Are communicators and tricorders anachronistic now?

Discussion in 'Trek Tech' started by Mark_Nguyen, Oct 16, 2013.

  1. Mark_Nguyen

    Mark_Nguyen Commodore Commodore

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    These days, everyone's smartphone has effectively become the equivalent of these devices. Even in the military, smart devices and tablets are linked to portable sensors, GPS-enabled hardware and even weapons systems to run diagnostics or control their functions. Trek has had PADDs forever, and now we have them everywhere.

    Perhaps this is something for the Future of Trek forum, but I wonder if people will see some future incarnation of Star Trek, and seeing the ubiquitous communicators or tricorder, they will point at them and joke about how old-fashioned they will look... Thoughts?

    Mark
     
  2. B.J.

    B.J. Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    No, I don't think they're anachronistic. There's something to be said for keeping things simple and separated, which would make it easier to repair things in the field if necessary. It also has the advantage of not leaving you without any equipment if that one thing happens to fail.
     
  3. T'Girl

    T'Girl Vice Admiral Admiral

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    My smart phone was useless at detecting lifeforms when my brother-in-law and I last went turkey hunting.

    Nor does it have the range to call a orbiting spacecraft.

    On the other hand, the "desk top" computer atop Picard's ready room desk does look incredible huge.

    >oo<
     
  4. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    There's a lot of infrastructure necessary to use our current smart phones and a sort of delicacy that comes from things like tablets and scanning devices.

    For communicators, we have to remember that these things operate without cell towers being located every 500m and instead have subspace transmitters that have ranges of ~couple hundred thousand kilometers that seem to not need any calibration to find the thing they're transmitting to and permit secure transmissions. They also transmit faster than light, so unless we have some sort of quantum entanglement based phone in the next 50 years, I don't think they're likely to be viewed as anachronistic.

    Same for tricorders. I mean the only weird thing is their small displays. Everything else about them is still sci-fi, from tracking life forms to scanning the material composition of the ground.
     
  5. SchwEnt

    SchwEnt Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    ^^^ Yeah I was gonna say.
    Today's smartphones and other gadgets are heavily reliant upon cell towers and wifi networks and cloud storage and GPS connections and the internet for functionality.
    How limited would a smartphone or tablet be without *any* connectivity network support, solely operating on its own?

    Communicators and tricorders are largely self-contained units, not needing extensive infrastructure to operate.

    Plus, I suppose they are designed not for general public use but for specialized Star Fleet missions.

    Exploring strange new worlds, where no man has gone before, you'd want rugged reliable sturdy independently functional hardware. It may not be the latest and greatest that 23rd century tech has to offer, but the best option when needed on the final frontier, well beyond the nearest help desk.
     
  6. C.E. Evans

    C.E. Evans Admiral Admiral

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    ^^^
    Pretty much word for word my sentiments, especially with civilians using more advanced stuff at home that may not be as rugged.
     
  7. Mark_Nguyen

    Mark_Nguyen Commodore Commodore

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    I'm actually not talking about technical limitations - obviously if in the TNG era a two-inch metal pin can call a spacecraft tens of thousands of kilometers away with perfect clarity, it's not an issue for a phone of that era to do the same.

    My point is, SHOULD the vision of the future as represented in Trek be updated to reflect how far we've come? Everyone does stuff on their phones today - and through 2005 and the end of "Enterprise" we could text people or receive emails if we were lucky. Should the traditional "kit" of Starfleet away gear be updated beyond the usual communicator, tricorder and/or phaser?
     
  8. Nebusj

    Nebusj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Updated how? Look at the dramatic roles each of those tools fills: the tricorder is the way Our Heroes gather information. The communicator is how they communicate that and coordinate with other characters. The phaser is how they act with their setting (typically defensively; occasionally a mild bit of engineering like using it to warm an area or dig a ditch or something).

    Replace the things you call the tools if you want, but they're still going to serve those dramatic roles: a way to gather information, a way to communicate information, a way to produce action.

    If there is anything missing from the kit it's a way of producing actions that are subtler than phasering someone or something into oblivion, but if you try beaming down with a tricorder, communicator, phaser, and a solar-powered nanite gadget for un-tearing their uniform shirts you're going to draw unwanted giggles from the audience.
     
  9. R. Star

    R. Star Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Yeah sorry when you can scan everything from elemental compositions to lifeform readings with a smart phone, I'll stop wanting a Tricorder.
     
  10. Mark_Nguyen

    Mark_Nguyen Commodore Commodore

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    That's my point - in the future a smartphone SHOULD be able to do all that. It's at this point I wonder whether some future Trek would take a leap and combine all three into a single device - the single thing that scans for stuff AND zaps bad guys AND phones the ship as the need arises. Dramatically, it's all a prop to drive the action forward. And it's not like in the whole history of Trek any of our heroes have been captured, had their gadgets taken away, and then someone giggles and notes that they didn't realize his insignia pin was really a walkie talkie.

    Today we have a certain drive to peripherals again - smartwatches and head-mounted displays and what not - but it's all still centered on your phone. I wonder if, dramatically, one do-it-all device can handle all the dramatic AND technological needs of three. After all, the Doctor has his sonic screwdriver and it's done pretty much anything required of the plot for fifty years (like any good magic wand should), so there is a precedent of a sort.

    Mark
     
  11. Tosk

    Tosk Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Having a badge on your chest, a gun on your hip, and a tricorder in your hand (or on your other hip ;)) doesn't seem like too large a load to bear in my opinion.
     
