Science fiction has predicted and inspired real world technologies. Scifi as a medium allowed the introduction of concepts which has sparked the minds of engineers and technologists in bringing these ideas into fruition.

Arthur C. Clarke had predicted the telecommunications satellite, Isaac Asimov established the Laws of Robotics and William Gibson coined the idea of cyberspace. These authors have established themselves in the annals of Scifi and are seen prophets of modern technology.

Star Trek, the Next Generation (STTNG) in similar vein was an inspiration for the iPad. STTNG introduced a Personal Access Display Device(PADD) which bears some eerily looks and functions like the iPad. I had briefly mentioned the PADD in the evolution of Tablet computing in an earlier which can be accessed via this link.

Ars Technica posted an article about the inception of the PADD and talked to the production designer of STTNG, Micheal Okuda.

Here’s an excerpt of the article which I think sums up the concept of a touchscreen tablet.

“The initial motivation for that was in fact cost,” Okuda explained. “Doing it purely as a graphic was considerably less expensive than buying electronic components. But very quickly we began to realize—as we figured out how these things would work and how someone would operate them, people would come to me and say, ‘What happens if I need to do this?’ Perhaps it was some action I hadn’t thought of, and we didn’t have a specific control for that. And I realized the proper answer to that was, ‘It’s in the software.’ All the things we needed could be software-definable.”

What Okuda realized is that with physical hardware interfaces, each function has to be designed into the interface from the beginning. But by imagining that software could re-configure the interface as needed, the writers were able to imagine any function that needed to advance the plot, and the production artists could create a “software” interface to perform the specific action.

It’s an article worth reading and can be accessed via this link.

The PADD had very similar functions to the iPad. The two major exceptions would be the ability to commandeer a starship and interstellar communication. Of course, there just might be an “App for that” in time to come.