This originally appeared in issue 1 of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine, dated December 1987 (which means I bought it in November of that year). I remember reading this essay in the school library, during a `reading period`. I've always imagined this to be an adaptation from the series' bible.

Notable to me are two references which seem to anticipate the early 21st Century world that was to come twenty years later. The most mind-blowing is this:
"Perhaps the biggest change on the Enterprise is the sophistication of its computer. It has access to the entire library of recorded human knowledge (probably a googolplex of megabytes) and can present any desired information almost instantly upon request."[emph mine]
We do indeed live during a time when a Google-plex of megabytes enables us to have access to almost the entire library of human knowledge to be displayed instantly. From Wikipedia's Google page:
The name "Google" originated from a misspelling of "googol,"which refers to 10100 (the number represented by a 1 followed by one-hundred zeros). Having found its way increasingly into everyday language, the verb, "google", was added to the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006, meaning, "to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet."
The second unintentional reference is "The communicator that was once a palm-sized device" ... palm-sized devices seemingly anticipating Palm Pilots, first introduced ten years ago. But you don't need me to point out the similarity between the 1960s version of Star Trek's flip-top communicators and our flip-top phones, nor the fact that the Apple iPhone, preceded by the Blackberry now combines a 'Palm-like' device with a communicator.

- Timothy Comeau October 2007

The World of Star Trek: The Next Generation

by Patrick Daniel O'Neill

As long as there are men andwomen who are bored with the quiet life, as long as there are those who long for a view of that unknown, there will be explorers. That hasn't changed in the 24th Century.

Eighty-five years ago, some four percent of the galaxy had been charted. A far smaller percentage had been explored, since exploration requires visits to every one of the 11 billion stars and planetary systems in that four percent. Now, in the early 24th Century, about five times as much of the galaxy-some 19 percent-has been charted.

What kind of world do Captain Jean- Luc Picard, Commander William Riker, and the rest of the crew of NCC-1701-D live in?

In the 400 years since the 20th Century, mankind has fought a great many wars, first among itself, and then against some of the extraterrestrial life forms it encountered when it reached the stars. The worst of the Earthbound conflicts were the Eugenics Wars of the late 1990s and the Third World War of the mid-21st Century, when soldiers were controlled through mind-altering drugs, creating either berserker furies or totally obedient war-slaves.

Not long after Terrans escaped the confines of their own solar system, they came into conflict with other intelligent races. The long war between Earth and the Romulan Empire was fought in a period before subspace communications, and thus humans and Romulans never saw each other until nearly 100 years later.

But not all extraterrestrial contacts led to war. In time, Earth became the focus of the United Federation of Planets. In tandem with the Vulcans, Andorians, Tellarites, and other sentient races, Earth and its growing collection of colony worlds continued to chart and explore known space. Soon, Federation territory expanded until it reached the borders of the Klingon Empire. For more than 50 years, Klingon and Federation ships vied for control of the border regions, under the auspices of the Organian Peace treaty. That 'cold war' ended when a new treaty created an alliance between the Federation and Klingon, so that now Klingon officers serve aboard Federation Starfleet ships, and humans and Vulcans are frequently seen aboard Klingon Imperial vessels as well.

The end of hostilities with the Klingons and Romulans brought a change in Starfleet as well. Originally a military force designed to reflect Earth's navies of the 19th and 20th Centuries, its defensive nature has been downplayed in the last half-century as scientific exploration took the forefront. Accordingly, that has led to longer and longer missions by Starfleet vessels. The five-year mission of the 23rd Century starships has become a voyage of perhaps 10 or 15 years.

The Federation soon realized the mankind-and the other humanoid species who make up Staffleet-were not meant to spend such long periods away from home and hearth. Hence, it was decided to create a new class of vessels: the Galaxy class. U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC- 1701 - D, the fifth starship to bear that name, is the first of the Galaxy-class ships.

This Enterprise is twice as long as its 23rd Century namesake, and eight times larger overall. No longer primarily a battleship, it lacks the sterility of a military vessel. The families of many of its 1,012 crew members live aboard the Enterprise. Much of what has changed can be chalked up to what the poets of the 24th Century call 'Technology Unchained.' Technical advancement no longer focuses on developing things which are smaller, faster or more powerful than their predecessors, but on improving the quality of life.

Perhaps the biggest change on the Enterprise is the sophistication of its computer. It has access to the entire ibrary of recorded human knowledge (probably a googolplex of megabytes) and can present any desired information almost instantly upon request.

And that request need no longer be couched in specific terminology. 'Tell me' is the only command needed to get information from the Enterprise's computer; i.e., 'Tell me about the French Revolution...'

To which the computer might reply, 'Yes, sir ... political, military, or sociological history?'

Variations on the 'Tell me' command are 'Show me' and 'Get me.' 'Show me the surface of Ceti Alpha Vl.' 'Yes, sir, which hemisphere?'

Or 'Get me Lt. La Forge,' which will result in the computer locating the officer and patching his communicator into the shipboard communications network. That locator system can also be used to find any member of the crew, by asking 'Find' or 'Locate' or, 'Tell me where so-and-so is.'

