Friday, February 19, 2010
Information Needs in Star Trek
I am reading a Star Trek -- Next Generation novel. The story has Will Riker going to a planet on a trade mission to attend a trade conference and ensure that the planet will be a trade partner with the Federation. His contact is murdered. During the trade which corresponds to Carnival, high technology is forbidden to be used. Although the definition "high technology" is not made clear, standard Federation weapons are not allowed, but limited communicators use is allowed. Even medical devices needed to repair injuries are limited during the "high tech" ban.
The actual mission is secret from all the members of the Enterprise crew except the captain. Several crew members try to figure out the mission by doing research.
I find it very interesting that the Star Trek universe can imagine space travel and how to over come the speed of light for travel, but for communications and information gathering they are decades behind what we do today. They have no concept of a a library data base. The interaction with the computer is voice activated. Their computers some how can read minds and figure out intentions. Even in 1990 the writers had no concept of personal computing devices or distributed computing resources. The idea of a communicator is still based on the walkie-talkie concept rather than a personal telephone. A star ship and its crew must need huge amounts of information for its missions, but the writers give very few clues how the information is gathered, organized and used.