Say what you will about Star Trek and the dedicated souls that follow it, but the inventive minds behind the show had no qualms about challenging contemporary ideas regarding the use of technology in everyday life. While this may seem like a given (it does take place in space, after all), many viewers take for granted the riskiness of such a bold outlook on science. Creator Gene Roddenberry was faced with building a story around a civilization firmly rooted in space travel and heavily dependent on far-out futuristic technologies, but that retained its humanity and an inherent sense of history. The imagination is boundless, but in order to make a show as captivating as Star Trek, Roddenberry had to make the futuristic technology and engineering in the show seem like a reasonable accomplishment of human science in a distant but foreseeable future.
The original Star Trek seems low-tech compared to its successors. It was, after all, limited to the rendering and television production technology of its time. Beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the technological capabilities of the human (and alien) civilizations seem to have compounded since their humble beginnings. Not only was the U.S.S. Enterprise equipped with sliding doors, photon torpedoes and advanced communications, it possessed ability to generate holograms – a technology that would drastically change the lives of the individuals that crewed the starship.
For those not in the know, a hologram is a projected image made of light that appears to be three-dimensional, although (technically) it has no actual mass. This technology (in a less advanced form) does exist in the real world today, although the applications aren’t too similar to those used in any of the Star Trek series. Imagination is a driving force behind the highly intricate holograms used in this Sci-Fi staple, and the use of holograms became as important as to become a driving force for several storylines in the show.
Included aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, as well as the U.S.S. Voyager of the Star Trek: Voyager series, was a fully functional, highly advanced holodeck. The holodeck is an elaborate platform capable of producing tangible, opaque holograms that are driven by artificial intelligence and are used as one of the primary forms of entertainment onboard these starships. The holodecks are programmed with centuries’ worth of literature, film and history scenarios that are programmed to interact with the living people and aliens who use the holodecks. Crew members also have the option of programming their own personalized holodeck scenes to be acted out in virtually any situation they desire.
Each of the main characters found special uses for the holodeck. Captain Picard was fond of mysteries such as Sherlock Holmes and 1940’s crime noir. Captain Kathryn Janeway, true to her character’s nature, preferred storylines with strong female characters and just a touch of romance. There were moments, however, when the holodeck turned against its users. There were several episodes of Star Trek: Voyager in which holodeck malfunctions caused the AIs to become self-aware and question their programming.
As advanced as the holodeck programs are, they pale in comparison to the dynamics of the Doctor. The Doctor is the holographic medical specialist on board the U.S.S. Voyager, and rather than being an empty soulless character, his holographic nature serves as a springboard for deep growth and a storyline that leaves viewers asking what it really means to be human. Initially restricted to the confines of the medical bay, the Doctor eventually receives a holographic transmitter that allows him to travel around and even outside of the ship.
The creators of Star Trek use holograms and the related technology to add depth and color to a concept that could easily go wrong. TNG’s Lieutenant Commander Data (a sentient android with an intense desire to be human) serves as an excellent counterpart to Voyager’s Doctor. There are moments when the characters born of science and energy show more compassion and human sensitivity than their organic crewmates. While this may seem like a mere gimmick to attract viewers, it makes a strong statement regarding the necessity of the human element in any technological development, no matter how advanced, for without it, technology cannot grow.
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