You’ve got a cell phone at one ear, an iPod at the other, you know that Blackberry is now a verb and Spam is not only canned meat of questionable origin. But just how did we get here? Blame William Shatner – yes, that William Shatner. Premiering Sun., Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT on Discovery Channel, How William Shatner Changed the World boldly goes where few have gone before to reveal how scientists are surpassing the far-out vision of the future foreshadowed in Star Trek.
Before playing Denny Crain and T.J. Hooker, Montreal-born Shatner made his mark when Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise catapulted into space – and living rooms everywhere – with the debut of Star Trek in September 1966. But little did he know what effect the series would have on a generation of inventors and scientists, who, inspired by Star Trek, would revolutionize medicine, space exploration and consumer technology. Hosted and narrated by Shatner and based on his book, I’m Working on That, How William Shatner Changed the World meets the brightest minds of Silicon Valley and their Trek-inspired inventions that have changed the world.
As a young boy in 1960 suburbia, Mark Rayman was less interested in how far he could hit a baseball than how far it was to the Final Frontier. Captivated by television coverage of the early Mercury flights – and the Star Trek expeditions a channel or two over – Rayman is now Chief Engineer in charge of the Robotic Deep Space Probe project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And the longstanding affection between NASA and Trekkies is mutual – NASA’s very first Space Shuttle was named Enterprise, and, according to Shatner, this was no coincidence.
And while some young Trekkies dreamed of space, others were more interested in the gadgets onboard in the year 2300 and would make it their life’s work to bring these toys off the screen and onto the streets. According to Shatner, booking a date for Friday night and fielding inquiries from casting agents got a lot easier thanks to an industrious Trekkie named Marty Cooper. Cooper, a chief engineer at Motorola, understood that people were inherently mobile and would never want to be chained to their desks, tethered to conventional telephones. Captain Kirk and his USS Enterprise colleagues were on to something with their cordless “communicator” with voice recognition technology. Inspired by the brick-like device, Cooper and the Motorola team invented the first mobile cellular phone, giving birth to the start of a communications revolution.
And for some young minds captivated by the fictional world of Star Trek, the possibility of communicating with Talarians, Klingons and Gorns would lead to the most basic question: Is something “out there” beyond our own solar system, and if so, how do we find them? Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer with the SETI Institute (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) which works alongside NASA, credits Star Trek with synthesizing the physics and astronomy of the search for extra-terrestrial life with the emotional and intellectual drive to know and understand the rest of our universe.
The evolution of the computer, the microchip and software programs is peppered with Star Trek influences, from the primitive Altair 8800 (named after a Star Trek solar system) and its evolution into the first Apple computer to the rise of Bill Gates and Microsoft. And as a result of Star Trek, human operating systems also began to reflect this futuristic vision. The USS Enterprise sickbay, under the medical supervision of Doctor McCoy, specialized in quick diagnosis and scalpel-free – and painless – surgery. For Stanford University Hospital brain surgeon Doctor John Adler, this protocol was the only way forward. Today, non-invasive diagnostics, CAT scans and MRIs are a matter of course and, inspired by Star Trek technologies, Adler has invented the Cyberknife – a computer-controlled robotic device that employs a laser beam to remove cancers without even the smallest cut.
How William Shatner Changed The World also features interviews with other Star Trek actors, including barrier-breaking roles for George Takei (Lieutenant Sulu) and Nichelle Nichols (Communications Officer Uhura), and looks at the legacy of subsequent Star Trek franchises and feature films which continue to impact the pace of scientific and technological advancements and inspire a new generation of world-changing scientists and inventors.
Commissioned by Discovery Channel, How William Shatner Changed the World was produced by Montreal’s Handel Productions in association with Mentorn in the U.K. The special was directed by Julian Jones.
Bold and leading edge, while informing and entertaining, Discovery Channel is Canada‘s leading source for factual programming, as it puts a new spin on exploring adventure, science and technology. This award-winning channel covers the scientific beat, from animals to the animalistic side of humanity, from the sea to space, and the latest in innovation. Roper Reports Canada has ranked Discovery Channel Canada first among all English-language Canadian specialty networks for overall quality of programming for eight consecutive years. Discovery Channel is one of the first Canadian specialty channels to offer programs in HDTV and its production house, Exploration Production Inc. (EPI), continues to be internationally recognized as a producer of cutting-edge programming. The channel‘s Web site may be found at www.discoverychannel.ca.