In a distant part of the galaxy, 300 years in the future, Starship Enterprise Captain James T. Kirk talks to his crew via a communicator; has his medical officer assess medical conditions through a handheld device called a tricorder; synthesizes food and physical goods using his replicator; and travels short distances via a transporter. Kirk’s successors hold meetings in virtual-reality chambers, called holodecks, and operate alien spacecraft using displays mounted on their foreheads. All this takes place in the TV series Star Trek, and is of course science fiction.
Take Captain Kirk’s communicator. It was surely an inspiration for the first generation of flip phones, those clunky mobile devices that we used in the 1990s. These have evolved into smartphones, far more advanced than the science-fiction communicator. Kirk’s device didn’t receive e-mail, play music, surf the Web, provide directions, or take photos, after all. It also didn’t sweet-talk him as Apple’s Siri does when you ask her the right questions.
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Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University. His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University. This article originally ran last year in . Follow him at https://twitter.com/wadhwa.