Artificial intelligence has reached a high level in the 24th Century, so that the Enterprise computer (which speaks in a pleasant, non-emotional female voice normally) can imitate a sentient being so well as to engage in an interactive conversation with a crew member.

Of course, there are always things the captain of a starship, or his superiors, will not want every crew member to know. Therefore, the computer is capable of instantaneous voice identification. Should a person request information that he or she is not cleared for, the computer will respond politely, 'I'm sorry, you're not cleared for that information.' If a cleared person requests such information while an unauthorized person is in the room, the computer will indicate that as well.

In short, for all intents and purposes, the computer is the Enterprise.

Other kinds of technology have also changed. The communicator that was once a palm-sized device has now been reduced to fit in each crew member's insignia. This change is not only due to vast strides in the realm of sub-miniaturization, but also thanks to the link with the Enterprise computer, which has taken on many of the functions formerly performed by the communicators.

The transporter, while primarily the same system it was more than three-quarters-of-a-century ago, has also been somewhat enhanced. Its range is now about 16,000 kilometers (approximately 10,000 miles), but it remains primarly a line-of-sight device. However, the transporter now includes a routine decontamination device, designed to filter out viruses, bacteria and other alien matter that might be picked up on an away mission.

In keeping with the more 'homelike' atmosphere of this fifth-generation Enterprise, crew members are not required to wear uniforms at all times. Only on-duty personnel must be in uniform, and those outfits are considerably less military in style than previous Starfleet uniforms.

Off-duty, ship's personnel wear clothing appropriate to their personal moods and heritages. African dashikis, sarongs, cowboy hats and boots, even baseball caps, are not considered out of order.

On away missions, personnel wear clothing appropriate to their mission-anything from a formal uniform to local styles (in order to blend in) to protective gear. That gear, while just as protective, is much lighter and easier to deal with than the spacesuits of the 20th Century, or even the 23rd. It consists of skintight bodyguards and helmets. Similarly, when working with some of the more dangerous equipment in the Enterprise engine room, crew members also wear a lighter version of the protective gear used by previous Starfleet personnel.

Technological and sociological changes naturally go hand-in-hand, each resulting from and causing the other. Many of Earth's great problems of the 20th and 21st Centuries have been solved- including those involving the ecology and human suffering. Earth in the 24th Century would seem a paradise to the people of the 1980s and 1990s, a world with large protected wilderness areas, grand parks, beautiful cities, and a literate and compassionate population. Many of these changes have resulted from the expansion of mankind into space, freeing the ancestral home planet of the great population burden that once threatened to choke it.

That expansion, as previously noted, now includes not only colonies, but families living aboard Starfleet ships. Although non-crew spouses and children are rarely seen in the command and duty areas of the Enterprise, there are a large variety of single and family group modules, various levels of schools and study facilities, and a large section of entertainment and sports available aboard ship.

In addition, the close contact between young people and shipboard life can lead to some unusual circumstances- including the possibility of teenagers becoming cadets-in-training aboard ship.

The colonies of Earth represent a vast array of human lifestyles... from feudal forms to democracies. This presents Starfleet with a wide choice of personality types within humanity (not to mention the alien life forms) for specific posts. For example, the harsh background from which Lt. Tasha Yar hails makes her an excellent choice as security chief.

Xenophobia is, for all intents and purposes, no longer a concern among the people of the Federation. Indeed, Starfleet's own regulations prevent the rejection of a candidate from the Academy, so long as the being tests out to be sentient and meets the academic requirements. Hence, even Lt. Commander Data, an android, is welcome in Starfleet.

Another example of the lack of xenophobia in the Federation is the growing number of human-extraterrestrial crossbreeds. Where once a part-alien Starfleet officer might have been a figure of curiosity, today, Lt. Commander Deanna Troi, half-Betazoid, half-human, is accepted without question by her peers. In fact, she has been giving the extremely sensitive post of Ship's Counselor.

The counselor's role is similar to that of a psychiatrist or psychologist, but it goes far beyond that, in ways that a 20th Century human can barely understand. Commanders respect and make use of the counselor in much the same way they solicit the advice and expertise of their medical officers or other highly trained specialists. With the added complexities of families and children aboard Galaxy-class vessels such as the Enterprise, the counseling role is even more welcome.

While obviously race and sex are no longer, barriers to advancement in the 24th Century, neither are physical handicaps or age. Technology has found methods to compensate even for blindness, so that a blind man like Geordi La Forge can pilot a starship, thanks to the visual prosthetic device he wears. Similar devices have permitted the deaf and the paralyzed to lead accomplished lives.

The expanding life expectancy of humanity-a result of vastly improved medical technology-has meant that men and women once considered past their primes are now thought of as both active and desirable. Starfleet has active officers of flag rank who are well into their 90s.

Despite all these advances, there are still challenges for the men and women of Starfleet in the 24th Century. The 19 percent of the galaxy that has been charted must still be thoroughly explored, and there is a full 81 percent of the galaxy beyond that.

There are alien races still to be met. A recent 'acquaintance' is the Ferengi Alliance. Little is known of these new opponents, but there are rumors that they have an unhealthy appetite for the flesh of other sentients.

Though the mission given to every Starfleet vessel has changed in the past 85 years, its final line - its final challenge- remains much the same: 'To boldly go where no one has gone before!'