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Trek Tech

Saw the latest Star Trek last week.  Not horrible.  Not overly compelling, but not terrible.

But I was struck once again by the JJ Abrams view of future technology.  I would hardly be the first to complain about the busy, nonsensical bridge set or, far worse, the engine room, which looks more like it needs a plumber in charge than an engineer or physicist.

It is okay, however.  Abrams has left himself an out, if he wants to use it, to get himself out of dutch with the trekkies, the old tech nerds that remember the easy, simple sets of the original series (admittedly the result of low budgets) and how the look was updated, but aligned with, in the follow-on series over the decades.

Technology – and again, I am far from the first to say this – goes through three distinct phases.

Phase One is a simple device that barely does the job.  Whether steam engine or integrated circuit, it is enough to prove the concept and only maybe enough to do some meaningful work.  It is weak.  Inefficient.

Phase Two attempts to overcome the inefficiency with add-ons.  A pipe here, a gear there, a jumper wire on that big grey thing.  Layer after layer of complexity is added to the simple device to try to correct the inefficiencies.  Over time, more layers get added.  This is the current state of the automobile engine and the state shown of JJ Abrams’ warp core.

Phase Three happens when somebody figures out, after looking over the Phase Two devices, how to create the simple device that the inventor had wanted to build, but couldn’t quite figure out, in Phase One.  It is a clean design.  Elegant.

So, if Abrams wants to mend fences with the Geek Squad, who screamed when they saw Scotty being flushed through a large cooling pipe in the engine room, he could make it part of his next story.  Somewhere in the next movie, either some Federation inventor or some alien species they come across could have a very simple, non-complex warp core.  It just sits there and quietly pulses light while providing power to the engines and weapons.  Scotty falls in love.  This new design, in some way, becomes important to the plot – or at least a subplot – of the movie.

When the fourth movie starts, some years down the road, we are shown that Enterprise has been extensively renovated.  Not only does the warp core look like something Matt Jeffries would be comfortable with, but so do the engines, the sick bay, and the bridge, all remodeled to take advantage of the new technologies.  The trekkies are happy, the new fans are happy, Abrams is happy, and Paramount is happy.

Why not?  It is win-win.


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