The intersection of Science Fiction, super-pi, and technology innovation

This Saturday is super-pi day, a day that comes but once a century. While pi is an infinite non-repeating decimal, there are still mathematicians and scientists seeking to build computers that can run the computation and see how far they can plot the number. Here’s to those who choose to defy reality and instead envision a future world – a world that ventures beyond even Mr. Spock’s wildest dreams.
On Super Pi Day, we celebrate those who dare to chase the impossible and innovate a futuristic world full of things even Mr. Spock couldn't imagine

The sad news of Leonard Nimoy’s passing has spurred tributes to not only to his life and craft, but to Star Trek, and what it has meant to so many over the years.  In talking with my friends and colleagues, it seems that regardless of age, most Trekkies are also techies.

One of the neatest things about working in technology is that you inhabit two worlds.  The first is our everyday reality—with all of its joys, frustrations, celebrations, and inconveniences.  This world has soft tender moments tempered by harsh truths; it is simultaneously disappointing and inspiring.

But from this disappointment is born opportunity and a vision for the future world.  Here is where Star Trek is a reality, where innovators take those every day frustrations and disappointments as ask themselves how things can be done better.

I’m lucky to work alongside some incredibly innovative, talented minds and whether in R&D or client services, at the core, we all share an inquisitiveness that pulls us from one orbit to another.

“I grew up watching Captain Kirk, Spock, and the Enterprise crew boldly go where no man has gone before.  In the 1980s, Star Trek was big in India and it ignited our collective sparks of creativity and imagination.  In fact, as school children, we learned to make “communicators” with matchboxes and rubber bands. When I grew up, I realized this type of voice-activated technology could be a reality, and I have dedicated my career to making that vision something that is accessible to everyone.  I still wonder how close our technology today is to what Gene Roddenberry had imagined when he created Star Trek.”

–  Vivek Kaluskar, Nuance Natural Language Processing Researcher

“Star Trek introduced me to the idea of being able to talk to a computer, and have it understand and respond. That’s actually what got me into speech-recognition technology: it was that sense of wonder about making technology collaborative—where you could ask a device a question and it could parse through vast amounts of data to help you do something faster.

The show also got me interested in science fiction, which has proven to be an enduring affection. It’s amazing to step back and see many ideas that seemed outlandish, like tractor beams, talking computers, matter transmission, and warp drives, are either becoming a reality, or are being researched and developed.  Science fiction, in many ways, has created a technological roadmap for the future.  It reminds us to keep dreaming and keep asking ‘why can’t we do that?’”

–  Ignace Van Caneghem, Nuance Customer Support Specialist

Finding solutions to seemingly impossible situations is what innovators do.  It’s why we wake up in the morning.  I’m constantly looking for ways to make health IT more connected, accessible, and more intuitive so physicians can focus on treating their patients.

Working in tech isn’t easy, but some of the most worthwhile pursuits are also the most challenging.  Thinking outside the box is the key to solving complex problems. There’s an episode of Star Trek (“Wolf in the Fold,” 1967) where Spock forces an alien entity out of the ship’s computer by asking it to calculate pi to the last digit, an impossible feat.  At that time, using speech recognition to control a computer was also impossible.

We are a lot closer to the Hollywood vision that’s been in our minds since 1967, creating innovative technology that continues to amaze us at an incredible pace. It was this sense of amazement, instilled by the creative mind of Gene Rodenberry, which helped open my eyes to the potential for healthcare technology to touch not just hundreds, but millions of patients through innovation.

This Saturday is Super Pi Day, a day that comes but once a century.  While pi is an infinite non-repeating decimal, there are still mathematicians and scientists seeking to build computers that can run the computation, see how far they can plot the number.  Here’s to those who chase the impossible.  To those who know there is a better way to do things and dare to keep asking “how?”  They choose to live between two worlds and they are building the future.  Super-pi day is for you.


Dr. Nick van Terheyden

About Dr. Nick van Terheyden

This is a contributed post by Dr. Nick van Terheyden. As a pioneering creator in the evolution of healthcare technology, he brings a distinctive blend of medical practitioner and business strategist to the realm of health IT. To see more content like this, visit the Healthcare section of the blog.