek holodeck for example. Interacting within a virtual environment is great fun but holographic doctors or any holographic image that can exert a force or have a physical presence? We can guide a virtual avatar through an electronic VR game just as a virtual intelligence can guide a robotic avatar in the real world but holographic lungs? A holographic Rite of Ascension complete with functioning Klingon pain sticks? The holodeck was a plausible fictional device but we are a long way of making anything similar.

By the same token the Star Trek replicator, and by extension, the transporter, are science fiction concepts that do not appear to have any hope of becoming reality. We have the technology to break things down to their atomic components, for sure, but reassemble them in the same or different combinations?

Whilst I find the correlation between modern technology and Star Trek to be uncanny, particularly the tricorder and communicator, pointing this out is not my primary mission when writing. Star Trek uses science and a futuristic universe as a fictional tool to weave stories that would be less effective in other genres, investigating real moral and ethical issues in a science fictional context. However speculative fiction is still fiction. Never confuse the canon of a fictional universe with science.
Star Trek has always held a special place in the genre though as the first mainstream ‘specfic’ to stay as close to plausible science as possible. The main difference between Star Trek and other views of the future is that science and technology was not cast as the Frankenstein's monster that was to be feared. The United Federation of Planets was ruled by ethical principles that acted as overarching safeguards like IDIC and the Prime Directive, Starfleet was cast as primarily a scientific and exploratory organisation and technology was seen as liberating rather than destructive. This premise of the positive influence of technology in the service of humanity has encouraged people to take an interest in science and technology and is the main reason for the infrequent SciIntel articles I do for Region 11 of Starfleet International.

In contrast to the Trekkie creed of technology being a positive influence on society, Suciu's article spends a fair amount of time showing that the strongest claims for fiction-to-fact are for technologies that we should worry about. Trek didn’t shy away from pointing out the dangers of technology in the future but Roddenberry was an optimist, he saw the human control of technology as being the factor that would stop it from being destructive. Trek was about people exploring the universe, not robots or unmanned probes, and technology was just another tool enabling humanity, in fact intelligent life of all kinds, to overcome the problems of hunger, scarcity, poverty.

The theory is that without that control, technology could get out of control as with the Eugenics Wars and the later and even stronger analogy for technological dystopia, the Borg! Sadly, the challenge is actually a matter of human ethics and the way we use technology.

Keep your eyes open for regular issues of Ginan, my webzine, covering Star Trek from a real world perspective covering everything from science & technology to fan production news.

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