Reality check


Holodeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d like to meet the creative team who placed a holodeck on the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I can understand why they did it. If you are a writer, it’s an infinite source of Deus ex Machina. It doesn’t matter what kind of wacky plot you come up with, you have a room where the cast can experience absolutely anything.

I could forgive them if they came up with brilliant story lines set in and around the holodeck, but unfortunately it became an outlet for transporting the cast to other milieu. Don’t get me wrong, I like Star Trek and I like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes but that doesn’t mean I’m happy to see Lieutenant Commander Data in a deerstalker.

Assuming I commanded the Enterprise instead of Jean-Luc Picard, the first thing I’d do is order a full security audit of the holodeck software. All too often, the safety protocols get overridden or the cast get locked in because someone they’ve conjured up is a bit too clever for their own good. If such a thing existed, there would be other problems too. I’m sure some people would become addicted to holodeck use and many would use it for lascivious purposes. I’m sure there are many romantics on board who miss the sound of a babbling brook but I bet there are many more aching to act out their favourite sexual fantasy. Regularly.

When you look at the virtual reality technology available today, all this seems a very long way off. For the visuals, you invariably have to wear a cumbersome headset. In most of these headsets, you can turn your head far faster before the computer can render what you should see in front of you. There’s not much latency on the holodeck. Sound is much easier to get right, but if you want full body sensations, the state of the art is disappointing to say the least. The limit of our technology seems to be flight suits filled with minute pneumatic pressure pads which fill up to give the sensation of feeling.

To my knowledge, nobody has successfully produced a virtual reality rig that convincingly provides for all five senses. I don’t think we will ever get there with purely physical devices. I imagine the VR rig of the future will stimulate the brain in some way to fool it into actually living the experience in question. When they get it right, there will be a huge commercial market (and not just in the porn industry). Can you think of a better way to train people? Or a better way to perform a life saving operation on someone inaccessible. The military will love it, they get to play Ender’s Game.

If you want me, I’ll be on the holodeck, listening to the sound of a babbling brook.


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