Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Star Trek fridge that talks would be so cool

Famously, Star Trek boldly went where no person had gone before. Now we're following in the wake of Star Trek's warp drive. It's incredible how much influence one TV programme has had. Perhaps not in the fashion sense - these wee bootie things never caught on among men.



But in terms of technology, it has fired the imagination, as well as inspiring countless kids to become scientists and, where there was a vacancy in your area, astronauts. The coming thing, in three to five years' time, is "ubiquitous computing". You may think computing ubiquitous already, but the boffins reckon it's too much hassle having to whip out a device and type into it.

I feel their pain. I learned to touch-type decades ago, but find sending a text absolute agony, accomplished only with a plethora of profanities. You need little pixie fingers to do it.

The scientists want to integrate technology seamlessly into our lives, by which they mean primarily our conversations.

Amit Singhal, vice-president of Google and senior research engineer (interesting pair of hats, by any standard), puts it like this: "Why should someone stop their conversation because they're missing a tiny piece of information that you need to take that conversation further?" Now you're talking. Conversations with blokes my age are getting increasingly nebulous. Here's a recent one.

"Remember that band, what's their name? They played at that place, the wot-d'ye call it, over beside, you know, that place where they keep the animals."

"The zoo?"

"Zoo, that's it."

"What about it?'

"I can't remember. What were we talking about?"

We're all worried about early Alzheimer's, but it's just that our heids are now too crammed with facts, names, places and wotsnames - memories - that we can't get them out of our brainlobes and onto our tongues.

Singhal says that, soon, we'll all have a talking "Star Trek assistant", which could work in your spectacles, on the telly or even on the fridge. So, when you go into the kitchen and say: "Now, what did I come in here for?", the fridge can pipe up: "How do I know, you pillock?"

The Google man says the technology will make conversation richer, with fewer unnatural and awkward moments. It could, indeed, be right handy. Nothing worse than getting into an argument with some legalistic charlatan who asks you to back up your assertions with facts.

Singhal says his idea was inspired by Star Trek, though I'm unsure what he means specifically. It sounds more like the computer on Red Dwarf.

There was Lieutenant La Forge's eye-band, right enough, and the tricorders were pretty handy, though you still had the hassle of whipping them out of your pocket (a particular problem the actors recalled from Star Trek, as their uniforms didn't have pockets).

But other Trek phenomena are coming to pass: replicators (3D printers); universal translators; advanced medical scanners; virtual reality.

Cloaking devices are also allegedly on the way, while warp speed can only be a matter of time and space. Who'd have thought, all these years ago when the first rickety sets and plastic planets appeared, that Star Trek would be a prime influence on our technology? Mind you, Captain Kirk's solution to great interplanetary disputes was always going to prove timeless: giving the baddie a good punch on the snoot.

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