Star Trek legend George Takei on the future of space tourism
Humanity is finally going where no one has gone before – more than half a century after Star Trek first entered the pop culture psyche.
SpaceX’s successful arrival over the weekend with four tourists who circled Earth for three days has sparked renewed interest in space travel. SpaceX told reporters it can fly five to six private missions per year and will increase that number based on demand. At the same time, NASA is preparing to build habitats on the Moon by 2024 and on Mars by 2030. As a result, planetary walks are a reality and are no longer limited to the science fiction that has them inspired.
After decades of stagnation, the commercialization of space is accelerating at a rapid rate, thanks to billionaires Elon Musk of SpaceX, Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin, all fans of science fiction. Bezos even made an appearance in Star Trek Beyond.
So when I was offered an interview with George Takei, who played Sulu in Star Trek: The Original Series, I jumped on it. Now a playable character in Star Trek Fleet Command, a game that has gone multiplatform, he shared with me his thoughts on the evolution of technology, the promises and dangers of AI, and the challenges ahead as we venture off the planet. He also played a little game show.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
PARIS: Science fiction is often recognized by technologists for having inspired the innovation that fuels our future. SoundHound co-founder Keyvan Mohajer is a Trekkie with a vocal AI startup valued at over $ 1 billion. In a maintenance with me he said that when he envisioned his company he took inspiration from Star Trek and considered developing the holodeck, replicator and transporter.
What technology from the show would you most like to see turned into a product?
TAKEI: The transporter. As a frequent traveler, I have come to hate the way airports are mismanaged: losing luggage, changing boarding gates, canceling flights. Anything that gets me there sooner hassle-free would be great, including walking on a mat, fizzing for a brief moment, and then jumping to my destination. I am sure that Luddits like Dr McCoy would object to their molecules being disturbed, but I welcome it.
One of the most memorable AI characters from the original series is a transporter called “The Guardian of Forever” which takes Captain Kirk and Spock back in time. Kirk falls in love and must choose between his personal happiness and the consequences of playing with the timeline.
Over the generations, sinister AIs appear as supercomputers attempting to take control of the ship and androids attempting to seduce the crew. Do you think that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series, feared that AI was becoming an existential threat?
Science fiction aside, I personally believe that AI can never be the enemy. It is simply a tool, the outcome of which is determined by human judgment.
There’s a great New York Times article on AI that writes its own code and poetry, but it does so based on information given to it by humans. AI shouldn’t be seen as a creative being, rather it is a great helper that can help us explore the intricacies of the universe.
We have now entered the era of space tourism. Do you have an interest in going up?
In some ways, I feel like I’m already gone. Gene’s son Ray Roddenberry took us and my husband Brad to the Zero-G Experience in Las Vegas. After an unbearable crushing feeling where some people lost their breakfast, there was this incredible feeling of feeling lighter than air as we floated. I can imagine what that must feel like in space.
Star Trek was ahead of its time in many ways, but most people don’t realize it was produced by comedian Lucille Ball, best known for her role on the sitcom, I love lucy. What is the backstory?
Lucille Ball was a smart businesswoman who, along with her husband and co-star Desi Arnaz, negotiated the rights to their show and turned the profits into Desilu Productions. After their divorce, she took over the studio and appointed Hollywood screenwriter Herb Solow to head the production which brought her the Star Trek Gene’s pitch. When the network rejected the first pilot, it accepted a second, which was unusual, but this was the one that was picked up by the network and I was there.
An interesting side story is that Gene’s girlfriend (and later his wife) appeared in the first pilot as the second in command, but the network wanted that role to be recast as a man, so Gene got him. gave a blonde wig and made her a nurse to keep her in the series. Other than that, the show had a lot of diversity for the time. Gene felt that television was wasted on mindless quiz shows and wanted to address civil rights and anti-war movements. Fortunately, Lucille Ball made this possible.
How do you feel about being a playable character in the game Star Trek Fleet Command?
I love that Sulu, a swashbuckling swordsman and number one Starfleet Academy graduate, was able to fulfill his ambition to become the captain of his own ship. Hope the players enjoy the trip.
What do you think are the greatest threats to humanity as we set off on a journey to explore the unknown?
Well, wherever we go we have to be vigilant about the fallibility of humans because we have the potential to become our own worst enemy.
When I was five years old, soldiers came to the front door of our house and, at gunpoint, took us out of our house on the orders of the US president in reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor. I will never forget the terror of this morning and being crammed into this truck with my mom, my little brother, my little sister and my dad, with only the things we could take with us.
We were American citizens, but for no reason other than our race we were called enemies of the state. The government froze our bank account, took our house, and sent us away from Los Angeles where we had a comfortable life. We were sent to the swamps of Arkansas and held captive behind a barbed wire fence for four long years.
When we were finally released, we were given $ 25 each and a bus ticket to Skid Row to live in abject poverty. We struggled for years, but my dad worked hard as a dishwasher and was able to move us to the neighborhood where he started a business that eventually brought us back to the area where we once lived.
It is the story of the 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans who were killed in an instant. We must never forget that the order came from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the very President who said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”, yet he himself so easily succumbed to it. mass hysteria over an imaginary alien threat and a stroke of the pen. abandoned the rule of law supposed to protect us all.
What would your heritage be?
Despite the betrayal I experienced as a child, at 84, I feel like I had an incredible life. Star Trek gave me a platform to tell this story and remind people that democracy is fragile. I made it my mission to make America a true people’s democracy with equal rights for all, and that’s what I want my legacy to be.