Look it up, people say. Just check out the meme, which explains everything. Fans worldwide will tell you that Steve Jobs saw the PADD on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and created the iPad. People swear that the lens technology that the Jem’Hedar used in DS9 inspired the Microsoft Hololens or Google Glass.
For decades, fans have been reading news stories that profess how “Star Trek” can demonstrate technologies on television and in the movies before they enter the hands of real-live people on Earth.
Some of these stories may be true, but more often, it’s more likely that Trek inspired people to get involved in space research and exploration or some other kind of science and technology field.
Trek Inspired Many Great Minds
For example, take NASA Engineer Marc Rayman, who told StarTrek.com that he was inspired by “The Original Series” as a child. Rayman said that he skipped a class while in college to catch one of the Trek films in theaters. He also was in charge of the Deep Space 1 Mission, which used ion propulsion to move the spacecraft. Rayman said that his first contact with the term ‘ion propulsion’ was through Trek.
Another great example is that Steve guy, who co-founded Apple. Not Steve Jobs, but Steve Wozniak. Known as “The Woz,” he was the technical wiz who found a way to make Jobs’ early Macintosh designs work. Wozniak spoke with the Huffington Post on his involvement with the X-Prize contest to make a real, working tricorder.
“How many decades ago, we saw that on ‘Star Trek,’ anyone that saw it thought that it’d be a neat device, but we don’t have them, they don’t exist,” Wozniak told writer Zaki Hasan. “But some people in their technology eventually spotted little breakthroughs by scientists — physics, and chemistry and saw the ways to actually make such a device.”
Wozniak also said he credited “Star Trek” as a motivation in his early days at Apple.
“‘Star Trek’ had done so much for me,” said Wozniak in the interview. “I’m not sure I would’ve had the inspiration that I had to ever start Apple and do all these technical things, and I don’t think I would’ve had the meaning in my life if I hadn’t gone to ‘Star Trek’ conventions when I was young.”
Cell Service Started in the 1940s
While so many associate Apple with the start of the mobile phone revolution, a lot was going on before Steve Jobs unveiled his iPhone in 2007. In fact, thousands of people had been involved in creating the cellular network and creating the devices that would operate on these networks.
Work on the cellular world started in the 1940s with the creation of the car phone. This gadget took off in the ’60s and was a mainstay in popular culture — James Bond and Batman were often seen using their car phones. Elvis Presley had them in his movies and in his cars in real life.
Martin Cooper and ‘Star Trek’
But things really leaped forward when the phone left the house and the car and could be carried around in hand. One of the principal technologists involved in the very first cell phone is named Martin Cooper. He is credited as the inventor of the first cell phone, which would become the Motorola DynaTAC. Cooper made the first cell phone call to a colleague in 1973, and his DynaTAC would be commercially available in the 1980s.
In numerous interviews, Cooper said that he was inspired by Captain James T. Kirk and his communicator while working on the DynaTAC. Forbes reported that Cooper can recall the “Star Trek” moment that inspired him. Cooper appeared on the 2005 documentary “How William Shatner Changed the World,” explaining how he saw “Kirk talking on his communicator.” Even StarTrek.com cites this Cooper / Kirk connection as common knowledge.
Cooper Was Inspired by Dick Tracy, Not Captain Kirk
Unfortunately, it’s just not true. In a recent interview with the San Jose Inside, Cooper said that it wasn’t actually “Star Trek” which had inspired his work on the TAC.
“I got caught up in this thing,” said Cooper in the interview. “Their premise was that the cell phone came from William Shatner and ‘Star Trek,’ and I didn’t argue with them.”
Cooper said that he’s been trying to set the record straight ever since, without much success.
“This is show business! We don’t worry about facts! And I’ve had to live with that for how many years now?” Cooper told writer Steve Palopoli. “Since then, I keep saying, ‘It wasn’t Star Trek, it was Dick Tracy.’ But nobody pays attention.”
This makes sense since when Cooper was young, comic strip character Dick Tracy was popular, and he sported a 2-way radio (or TV) watch. Dick Tracy was prominent in the 1930s, and Trek debuted in 1966, years after cellular technology in cars was available to the rich.
Don’t feel bad. Many others are developing tech seen on “Star Trek.” In fact, NASA just unveiled a new way of sending messages and data across space, which far exceeds the older methods. Could this be the first step to a subspace messaging network?