Thursday, October 9, 2014

Let's Celebrate (and dread) Federation Day!

Put on your party hats people, or if you don't have a party hat, maybe fashion a crude one by rolling a piece of paper into a cone. Today is-wait, what? I don't know, tape it to your head or something, god, do I have to think of everything?
"Commander, you do not understand. Klingon honor demands
that I kill you for this. Kill. You. I won't even feel bad about it."
-Worf, son of Mogh
and noted pooper of parties
Above: Star Trek tackled tough issues like
space-racism using subtle social commentary.
Anyway, today, as I'm sure you're all aware, is Federation Day. Not aware? Shame on you, here, catch up. The Federation is sort of a high-tech space UN which, if Star Trek is to be taken as prophecy and not just as a preachy sci-fi TV show from the 60's and its many spin-offs and movies, is due to be founded 147 years from today. Usually this is a day to celebrate how awesome the future will be, but I think it's also important to reflect on what we risk losing in the face of unchecked technological advancement.

Pictured: Everything that is
wrong with the 21st century.
Yes, the future is going to be full of lycra-clad optimists boldly going and amazing technological wonders, that's a given. But this technology is going to change us and we need to be prepared. Look at Google Glass. It's been available for less than a year but already everyone who owns one is an insufferable asshole. Don't misunderstand me, I love the future and can't wait for it to get here, but technology isn't going to solve all of our problems and will almost certainly create some new ones.

Clearly in the future we'll
all be goddamn wizards.
For example, did you ever take Spanish or French in high school? Congratulations, you just wasted hours of your life on something that will be rendered pointless as soon as someone invents the universal translator. Suddenly everyone you meet, no matter what planet they're from will speak unaccented, colloquial American English. You know, the best language. How does it even work? Magic, apparently. The universal translator is invisible, can instantly pick up new languages, translate them in real-time and somehow even make alien mouth movements sync up with the translated speech. See? Magic.

"As a matter of fact I did understand
that, and your words cut me deeply."

-Quark, noted ear-wanker
So what's the downside? Universal translators will make communication between completely different forms of life not only possible, but downright effortless. It sounds cool, but some things are bound to be lost in translation. Take our many earth swears for example, they often don't translate between languages here on our planet. Check out this entire Japanese book about how to swear in English. American English, that is, because calling someone an douche bag in British English is a whole different thing. The point is there's no way the Ferengi are going to fully appreciate all the subtle nuances when we refer to them as greed-driven ear-wankers with asses for heads.

Speaking of implausible technological developments with significant downsides no one on Star Trek ever had to deal with: replicators. Sure, they're going to feed, clothe and shelter the masses of humanity and usher in a new age free of want, and that's going to be great, but not everyone is going to be able to exercise self-control. Ever watch TLC?
Oh, right, hoarding. That is totally going to be a problem.
Want more stuff? Go raid the Irish coast.
I'm not an historian, but I'm pretty sure there were no hoarders in the middle ages. Between the fifth and fifteenth centuries there was no, no Walmart. You couldn't stuff your house with whatever the medieval equivalent of Beanie Babies were because everything had to be made by hand and it took forever. Only in the 20th and 21st centuries did humans start accumulating enough things that it was actually possible to be crushed by an avalanche of your own useless crap. Now throw a magic box that makes shit out of thin air into the mix. Yikes.

The Holodeck OS 5.4 update finally
fixed a bug that allowed the creation
of sentient literary super-criminals.
Ok, so the universal translator is going to drain the color and depth out of communication, and replicators are going to drown us in an endless supply of tchotchkes. Surely something in the future will be worth preserving our heads in robot bodies just so we can live to see it. Something like, say, the holodeck. I mean, what could possibly be the downside to a technology that lets you live out your wildest fantasies with fully tactile, three-dimensional holograms? If you guessed catastrophic malfunction that endangers your entire starship, you're close, but that only happened every third episode. 

What I'm talking about is how hopelessly addicted we'll all become and how lame real life will seem after an hour in holo-land.
"Weird? Nonsense Number One. What happens
on the Holodeck, stays on the Holodeck."

-Jean-Luc Picard,
about to get freaky
Um...happy Federation Day everybody!
Look at us, right now, both staring at screens. We're never more than arms reach away from some kind of electronic entertainment/porn delivery device. Now imagine that all of us had access to a fully immersive, voice activated, computer-generated environment complete with characters we can totally have consequence-free sex with. There will be exactly zero reason to leave. Ever. Holodeck-addiction might mean the end of our species. Bummer, right?

But hey, I don't want to leave you on a down note, so maybe this will cheer you up: today also happens to be Leif Erikson Day, the day on which we celebrate the Viking explorer who discovered America long before Columbus and way the hell after the millions of people already living here. You can celebrate by talking like a Viking. All day. Seriously, it'll drive people insane. Enjoy!
It's like Columbus Day, but without the genocide.

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