Actually, it’s hard to separate the computer from the programming in most cases: the computers are integrated AI units that seem to do everything, simply at the utterance of a human-language sentence. Where we see direct references to programs, data structures, and the like are with the holograms. The emergency medical hologram — the doctor — is the best example.
As I said in part one, some things never seem to change. They appear still to have problems with memory leaks, or something very much related. Many times, they worry that the doctor’s program has been running for too long without rest, and they say that will cause “his program to degrade”. The most interesting thing is that this is, apparently, a permanent condition once it happens. That is, unlike with resource leaks today, it’s not just a question of “rebooting” the doctor, or even shutting his program down for a while and restarting it later, after a rest. Once his program should “degrade”, the damage would be, it seems, irreparable.
They can also “lose his program” if it stops running in the wrong state or at the wrong time, as if the power fails. There’s one episode where there’s a danger of that happening unless they can transfer his program to the mobile emitter in time. Again, this isn’t something they can recover from, so it’s truly a crisis situation.
Don’t these people take backups?
The programs also have the smoothest plug-in system around. New “subroutines” can just be dropped in on their own, and they work, adding entirely new function with no direct connection to the rest of the software. They can give the doctor starship command subroutines, and he suddenly has the skills he needs to command a starship. Or they can “delete his ethical subroutines” with no apparent side effects — he’s the same doctor in almost all ways, except that he’s now happy to do unethical medical practices.
In a similar vein, subroutines can be selectively “damaged”, and, again, apparently irretrievably. Overuse some portion of the program, and that portion could be damaged, possibly beyond repair.
The interesting thing about the spontaneous program damage is that it didn’t seem to be important to the storylines. It just occasionally added a bit of urgency that could have been accomplished with a less silly explanation. When we’re told that computer systems that advanced have that basic a design flaw, well, it’s kind of hard to suspend that bit of disbelief.
As Maggie has pointed out in the comments of earlier entries, the 24th-century crowd seems to have developed recursion into a sort of “silver bullet”. They’re having some difficulty with a computer program, someone says, “Try a recursive algorithm,” and, hey, that does the trick. And on top of that, trying it only takes two or three button-pushes. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were all that easy?
And I think this ends the “Technology in Star Trek” series. I’ve about milked it for all it’s worth by now.