DOPE Star Trek Tech, Part IV: The Limitations — and Future — of the Keyboard

Television pioneer Gene Roddenberry was a genius. Before his program was cut off the air after three moderately successful seasons, “Star Trek: The Original Series” explored an alternate future where a brave and diplomatic humanity explored the universe in goofy uniforms. Star Trek has such a rich history and brings a unique, resonant voice into our cultural milieu that it is a damn shame every single blog about Star Trek technology rips off Ethan Siegels 2017 book “Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive.” All of you writers littering the internet with the same list of Tricorder, Warp Drive and Holodeck SUCK! Seriously, you are all such copy cats that you might as well take the Star Trek Replicator off your lists, because it seems like you’re already using it.

Star Trek Tech

“Star Trek: TOS” is one of my favorite shows of all time — certainly the only one I watch from the ‘60s — and Ive tried to do it justice and highlight great episodes (i.e. “The Corbomite Maneuver,” “Space Seed,” etc.) to show the next generation how worthwhile this production and its fandom are. P. Gotti and DOPE Magazine always do something new and different; together, we present this final installment of our totally unique DOPE Trek Tech series.

The Keyboard

The keyboard is one of the most anachronistic pieces of technology in modern circulation. The design hasn’t much changed since the typewriter’s invention in the 19th century. After more than 150 years, we know the shortcomings and also the utility of the device. It’s how we communicate … It also causes us to hunch. It takes many hours to learn, and most learn it wrong. It cannot type as fast as we talk or think. It’s hardly mobile.

One of the biggest shortcomings of the iPad (and the entire smartphone generation, really) is the inferior touchscreen keyboard. Its an impersonation of the standard keyboard and lacks the assistance of buttons to guide fingers. People have learned to be okay with the deficiencies of every iteration of the keyboard.

The keyboard that first captured my imagination was Mugatu’s piano key necktie from “Zoolander.”

Not really. The first keyboard to blow my mind was the keyboard used by LAPD support staff in “Blade Runner 2049.” When I saw that set prop, it hit me: why the hell do we still all type on the same keyboard? Shouldn’t keyboards have different configurations according to our intended usage? I dove into research and was surprised to find that the keyboard in Blade Runner was modeled on real-life ErgoDox keyboards. Since then, I’ve always intended to invest in one. I’ve just never — err — gotten around to it. Therein lies the problem: We’re all stuck on ancient tech because it works well enough.

The future of keyboards is coming, and it will take the earth by storm. A digital giant will debut a tech that will work in tandem with, enhance or, more likely, totally replace the traditional keyboard — very quickly.

Alternative Systems

Alternatives to the standard QWERTY keyboard have existed for a long time. Dvorak and Colemak configurations both promise better ergonomics and quicker typing speed, but they are still limited by the hardware.

Just 10 years ago, cell phone users adopted an entirely different typing system, albeit temporarily. It was called T9 texting. It’s similar to the phone-key automated response systems companies have you type in before you can speak with a live agent. The desirable look of the iPhone and the difficulties of fitting a full keyboard onto a small phone put T9 out of business quickly.

By the end of the T9 era, I had become very handy with no-look texting; certainly better than I am with a smartphone. Its no coincidence that the first smartphones came out around the same time as regulations prohibiting texting and driving. Its simply easier to operate T9 without compromising activity performance. Skeptical?

Unless it’s forced, most people dont want to put themselves through the rigor of researching and then self-teaching an alternative to the standard keyboard. Alternatives can get very bizarre. I cant tell if this is even serious:

Invisible Keyboards

A competitive basketballgame bounced back and forth on a warm summer night under the floodlights at Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park. I was there taking notes for “Recreational Basketball and Marijuana: An On-Court Study.”

I had tethered a small, ultra-light Bluetooth keyboard to my phone and threw my phone into my bag with a note-taking program open. The keyboard I was typing on was connected to my phone in my bag via Bluetooth, but to a passerby it looked as if I was out of my mind, just typing away at a keyboard attached to nothing. A player dribbling the ball up court stopped in the middle of the game and announced: “Yo! WHAT is this man doing! He is typing on nothing!!!! Yooooo!” The whole parked stopped and looked at me. This was difficult for me to respond to, because I was very ensconced in my research!

The tech I am most excited for does away with the keyboard hardware altogether. Noki (“No-Key”) is just a pair of cuffs that go on your hands and allow you to type in thin air! Using adaptive technology, Noki learns about your particular keystroke habits, and then youre done with the keyboard altogether.

Virtual Reality

I was being my own ebullient self, queued up for the Oculus Rift demo at Pax 2016. I wanted to share my excitement with someone else in line, but all the people around me all had their noses buried in phones and mobile gaming systems. An employee was surveying the line, checking to make sure people were having a good time. When she came to me and asked if I was having a good time, I actually was; my bright eyes matched hers. She asked me if I wanted to try something a little different and I followed her out of the line, but not before looking back at my suddenly curious line-buddies with a look that said, “Later, nerds.”

I was guided to a small padded room where a team handed me two remote controllers and fitted a VR device onto my head. I demoed “Toybox” on the Oculus Touch. If I’d ever done ‘em, I’d say the experience felt like drugs. After it was over, I drifted to the nearest corner, sat down and closed my eyes. I vividly imagined a meteor crashing into the Earth and kicking up all kinds of subterranean dust into the air.

The Oculus Touch is now a widely available consumer technology that children use. The technology is making larger inroads into the work arena, as well. Adding hands into Virtual Reality was a great challenge for the industry just a few years ago. Now, a large collection of companies are leapfrogging the next challenge: tracking hand movements without a device in-hand.

Users don’t seem to love the first Virtual Reality Workspace applications. The tech isn’t quite there yet. When a jump in consumer technology will soon remove the need for hand trackers, the software might become more accessible. Having hands in virtual reality would let you do something like type on a keyboard in space. Phones have historically experimented with tech, allowing you to use gestures and motions such as hand swipes to control functionality. These gestures could go a long way in organizing a VR workspace.

Final Note

Star Trek’s own vision for the future of keyboards is complex. The still at the top of this blog is from “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” In the scene, Spock uses keyboard command and voice input to interface with the computer. That’s about as advanced as Star Trek gets. This technology exists already, but not in such a seamless integration. Keyboards are one area where humanity will soon outpace Star Trek (that’s a first!). It is possible that the next evolution in keyboards will not take us totally away from the keyboard, and that it will really mirror exactly what Star Trek imagines. You can sign this writer up for the Noki, anyways.




P. Gotti

Pingas Gotti is an eternal ghost and rapper who worked on the Hot Box Food Cart during its inaugural season. He is over 4000 years old and enjoys Godzilla, hot dogs, and Lil B music. He likes to spend his time calling southern gangster rapper, Mike Jones, at 281-330-8004. Pingas Gotti spends most of his time in the fifth dimension, where there is no time. He drives a zeppelin and has never lost a staring contest. Find rapper/writer/artist Pingas Gotti on Facebook.

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