Earth Date: 29th April, 2019
Congratulate me! I’m now a Lieutenant.
If I could take any kind of technology out of Star Trek to have for myself, I’d definitely take the replicator. Most other technologies, warp drive aside, are pretty possible for humans to eventually develop, according to Michio Kaku. In both his series, Scifi Science, and his book, Physics of the Impossible, he talks about the possibilities of making many Star Trek technologies, including the transporter whose technology the replicator relies on, but nothing of the possibility of creating a replicator itself. Teleportation alone is only being done currently on a microscopic scale with atoms, so it’s unlikely we’ll establish the technology to take that capability even further until perhaps the time it is created in the Star Trek universe. Because of this uncertainty of its possibility, this is the most tempting technology to take. (This was the tie-breaker for me between the replicator and the holodeck; the latter is just a highly advanced video game, and one Michio Kaku speculated in his show, Scifi Science, is closer to our realm of possibility.)
Apart from the replicator’s apparent impossibility in our time, another reason I am tempted to bring back the replicator is its applications. It can do a wide range of things, from providing essentials to those suffering in areas affected by drought or famine, to providing recreational products not easily available to some people. The flipside to this technology, such as providing dangerous objects like weapons or alcohol, could also be circumvented by simply deleting these patterns from the buffer.
As for how the Star Trek universe would be affected by the loss of this technology, I think there would be minimal damage. As it didn’t exist in Kirk’s day, the TOS era and earlier wouldn’t be affected at all. From TNG onwards, though, there is an affect that we would start to see. A holonovel without replicator costumes might pose an inconvenience. But there’s nothing saying they couldn’t carry a tailor on board, like the function Garak holds aboard DS9. And the deliverance of food would look pretty much how it did in Kirk’s day.
The functionality on DS9 would look a little different, too. Little would change in the way Garak runs his business, but the Replimat would have to be replaced by a restaurant that caters to different tastes like the Replimat does. Probably not as easy feat, but possible.
But replicators had the additional use of supporting allies, as Starfleet reportedly gave replicators to Cardassia and Bajor. This can be somewhat of a controversial point, as Starfleet can be argued to have supported Cardassia in such a capacity more than Bajor. In fact, unrelated to this, they have even at times supported Cardassia more than their own people, by giving them land that has been already settled by humans. But that’s a rant for another day.
Also, the events of season 7 episode, “Field of Fire,” would not likely have been possible. This would at least guarantee the life of two people. But the replicator is also important in view of providing swift medical care, and being without one might lead to others suffering and/or dying as a result. After losing his leg in season 7 episode, “The Siege of AR-558,” Nog is able to get it replaced at Starbase 371, and faces recovery in, “It’s Only A Paper Moon”, and this too may be due to replicators. In this light, replicators start to look pretty crucial.
Replicators start to look even more important in Voyager. In the very first episode, “The Caretaker,” we see them take a vital role in Voyager’s dealings with the Kazon. It is because of the presence of the replicators that allows Voyager to make a deal with Neelix, and thus the Kazon, to trade water for information. On the other hand, the Kazon wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to gain the technology, and Voyager might have had water on board anyway, provided that Starfleet has already survived years without replicators and thus would’ve planned ahead for their journey. Starfleet would be at a decided disadvantage without this technology.
More broadly speaking, it is probably in large part due to the replicators that Voyager was able to stay fed, and speculatively, how they may have been able to keep shuttles in supply, and build the Delta flyer, by replicating spare parts.
So, in the end, replicators are a very versatile, and sometimes crucial, piece of Star Trek technology. Without it, we might have more casualties, including a not-quite-recovered Nog; we might have a less provided for Starfleet, and their allies; Voyager might not have gotten far enough to rescue their people, let alone survived for years in the Delta Quadrant; then again, they might not have had to abandon themselves in the first place. But there are pros and cons to losing it, and certainly they could likely survive without it.