Yes! It's time for another in the series on technology in Star Trek. This time: computers, and the programming thereof. There’s enough to say on this that I think I’ll split it into two posts, leaving most of the discussion of software for the second one.
It stands to reason that computer technology will have improved unimaginably by the 24th century. After all, they were only first created in the mid-20th century, and look how far we’ve already come. When the Eniac took up a huge room, some 60 years ago, no one would have though that, less than a lifetime later, something far more powerful would fit in your pocket, that people would be wirelessly connected to the world while sitting in the park with a laptop, that some sort of computer would be in most things we own, from a car to a toaster.
And so we have the computer on Star Trek, which perfectly understands human language in context, which can translate among any languages in real time, which has super-advanced artificial intelligence. “Computer, analyze the juvenile life form in the next room, figure out what it will look like in its adult form, and project a hologram of it on the table here.” No problem.
And, yet, interestingly, the computer has to be told to make obvious adjustments in order to obtain valid sensor readings, to work around equipment failures, and the like (all “dialogue” here is made up on the spot, so don’t try to find it in any episodes):
Janeway: Computer, why are the sensors not reading the alien ship ahead?Damn! Compensated just in time, too, eh? I think that, in general, the crew “remodulated” things to resolve problems, and the computer “compensated”.
Computer: There is ionic interference in this sector.
Janeway: Compensate for it.
Tuvok: Captain, sensors are now reading seven life forms in the alien ship, and they are powering weapons.
This perfect linguist of a computer appeared not to be able to say “yes” and “no”. I guess they don’t sound like “computer” words, do they?:
Janeway: Computer, transfer the doctor’s matrix to the mobile emitter.After all, if a computer doesn’t sound like a computer, where’s the realism?
Computer: Unable to comply.
Janeway: Is the mobile emitter working?
Janeway: Is the doctor’s matrix destablizing?
Janeway: Then why can’t you do the transfer?
Computer: Transfer protocols are offline.
But the most amazing thing about the computers in Star Trek is how they’re programmed: the people just talk to the computer and tell it what modifications they want, and the computer understands and makes the changes. Oh, man, I want that kind of an integrated development environment. And we think Eclipse is cool, ha!
But with all that, there are some things that never seem to change. We’ll look at those next time.