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The Future of Police: Into Darkness

Stardate -358501 (July 1, 1964): Gene Roddenberry drafts a proposal for what will become one of the most popular science-fiction series to date: Star Trek.  With the latest movie in the franchise being released this month (Star Trek: Into Darkness), and being a fairly big Star Trek fan, I have spent a little time considering what has changed in our society in the past five decades.  What's occurred to me is that much of what used to be science-fiction is now science-fact, and it's happened a lot sooner than Roddenberry's fictional future suggested.  Let's take a look at some of the "fictional" future and see what we find that affects us.

Some of what Gene Roddenberry saw as possible technological advancements in place by the year 2266 we've already not only realized but surpassed.  Some of what Roddenberry saw isn't possible within our current technology capabilities.  For instance - Warp drive that allows us to travel faster than the speed of light.  While we might attain such capability, creating the side-by-side ability to reduce the effects of inertia on our bodies might prove more difficult. Why would this matter?  Well, think about how your body is pressed into your seat when you accelerate in your patrol vehicle... or when you have to fly and the jet is picking up speed down the runway.  Now imagine increasing that several thousand fold.  Our bodies couldn't handle the increased gravitational forces and unless we develop a method of removing the effects of physics from our bodies, we're kind of stuck with what our bodies can manage.

On the other hand, some of those future technologies have not only come to fruition but are merging to become even more enabled and efficient than Roddenberry ever foresaw.

One of my favorite and most easily demonstrated examples is the communicator: a personal hand-held device that allowed you to communicate with others and/or your ship and could be used to track your location.  If you don't recognize that description of what we now call a cell phone, please go back to your mundane day.  In 1966 that communicator was quite futuristic, viewed and written by Roddenberry as 300 years away.  In the 1990s, about 30 years after Star Trek was created, we had flip-phones and Nextel push-to-talk.  Now we have smart phones, iPhones, and Voxer - so you can do that push-to-talk thing with anyone else who has a smart phone and Voxer.

Next on my list is the electronic clipboard that Kirk used in the original series which evolved into a PADD (Personal Access Display Device) in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  These neat handheld gadgets were used to access and/or control data and systems, read stories (because the only actual books in the future were all antiques), watch films, etc.  Today we have iPads and droid or windows tablets.  I have a droid tablet that I can customize the display on so the various program icons are where I want them and the background is what I choose.  I read stories on it, watch films on it and use it to access work data when I'm on travel.  I've had mine for a little more than a year which means I got it in 2012 - less than 50 years after Roddenberry foresaw it or approximately 250 years before he envisioned it becoming reality.

Both of those technologies - smart phones and iPads/tablets - are being combined into single units.  iPhones have many of the same capabilities as iPads, just with smaller screens.  Other manufacturers are making smart phones that are slightly larger than "the norm" so they can incorporate more tablet/droid functionality and have it easier to use for the owner.  In fact, this combination of technology and capability is bringing us closer to another Star Trek future technology: the tricorder.

The tricorder was a handheld device that sampled environmental conditions around the user and/or gathered data about specific objects for the user.  The typical use was to insure that the atmosphere/surrounding area was safe to be in and to analyze various objects or areas to gather data for investigative or decision making purposes.  Today we have widgets that allow us to do much the same thing with our smart phones.  Using a software program called Layar, you can find out what surrounds you, as far as businesses, landmarks, etc. in a given area.  Using a weather widget you can get environmental data to include temperature, humidity, precipitation predictions, reports on precipitation amounts, etc.  With some minor add-on technology pieces and accompanying software, you can use the smart phone to sample air and analyze it for toxins and you can even use it to monitor the vital physical indicators of a given individual to include heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.

But our technology advancement has not just been in communications or data transfer / data delivery devices.  We've also made advances in weapons.  In the mid-1960s when Roddenberry foresaw the phaser - a handheld weapon that delivered energy to incapacitate the enemy - TASER didn't even exist yet.  But, again less than 50 years later, not only have we seen the evolution of the TASER but we've seen evolutions of the TASER design that mimic the evolution of the future phaser design.

Both started out as relatively bulky pistol-appearing tools.  The biggest differences being that the phaser had an adjustable power setting and used no wires to deliver the energy to the target.  TASERs do use wires and are designed to deliver a single type of energy burst in a given TASER product.

Then the pistol-appearing tools became more streamlined; sleeker; smaller; but just as capable and potentially even more efficient.

Finally they both transformed from pistol-appearing to something less obviously recognizable as a weapon; something that resembled a handheld electric razor or a bent television remote control.

All of these advances have occurred in less than fifty years - not taking anywhere near the 200 years Roddenberry wrote into this Star Trek stories.  My concern, with that realization, was a wonderment about what another 250 years of human evolution will bring and whether or not the law enforcement profession will even exist in 2266?  I take faith that not only will law enforcement still exist and be necessary but that we'll evolve in ways we haven't yet seen.  Why do I believe this?  Because Roddenberry saw it too.

On the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation, there was Ten Forward - a BAR.  On Star Trek: Deep Space 9 there was Quark's Bar.  Let's face it: as long as humans (or other life forms) get intoxicated on alcohol (or whatever does it for them) police will be needed.  Stupidity and lack of judgment increase with the consumption of intoxicating beverages.

And in the most recent Star Trek movie, a young James T. Kirk gets chased by a motor-cop - albeit the motor-cop is riding a FLYING motorcycle.  There's something you motors guys can look forward to.

So, if you're s Trekkie, keep all that in mind as you watch the newest release, Star Trek: Into Darkness, when it comes out this month and pay attention to the science-fiction technologies that might well be science-fact sooner than we think.  If you're not a Trekkie...  get enlightened. :-)

Stay safe!

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