A while back, I wrote an article about the unintended consequences of various technologies from the Star Trek universe. I barely scratched the surface. A good number of the 700+ episodes (plus a bunch of movies) introduced powerful new tech without ever thinking about its wider implications. Star Trek is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
1. A Plant That Cures What Ails You
In the TOS episode This Side of Paradise, Kirk and co visit the planet Omicron Ceti III, where everyone is suspiciously happy and healthy. Since Kirk never met a utopia he didn’t hate, our heroes immediately investigate the cause so they can put a stop to it. Long story short, the planet is home to these strange plants, the spores of which get into a person’s body and have all kinds of beneficial effects.
First they make you healthy. Healthier than Dr. McCoy can manage even with all his 23rd century tech. Then they make you happy. Not stoned out of your mind happy, just free of stress and inhibitions. The characters are perfectly lucid, but they no longer feel the need to constantly rush about working all day. They also seem free of emotions like anger or fear. McCoy embarks on a quest to make the perfect mint julep, and Spock is finally able to express romantic feelings.
Of course, Kirk eventually figures out how to break the spores’ effect, and the Enterprise warps off never to return. That’s nonsense. They’ve just left behind the Holy Grail of medicine. These plants can cure anything short of decapitation, up to and including regrowing organs. We know that sort of thing would be useful in Star Trek, from how difficult it was to fix Worf’s spine injury if nothing else. Starfleet doctors would be all over those spores, trying to isolate whatever causes the regenerative properties for the good of all the Federation.
That’s not even considering the emotional effect. Kirk’s crew had a mission to complete, but what about everyone else in the Federation? While some might consider the spores’ effect “artificial” and therefore no good, many others wouldn’t care about that at all. Omicron Ceti III would be swarmed with new colonists looking to live out their days happy and healthy.
Did I mention the spores also make you immune to radiation? If biologists could isolate that effect, it would be incredibly useful. Spock could have taken a dose of spores before stepping into the reactor chamber in Star Trek II. And as a side note, the characters know how to break the spores’ effect if anything goes wrong, so there’s not any real risk either.
2. A Transporter That Outmodes Spaceships
In the 2009 Star Trek film,* Kirk has a serious problem. He’s trapped on a remote ice world while the Enterprise sails away at warp speed. Fortunately, Future Spock has the answer: an equation for something called transwarp beaming.
Supposedly developed by a future Scotty, this equation allows for transport between two very distant points. In the next film, Star Trek Into Darkness (STID), we see just how distant. Khan uses a handheld device to go from Earth to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld. Wow.
First, this technology completely destroys the STID’s premise. An Admiral is worried about war with the Klingons, so he launches an evil conspiracy to make sure the Federation has the upper hand. But with transwarp beaming, the Federation could not possibly lose such a conflict.
The Klingons are sending a fleet of warships? Beam a bunch of torpedoes onto each ship and blow it up from the inside. Transwarp beaming apparently goes through shields no problem. What if the Klingons try to make more ships? Beam a bunch of torpedoes into their factories and blow them up from the inside. What if you don’t want to kill any Klingons? Beam every pro-war Klingon leader into the brig.
Beyond making the Federation unstoppable, transwarp beaming means the end of spaceships as anything except a novelty. Star Trek would suddenly look a lot like Stargate, with the characters going directly from one planet to another. Except they wouldn’t be limited by fixed location of a receiving station. In fact, because they have hand-held transporters, a person could go practically anywhere in seconds and easily come back.
Keep in mind this is just an equation. It doesn’t require the building of new transporters or infrastructure. In STID, Scotty says that Starfleet “confiscated” the transwarp beaming, which must mean he only wrote it down in one place. Couldn’t they just ask old Spock for it again? He’d have to say yes, since otherwise the only people who’d have it would be the evil Admiral and his evil friends.
3. Better Eyes For All
Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge was born blind but has this awesome visor device that lets him see far better than any baseline human. In the episode Measure of a Man, Data asks why all Starfleet officers aren’t required to have their eyes replaced with similar devices. Good question, Data. Geordi’s visor has gotten the crew out of many a tight spot. It apparently has a far better detection range than the crew’s tricorders and sometimes even the ship’s sensors. It sure would be useful to have a few more around.
While Starfleet is unlikely to start forcing officers into such invasive surgery, surely there would be people who’d volunteer? Being able to see radio waves sounds awesome. I’d probably get those implants if they were available. Are there no body-mod enthusiasts in the Federation?
Taking it a step further, who says you have to ditch your eyes at all? Geordi still has his; they’ve just got little flashy bits attached to the sides. Imagine being able to put the visor on, then take it off when you’re done seeing into the UV.