  12. Melakon

    Melakon Admiral Admiral

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    Upgrading the communicator from a handheld device to a small pin on the chest was actually a logical upgrade storywise. Scenario: You're captured by an alien race during a first contact mission. They confiscate the phaser because it looks like a weapon. They confiscate the tricorder because it's obviously some sort of electrical device. They don't recognize the communicator pin as anything but a decoration.

    Consolidate all those into a single functional item. The aliens confiscate it and you've got nothing.
     
  13. SchwEnt

    SchwEnt Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    ^^^ Something about having all your eggs in one basket.
     
  14. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    And just imagine all the "Starfleet is sooo dumb!" complaints when that one piece of equipment malfunctions and therefore prevents its other uses.
     
  15. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    Multi-purpose use and compactness is a virtue for civilians where they can easily replace things, notsomuch for people out in the middle of nowhere.
     
  16. Chuck4

    Chuck4 Ensign Red Shirt

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    I think the likely course of technological development seen from today would be contrary to the ethos of Star Trek. For example, I think interstellar exploration will almost certainly be conducted almost solely by automated probes, and would be the far better done because of it. I think modern neural and computer science increasingly point to the fact that human have nothing unique that can not be surpassed by machines, so the omni-emphasis of Star Trek on "command decision" and "human intuition" is itself an anachronism.
     
  17. Wingsley

    Wingsley Commodore Commodore

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    Who is to say that a TOS-era communicator isn't, in a sense, a 23rd-century talkie? Keep in mind that "non-smart" cell phones are still quite common, as are two-way radios. (Not everyone wants to spend big bucks to get an iPhone of Galaxy S that they have no use for; and there are still plenty of areas where no cell phone will work, regardless of cost, brand-name, feature set or color).

    A Federation Starfleet-issue communicator isn't really the equivalent of a "smartphone" anyway. Cellular phones rely on cell towers and a terrestrial communication grid to operate. Communicators are built to work reliably far from home, on the frontier, where there are presumably no network towers to "call home".

    Look at it this way: if smartphone technology were the answer, don't you think today's soldiers on the battlefield would simply trade in their radios for smartphones? Obviously they won't. That's because battlefield situations tend to be in places far removed from the comforts (and technological networks) of civilization.

    The same could be said of communicators. They aren't phones. They're walkie-talkies, built to be easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain, and easy-to-repair/repurpose in the field. How many smartphones could be modified to emit sonic vibrations to cause a landslide? ("Friday's Child")

    The TOS-era tricoder would be a tougher one to justify. It's easy to see a heavily-modified iPad Mini as a tricorder. (Presumably, the Starfleet-issue tricorder is more powerful than any modern mobile device, with the ability to scan and analyze various forms of matter and energy ("Obsession"), as well as to detect when a starship is missing from orbit. ("That Which Survives").

    Actually, TOS really doesn't bother me that much, tricorders aside. TOS tended to rely on voice-recognition-techology, hooded viewers, blinking coded lights and sound effects rather heavily.

    TNG built on this, but began making other assumptions that look rather odd. Picard's rather bulky desktop display is an example of what people thought computers should look like before laptops ever hit the mass market. And in "Contagion", there was a major plot point that the Enterprise-D's computer system was actually a mainframe. While mainframes have not completely faded away, that centralized model of computing has obviously been overtaken by networked microcomputers ("PCs"). Where would that lead in a few centuries? Who knows?

    One great thing about TNG was the re-invention of the "communicator" as a badge with only a tap-and-voice-command interface. Nothing seen before or sense could beat that. (TNG's fold-up tricoder, on the other hand, was obviously their attempt at an iPad Mini!)

    So both TOS and TNG had their triumphs and their foibles. You can point and laugh if you like, but JJ Trek doesn't seem to have done anything revolutionary to change that.

    If you want to talk about re-imagining or re-invention, look at the TOS bridge or other control sets. Look at all those control panels with all those knobs and switchgear. Now imagine fewer buttons and more liberal use of iPad-like touchscreen surfaces like TNG. That would make sense. Most of the basic premise of TOS and TNG still looks great today. The "point and laugh at" needs for change might be significant, but may not be the items you suggest.
     
  18. Wingsley

    Wingsley Commodore Commodore

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    Or, perhaps like the TNG "Interface" probe, space exploration would be done virtually with the probe being guided/interfaced by a living human who could be light-years away. This would eliminate the need for starships, starbases and a space armada. (Though it would not sidestep the notion of human colonization of distant star systems, would it?)
     
  19. Chuck4

    Chuck4 Ensign Red Shirt

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    No, if humans want to live in moderate comfort for several thousand years more, they would need to colonize. But except in setting grand strategy, their decision making or presence, tele or otherwise, would be increasingly superfluous and harmful towards attainment of tactical objectives.

    There might still be a need for an armada, so long as there might be civil war amongst humans or possible hostile aliens. but it would likely be almost totally automated and AI controlled, with human input at grand strategic level at most, plus a safety kill switch.
     
  20. T'Girl

    T'Girl Vice Admiral Admiral

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    A smart phone falls from a coffee table on to a carpet and it breaks. In Afghanistan, my brother once had a field radio fall three stories to a concrete sidewalk and it worked just fine.


    Server farm.

    It would also eliminate the "need" for an audience. Karl Urban's new police show "Almost Human" has his character paired with a robot cop (yes, this again). If it was a show with just robot cops I doubt too many people would watch it.

    :devil: