Star Trek: Predicting Technology for the last 50 years

Today marks an important event in the world of pop culture and for many geeks. It was 50 years ago today that Star Trek premiered on TV. Ever since then Star Trek has inspired technology from the communicator to the PADD (Personal Access Display Device) Star Trek has inspired many people and much of the everyday tech we use today!


On a personal level, Star Trek inspired me to go into the field I am in today which is information technology. The show’s influence from the original series, The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise are all over today’s culture.

The P.A.D.D.


Above is a prop I made in the 90’s of the P.A.D.D. What does this look like to you?? Yes indeed it looks like a tablet device very similar to the iPad or any Android tablet. This device was used in the very same manner as they are used today: to access data. In the show, they used it to read books, to write and work on reports and quite possibly e-mail.

The P.A.D.D. also was available in many sizes. Some as small as today’s iPhone and Android Phones. In the timeline of Star Trek, the PADD was probably first used on the warp 5 capable ship of the show Enterprise. The Enterprise NX-01 was captained by Jonathan Archer (played by Scott Bacula of Quantum Leap fame). The one I first remember is the one on the Next Generation, although they had a larger and similar device used by Captain Kirk. In every way this fictional device inspired almost every tech company in existence today. Apple Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Nokia and more. Every one of these companies made devices that have been inspired by this very useful fictional device.


The Flip Phone


In the era now past, the communicator that we first saw Captain Kirk use is most definitely the inspiration for the flip phones we used to covet not so long ago. The one I first remember was the Motorola StarTAC which was the first one. Many people I know who had this phone first tried to flip it open like Kirk did. It’s obvious to me that the communicator used on Star Trek was definitely the inspiration behind these once ubiquitous devices.





Ok this is possibly a stretch, but if you look at the colors and the way that modern devices both with touch screens and without you can see the influence of Star Trek and many different sci-fi shows. The one I most remember is the one used on the Next Generation. The interface was called LCARS or Library Computer Access and Retrieval System. While the interface does look very different than what we see, it was probably the first that was designed so that people would be touching a button on the screen instead of poking at it with a stylus or mouse.

The Future

Science fiction as a whole has a huge influence on technology and culture as a whole. Be it the shiny happy Federation of Star Trek or the gritty world of Star Wars and the Jedi. There’s always going to be things that fiction inspires. Hopefully someday, maybe if not in my life time, maybe in my son’s, Warp Drive will be invented and we will start to boldly go ourselves.

Here’s to 50 years of Star Trek and may it Live Long and Prosper!


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About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.