Star Trek Computer Nonesense

In my last post, I made mention of a certain science fiction franchise’s computer and how powerful it is. Perhaps “powerful” isn’t the right word. Maybe the words “unbelievably omnipotent and god-like” is more accurate when you think about the following examples of utterly amazing things the Star Trek computer has done over the years. Forget phasers, transporters and faster than light speed travel, the ship’s computer is the most non-realistic technology in Star Trek.

1. Recognizing when people aren’t talking to it – when I think of voice recognition software, I think of this:
Skip to 2:00 to see the computer befuddled by the word YouTube
Skip to 0:27 to avoid the stupid report’s lame jokes
Skip to 0:15 for the specific example of voice recognition

IF it works at all, it is because the person is talking very slowly and deliberately and with a monotone voice. On Star Trek however, not only can people just talk in their regular voice at a normal pace but they may even speak in NOT their normal voice and at an accelerated pace:
Most of the time, the characters have to say the word “computer” before issuing it commands but they never have a “stop listening” type of command after they are done. They go on having a conversation with another character in the room or even over the communications system (run by the computer) and the computer seems to recognize the fact that they are no longer addressing it. Hell, the human brain can’t even do that all the time!!!

2. Replace the crew –
Yeah it’s long but it’s a good example
In this (admittedly long) clip you see two “people” trying desperately to do things like stop the ship, move the ship and fire the weapons by pressing the buttons on the consoles. Their lack of experience makes each action complicated and laborious. Eventually, they accidentally initiate a program wherein the ship simply reacts to their orders and moves, maneuvers and fires at specific targets. What kind of sick joke are all those buttons if the ship can literally be told what to do at any time? And it can understand the designated target of “Romulans” and pick one of the several Romulan ships around itself instead of asking for further input from the user (ie. Which one? Where on the ship should I target? How many shots should I fire? Do you want me to fire a phaser or torpedo? etc.) Granted, the Prometheus is a prototype but there have been plenty of times throughout the franchise where the computers on the Enterprises have initiated actions based simply on voice commands. Examples include laying in a course, engaging the warp drive, firing at targets, etc. etc.

3. Generating evolutionary products with no information – The following is a transcript (couldn’t find the video) from Episode 65 “Distant Origin”. In this scene the Doctor has discovered that an alien species may have a distant relationship to dinosaurs on Earth millions of years ago.

EMH: I’ve entered the genetic markers into the holo-database.
JANEWAY: Let’s see if we can find our closet relative. Computer, analyse the genetic markers and search Earth’s fossil record. Identify any ancestors common to both humans and the alien in sickbay.
COMPUTER: Life form found.
JANEWAY: Display.
COMPUTER: Genus Eryops. Devonian Era.
EMH: Eryops. This creature lived over four hundred million years ago and is thought to be the last common ancestor of cold blooded and warm blooded organisms.
JANEWAY: Yes, yes. Let’s take the next step in out little stroll. Computer, what’s the most highly evolved cold-blooded organism to develop from the Eryops?
COMPUTER: Genus Hadrosaur. Cretaceous Era.
JANEWAY: Display the life form. As I recall, the Hadrosaur vanished when a mass extinction occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period. What if the Hadrosaur didn’t die off? What if some of them survived that extinction, and continued to evolve?
EMH: I could well imagine this creature giving rise to a more complex life form. Certainly the building blocks are there. Bipedal, grasping hands.
JANEWAY: Computer, run a genome projection algorithm. If the Hadrosaur had continued to evolve over the last sixty five million years, extrapolate the most probable appearance.
COMPUTER: Extrapolation complete.

WHAT????? The computer has an algorithm for 65 MILLION years of evolution?? And can reduce it down to “the most probable”? In this episode it turns out these dinosaurs actually developed space travel and rocketed off to the Delta Quadrant of the universe over those millions of years and the computer still managed to produce an image that looked similar to the aliens they met that day. In other words, the computer managed to figure that these dinosaurs becoming a space faring species during the Cretaceous period WAS the most probable course of evolution!! Either that, or the evolutionary development of this species, despite being done completely on board a space ship for the time it would take to find an inhabitable planet and then from then on, was EXACTLY THE SAME as if they had never left Earth to begin with!

Then again, maybe the computer was just humoring Capt. Janeway and showing her what she wanted to see:

JANEWAY: Computer, run a genome projection algorithm. If the Hadrosaur had continued to evolve over the last sixty five million years, extrapolate the most probable appearance.
COMPUTER THINKING: Oh my god… is she serious?? Does she have any idea how ridiculously impossible that would be? Well… I can’t look stupid. Let’s see. We recently encountered an alien species that she thinks is related to these dinosaurs. I’ll just draw one of those and adjust the arm length.
COMPUTER: Extrapolation complete.
COMPUTER THINKING: She looks happy. Phewf!

4. Can make life with a simple miswording – In the episode “Elementary, Dear Data” Data, LaForge and Dr. Pulaski decide to play around the holodeck in a Sherlock Holmes inspired story. After witnessing the ease at which Data solves the first few mysteries, Pulaski (who has some kind of personal quest to kill Data’s dream of becoming human and is constantly trying to prove he’ll always be just a machine and is incapable of actual deductive reasoning. Seriously, not to get off on a tangent here but what is her problem with Data? Did he flush his internal lubricant in her Romulan Corn Flakes one day?) bets Geordi he won’t be able to solve a new mystery (ie. one that isn’t from one of the existing Holmes novels). In their haste to create a new mystery, they forgot they were dealing with the monsterous capabilities of the ship’s computer and accidentally create a sentient being within the holodeck. Yeah… the computer, with a little wordplay (in this case “create an adversary capable of defeating Data”) will assume the user wants it to spawn a WHOLE NEW FORM OF LIFE and simply dim the lights on the ship for a couple of seconds while it does it.

Later on in the franchise, in the episode of Voyager “Message in a Bottle” (mentioned earlier) Harry Kim and Tom Paris desperately try to create a new holographic doctor but can’t seem to get around the whole self-awareness issue. Too bad they didn’t do their research cause they could’ve just said, “Make a doctor capable of defeating Data” and presto!

These are just a few of the more ludicrous examples that I thought of. I’m sure there’s more. I’m also sure these functions and abilities may not ALWAYS be unrealistic
. There may come a day that, like the creation of the microprocessor, will revolutionize computers making our current hardware look like a stone spear. However, considering a person has to create/program a computer to do these things it’s pretty unreasonable to assume anything like this will be possible anytime soon.

And for the record, I love Star Trek. It’s a great franchise. Kim and I watch it on a daily basis! I knit-pick because I love.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the new movie coming out soon after which we will probably be posting some reviews.


2 responses to “Star Trek Computer Nonesense

  1. get a life

  2. Would this life happen to involve coming across Star Trek articles on random blogs and telling the authors to “get a life” as if individuals aren’t allowed to have different preferences for how they spend their time? That kind of life? Ok, thanks for the heads up. You are clearly better than us. We bow to your superior intellect and virility.