Friday, May 30, 2014

Captain's Log: Reading Rainbows, Trek Tech and Aliens in 2037

After providing archival Reading Rainbow material for mobile aps, LeVar Burton decided to take it to the next level: he wanted to provide old and new Reading Rainbow content on the Internet for children everywhere, and make it free for schools in need.  He proposed to finance it through Kickstarter. Here's one story about it, including his video to promote the idea (with a cameo by the actor who played Geordi La Forge's best friend on the Enterprise.)

His initial goal was to raise one million dollars in a month or so.  Trek Movie reports that this goal was exceeded before half of the first day was gone, and by the end of the day the funds had crossed the $2 million mark, headed to $2.5 and beyond.  Burton's reaction video is included in this story.  A new goal was set for $5 million.

This is certainly one of the soulful ways that Star Trek enters the real world.  But it's always fun to track the Trek tech that approachs realization, sort of.  The latest are the transporter and the universal translator.

Scientists say they have created a method for reliable quantum teleportation.  Although the Trek transporter is mentioned in this story and others, it's a very different proposition. (That is, they transported "data," not Data.)  It's the highly unusual nature of of quantum particles that makes this possible.  But it is potentially of great scientific significance.

A little closer to Trek (also mentioned in this story) is the Beta version of the capability of the Windows Skype to translate certain spoken languages in real time.  To be a true universal translator however, it will have to match the mouth movements of the speaker to the listener's language, as we've all seen on Star Trek.  I've long been surprised that so few have noticed this capability.
More basic to the Trek universe is the existence of many intelligent lifeforms in the universe, which is something that chief SETI scientist Seth Shostak talks about in this video.  He updates the theory that became the premise of Trek: that there are many worlds capable of sustaining life, and many thousands or perhaps a million strange new worlds with new intelligent life and new civilizations.

In this engaging talk, Shostak also suggests that the aliens we're likely to find (remotely, through listening to their communications) are probably going to be more advanced than us, which likely means machine intelligence.  He bases this on the likelihood that the "post-human future" on Earth is that humans will be building their own successors, or at least the machines that will be the ancestors of those that inherit the Earth.

But the element of this talk that is getting the most attention is that Shostak predicts that humans will discover alien life in the universe within the next few decades--by 2037--well within the lifetimes of young adults today.  He bases this prediction on the rapid increase in knowledge about extra-solar planets, and the geometric increase in technological capabilities to find alien evidence.

If so, this is very intriguing for life on Earth in this century.  Warp drive may never be possible, or at least not by 2037, so voyages to the stars are likely to remain imaginary at least for some time to come.  But the impact of knowing there is (or was) intelligence on another world could be profound.  That at least is another implied Star Trek premise: that human civilization changes and unifies even before the first forays to the stars.

 In the film First Contact, it is the landing of a Vulcan craft that makes alien life undeniable.  Probably radio evidence would be disputed, but at least some will accept it.  Will there be a transformative effect?  Will we see ourselves and our planet differently?  Perhaps as Buckminster Fuller did, writing in his book Critical Path: "When one realizes...that we all are in fact on the surface of a very tiny spherical spaceship on a long and seemingly inexplicably purposed journey, our proximity to each other becomes clear, and the absurdity of many of our conflicts becomes evident."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why does Burton need millions to put Reading Rainbow in classrooms? Why doesn't he just send them the tapes? The video doesn't say.

The part at the end with nobody giving a damn about Spiner WAS funny, though! It reminds me of his Fresh Hell show, which was hilarious.