The clever Trekky might point out that on more than one occasion, the show has offered Geordi the chance to have normal human vision at the cost of not being able to use his visor again. Something about optic nerves being overtaxed or what have you. Even if we assume the Federation’s incredibly advanced medical science couldn’t solve that problem, why not hook the visor up to a screen instead? In the episode The Enemy, a Romulan connects the visor to a tricorder, which is kind of a no-brainer.
Since this can apparently be done quite easily, why isn’t it the default? Even if it would make the tricorder a little bulkier, the extra data would be incredibly useful.
4. These Ships Don’t Even Need People
In the episode Remember Me, Beverly Crusher finds herself the only crewmember left on the Enterprise.* This doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. In fact, she can fly the ship just by telling the computer to do stuff. She quips at one point about not having the skills to fulfill the Enterprise’s mission by herself, but what we actually see indicates otherwise.
This is hardly an isolated incident. Over on Voyager, in the episode Message in a Bottle, we see that Federation ships can not only fly themselves but also fight as well. The USS Prometheus easily destroys a Romulan warbird with no input from the crew other than “attack the bad guys.”
In every series, the computer is asked to make expansive leaps of logic. In the episode Booby Trap, the computer independently devises an escape plan none of the crew could have come up with.* It’s so intelligent one wonders about the ethics of treating it like property. Morality aside, it’s clear the ship’s computer can both think much faster than a human and make complex plans.
Since just about everything on Starfleet ships is automated, what is the point of having such a large crew? What do they do all day? At most, the ships would need a small contingent of engineers for repair work and one ambassador for first contact situations. Even those could probably be automated with holograms. We see by the end of Voyager that ships are being built with holo generators on every deck, and if those broke down, a few robots like the Exocomps should do the trick.
Without a squishy crew to keep alive, all the extra space could be converted into better weapons, faster engines, stronger shields, or even a smarter computer. Starfleet could send remote orders to its ships, reaping all the benefits of having a space fleet without risking a single organic life. The redshirts would thank them, if nothing else.
5. Warpdrive Suddenly Seems so Quaint
Voyager ran into countless new pieces of advanced alien technology and then promptly threw them out, but the quantum slipstream drive easily takes the cake. Essentially, this was a super duper fast way of traveling through space that put Starfleet’s fastest warp drives to shame. For context, Voyager could have covered the entire 70 year distance home in a matter of days using this technology.
Our heroes first ran into the slipstream drive when it was used by an enemy ship, but because of some plot plot plot, they were able to install one on Voyager and get it working. Why didn’t they immediately slip home? Turns out the drive had some bugs they couldn’t iron out on their own. They got it working, but it was super dangerous and nearly destroyed the ship. That’s a pretty good reason to retire it, yes? After all, they’ve only got one ship.
However, soon after that incident, Voyager establishes regular communications with Star Fleet. They get letters from home, new orders from Starfleet Command, and are even able to send the holographic Doctor back to Earth for a house call. Surely the first thing to do would be to send Starfleet the slipstream drive’s specs and ask them to start testing right away?
Remember, even though Voyager never got it working properly, they know that slipstream technology is viable because of the alien they originally copied it from. While Voyager can’t afford to take risks in testing, Starfleet has vast resources at its disposal. At the very least, we know they have countless ships floating in mothballs they can use as test beds. No need to risk any living beings.
They also have vast amounts of human/alien capital. Geordi La Forge, Chief O’Brien, Leah Brahms, plus any number of engineers and scientists we haven’t met, all would be interested in this technology. It represents a huge step forward for the Federation. Whole new areas of the galaxy would be open for exploration, not to mention the strategic benefits should another war start up.
Voyager was 99% of the way there. In modern terms, it would be like someone handing the US government a viable fusion reactor that occasionally catches fire. How long would it take for Starfleet to make it the rest of the way? Voyager should have ended its journey with a bunch of Federation ships appearing in the Delta Quadrant to escort it home.
That would only be the first step. With slipstream technology, there’s nowhere in the galaxy Starfleet couldn’t reach. The Federation would be able to expand and incorporate new members at an unprecedented rate. It could very quickly become the dominant power in the galaxy, able to draw on resources vaster than any save the Borg. Interestingly, this is pretty much the plot of Star Trek Online, where slip stream technology is commonplace.
Outside of a video game developed years afterward, it’s clear that the writers of Star Trek never expected the implications of their technology to be taken so far. If they had, the worldbuilding would be tighter. Star Trek’s a big enough franchise to get away with goofs like this, but most of us aren’t so lucky. Take heed of these mistakes, or else when you’re rich and successful, nerds will complain about you on the internet.
P.S. I just published my first game. In it, the PCs have to figure out who they are, solve a supernatural mystery, and avoid their doooooom. Get it here.