I’ve been reading and rereading novels of the great writer Ursula K Le Guin over the past year, and they have had me thinking about the difficulty of writing about technologies that will (or won’t) be in use in one’s imagined future worlds.

Much has been written about the influence of science fiction on eventual science fact. Although writers and filmmakers create fanciful worlds, many of their tech fictions have shaped the actual technologies we end up with years later.

The topic even features in serious academic work. One 2018 study examined how often science fiction has been referenced in papers presented at a top international conference on human-computer interaction, noting: “Sci-fi movies, shows or stories do provide an inspiration for the foremost and upcoming human-computer interaction challenges of our time, for example through the discussion of shape-changing interfaces, implantables or digital afterlife ethics”.

When science fiction creates particularly compelling representations of future technologies, people remember them. Later on that fictional tech can seem an obvious way of realising the possibilities of real-world technologies when technical capabilities advance.

Star Trek is regularly referenced in this connection, and little wonder: the technologists designing the first 20th century iterations of personal tech were the 1960s kids who grew up with TV Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

No surprise then that mobile handsets might seem an obvious step along the way towards Trekian communicators, with the mid-90s Motorola flip clamshell model paying obvious homage in its StarTAC name.

Then there were the Enterprise’s touchscreens and its speaking computer. iPads and iPhones and Alexa and Siri, anyone?

Many years ago I interviewed a number of leading voice technology experts and every one referenced Star Trek and 2001 as inspirations. New generations of technologists will have a further half century of screen and fiction technologies to inspire tomorrow’s devices.