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The Disgusting But Logical Implications of Star Trek Food Replication Technology

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | August 24, 2015 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | August 24, 2015 |

In 176 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the food replicator was used to make food or drink 372 times. Of those, 311 times it was shown being used by Captain Picard to order “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

You said it in his voice in your head, didn’t you? For all his diplomatic credentials, in all of those hundreds of cups of tea, he never bothered looking at the FAQ for the thing and figuring out how to put in a shortcut for the order. “Hit me,” or “tea me”, or a simple snap of the fingers. We’ve figured out the clap-on light, they’ve figured out interstellar travel, and no one can figure out keyword shortcuts in the future? This is why the Ferengi will rule over our bloated corpses.

The way that food replicators work is by being a refined offshoot of transporter technology. Basically, somewhere on the Enterprise is a (presumably sealed) compartment full of nothing but the complex proteins and fats that make up food. The replicator transports an appropriate quantity of various gunks (and that’s the real word, I think I saw it on the Food Network) and assembles them at a molecular level into the desired dish of food or drink. And when you’re done and throw the dishes back in there? It takes all the leftover gunk, sorts it, and puts it back into the pile.

Simple induction also tells us why no one in the Star Trek universe ever has to go to the bathroom. Because human wastes are composed of the same molecules that went in the oral inbox, that means that all that waste would logically just be thrown back in the pile of gunk by the replicators. In early generations, this would translate into the toilets flushing straight into the replicators, naturally. But in later generations, with advanced AI and the presence of micro-transporters, there’s no reason for such primitive plumbing. No, your colon and bladder are simply emptied automatically by the transporter system directly into the replicator gunk pile as they need to express themselves.

At any given moment, someone on screen in Star Trek: The Next Generation is probably invisibly shitting their pants.

But take things to even more logical conclusions. First, there is inevitably going to be some annoying hipster dicks who insist that they can tell the difference between replicator food and real food (and I seem to remember this actually happening on screen).

In addition, because it’s functioning off of recipes down to the molecular level, does that mean that every dish comes out looking identical to every other time it was ordered? Imagine if every single time you ate a hamburger, every ripple in the lettuce and angle of every sesame seed was exactly the same every single time. I know, McDonalds, right? But even if you are going to point out that no, there are probably algorithms that randomize that sort of thing, that leads to even more questions. In food with no true randomness, people will latch on to irrelevancies as mattering even more than they do now. You think food snobs are pedantic now? Imagine when they can have holy wars over whether buns are better with 99 sesame seeds arranged in parallel configurations, or 117 sesame seeds in a crosshatch pattern. Or since all food is essentially ideal typed, there will be culinary rebels who insist on reprogramming the recipe to have a single burnt sesame seed on that bun. When everything is perfect, we will wage war over the proper imperfections.

Can you imagine the custom foods? Steaks that are indistinguishable from political figures you hate, cupcakes of the breasts of your commanding officer. You can sit down to a birthday cake shaped exactly like a celebrity’s erection, down to the molecule. With “you’re more gorgeous every day” tattooed in your best friend’s handwriting around the shaft. And you can have that every night for dinner for the rest of your life. And you won’t get fat because the replicators can zap the bad cholesterol out of your stomach while you sleep.

Also recall that if a computer is tracking every little pile of molecules, there’s no reason that with almost infinite storage space of data, it wouldn’t track which molecule went where. So with a little computer savvy, a deeply disturbed individual could set it up so that he was always eating the molecules from the waste products of whichever unfortunate person he is obsessed with.

And last, let’s just get to the charred corpse in the corner. If that thing can produce any food, that means that it can produce human meat. Which means that in the future, that’ll be a rite of passage, like discovering Internet porn. At some point with this technology, everyone will try a human burger at some point.

But also remember that transporter technology is good enough to copy human beings, i.e. down to their DNA. Which means, that you could not only eat generic human steaks, but you could eat specific human steaks.

Which means that someone on the Enterprise is a closed system, their every meal a steak composed of their own flesh, constructed of the molecules of their last bowel movement.

Oh, and you know that somebody is fucking Barclay.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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