The date is September 8th 1966. Millions across the United States tune in to NBC to catch the newest show on television – Star Trek.
As the episode draws on, the audience are presented with all manner of futuristic curiosities: doors that automatically open, scanners that can read the composition of objects and that can diagnose illnesses, spacecraft propulsion that only requires electricity to run, lasers that burn through solid rock and metal. It all seemed fanciful 51 years ago, but today all of these things exist.
Automatic doors are in every business, store and supermarket. A contest is underway to create a realistic ‘Tricorder’, with positive results. Ion drives are propelling spacecraft across the solar system and ship-based lasers are already being used in the field.
The future has caught up with fiction, and the results are at the same time both tantalising and scary. The question remains though: is the march of innovation detaching us from reality, or is technology simply doing what it always has done, improving our lives?
Take casino games, for example. Once upon a time (15 years ago, to be precise) one would have to travel to a casino resort or city such as Vegas to indulge in a game of roulette, blackjack or poker.
Today however, one can turn on sites like Flashbitch, log on through their many offers and play an array of games based on your favourite TV shows. Of course this is a beneficial effect of tech; why bother to travel thousands of miles, wasting tonnes of fuel, to do something you could do at home far more efficiently?
Whilst certain journeys can be mitigated using tech, travel itself is something many would not want to see replaced by a technological placeholder.
Virtual Reality headsets, the Oculus Rift in particular, are currently being trialled by UK holiday agent Thomas Cook, allowing customers to experience the ability to actually look around and experience the company’s resorts before they visit.
This is far more interactive an exercise than simply flicking through catalogues, but imagine the virtual experience went further – plugging in, instead of jetting off, you are treated to a day in India, travelling around a digital landscape, ‘holidaying’.
For many, this is tech gone too far; the physical feeling of being in a location, the act of experiencing it first-hand, both lost.
As technology improves and drones, driverless cars, smart homes, the internet of things and a host of other current strands of technological progress take off, we need to exercise a degree of constraint and indulge in a little soul searching, even as technology improves our lives and makes them more enjoyable.
After all, we don’t want to open our eyes in 50 years to find that we have become defined by our technology, not what makes us human.