NBC aired the first episode of the original Star Trek series on Sept. 8, 1966 — yep, 50 years ago — probably not realizing that the show would become a cultural, not to mention scientific, touchstone. Trek’s multi-ethnic, co-ed crew confronted a bevy of Cold-War-era moral issues that still resonate, and they also used gear and gadgets that predicted devices that would become commonplace half a century later.
The next generations of Star Trek (and the films) would further foretell technology like augmented reality and Google Glass, but here are seven ways the original show’s imaginings have become reality:
The Flat-Screen TV
We never see Scotty calibrating the display on the bridge of the ship (or the audio, for that matter, which is cleverly hidden somewhere near the “con”), but that big screen can display either the planet up ahead, the jump to warp speed, or the face of that ugly Klingon Kirk’s about to battle. One question, though: While the crew was speaking with someone aboard another ship, how could they visually monitor what was in front of them? Apparently they missed the idea of “picture-in-picture.”
The Mobile Communication Device
Even though the show is set far into the future, Kirk’s got an old-school flip phone for a communicator. Geez.
Uhura’s earpiece is a big ol’ ‘60s-style predictor of the wireless device we would come to see that connects one’s head to one’s phone without a cable.
Voice User Interface
This is a tremendously cool feedback loop — Charlie Kindel, keynote speaker at CEDIA 2016 and director of Alexa Smart Home for Amazon, recently told us:
The original inspiration for the Echo was the Star Trek computer. We wanted to create a computer in the cloud that’s controlled entirely by your voice — you could ask it things, ask it to do things for you, find things for you, and it’s easy to converse with in a natural way. We’re a ways off from that, but that is our vision.
Tablets (with Wi-Fi?)
In the earliest version of the Star Trek universe, Spock has a big, boxy device that he uses in several episodes. That first “tablet” that’s wirelessly connected to the ships mainframe would become a thinner touch-screen device in later iterations of Star Trek (most notably when Captain Picard turns up).
Automated Doors and Windows
The ship was loaded with these devices — and the doors even came with their own trademark “whoosh” noise (which was reportedly created by a piece of paper being pulled from an envelope) as they detected someone approaching and slid open.
The Smart Kitchen
We haven’t come up with a “replicator” yet that can generate the preferred entrée of anyone who walks into our house, but a galley that can do more than just heat some stuff, cool some other stuff, and clean the dishes is becoming more and more a part of the integrated home. (In the meantime, though, there’s this U.S.S. Enterprise pizza cutter.)
(Almost) Bio-Adaptive Lighting
We’re admittedly reaching here — the original series was made on the cheap, so blank walls with a hyper-modern treatment were great canvasses for mood lighting. Even if they weren’t truly bio-adaptive, there were definitely a variety of lighting scenes (including low pastel shades for Kirk’s more, um, intimate encounters) on display throughout the original series.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)