I learned a whole lot about User Interface from Star Trek

A star ship is a very big a complicated piece of gear yet it doesn’t seem to take very many people to make it travel around the stars. By comparison look at todays modern mission control launch room. It takes all of those guys plus the guys on the shuttle just to make the shuttle go into orbit. Yet it seems to take one guy to make a standard orbit after traveling light years to get there.

So how can a starship be so easily used? Advances in computing insure that our star traveling fellows get safely to their destination without having to open the manual or reboot along the way.

Going somewhere?
When the captain of a star ship commands “make us go that way” a series of behind the scenes events happen in a split second. To people on the bridge it all seems relatively simple.

“Ensign, plot a course to beta alpha seven, warp 3.”

“Eye captin, course plotted.”

“Engage.”

Ensign pushes a button on his console and the ship warps away.

That seems really easy. It may take a airline pilot around 30 minutes to plan a course to travel from here to there. And a boat captain will study charts for an equal amount of time before departing. How can this be so easy for the starship?

What you don’t see is a series of rules and authentications being processed behind the scenes. When the Captain says “Plot a course…” the microphones connected to the computers voice processor picks that up. It verifies that it is in fact the commanding officer’s voice and that the officer is indeed on the bridge. That’s what the pins on everyones chest is for.

The voice processor then picks up the destination and the speed. It the plots several courses based on the current position and displays these on the Navigator’s console. Space being big and vast means that there is more than one way to get to somewhere. The courses on the console are the best out of millions possible, the Ensign then picks the one that gets the ship there. The ensign could pick the one that uses the least power, or arrives sooner or later or is the route that stays as far from enemy space a possible.

A verbal command from the Ensign not only tells the Captain that he has made a selection but it is verification to the computer that it is in fact the Ensign (who is qualified to make the decision) who clicked that button on the console to pick the course.

The last two commands where the captain says “Engage” and the Ensign presses the “Go” button are confirmation that takes the ship out of orbit and begins the computer controlled journey to beta alpha seven.

Once that is done the Ensign has little to do until the ship enters the new system.

Intruders
Now if I was on the bridge and said “make us go that way.” Followed by “Engage” Nothing would happen. The voice processor would ignore the command because it would a) not know who I was b) know that I was not authorized to make a command c) not allowed to touch anything with the word “go” on it.

If I was a guest on the starship the computer would be informed of this and might do navigation preprocessing in the event that I was authorized to tell the captain where or what to do.

“Ensign this is the battle consultant who is here to advise us while we monitor the Carillon border.”

“Yes, captin.”

“Good to make you acquaintance, Ensign. I hope we have an easy run.”

The voice processor now knows my voice, that I’m in a capacity to semi command, it’s verified in the personal records that I am in fact a battle consultant, that I’m reasonably stable because it said so in my last psych eval, and that I’m a little stressed because it noticed it in my voice.

If I said “get us out of here” the computer would plot courses to take the ship out of a battle situation.

If the captain concurred then the ensign would choose a course and press go. Otherwise the command would be ignored but if it was sticky all the work would be done in advance.

Change of the Guard
“Beavis, you have the con.”

“Aye captain.”

I’ve just passed command of a very powerful weapon to a moron. What this does is it sets up the computer to recognize who is making a final decision when one needs to be made. If the captain were still on the bridge then he would still be authorized by rank to make a command decision. But so could Beavis.

Earl Grey, Hot
Pickard was always drinking tea. But what if the computer processed his voice and depending on the way it analyzed it then served up things other than tea. How many times have you said, “I really could use a drink…” It’s just an expression, sure. But analyze the way it’s said and then serve something based on your current condition. If you’ve had to much caffeine then you get decaf. If it’s the end of the day, then maybe you get scotch or beer. And if you’re happy you might get Apple juice. It all depends on how that voice processes out as to what is in that glass.

Looking at Data
Not the robot android but data that comes out of the sensors. A computer filter throws out data that seems extraneous. It becomes that because it was the last time a scan was done or it’s data known not to be interesting. If the planet is not known then a full scan is made. Yet if the system is already known and depending on what we’ve already done as far as scanning goes it’s scanned to a different extent. Of course it’s rude to scan systems of other worlds that have technology. They would know that you’re scanning them just to scan. All that protocol is programmed so that kind of thing doesn’t happen.

When data is shown to a human, you can bet that it will only be the data that’s most interesting. The computer will throw out anything extraneous or boring. Only the tell tail “here life” wave will be shown on the data screen. Of course all the data is stored forever so if the humans find that they’ve missed something they can widen the search without having to recollect information.

Open a hailing frequency!
All the command centers work just like the Navigation one we’ve already talked about. Communications is no different. The difference is the scan data that shows what’s in proximately . Kilgons, another Starship, Gorgons or whatever all have known systems so the appropriate ones are remembered and cued for use.

“I’m a shuttle craft pilot…best in the galaxy.”
Yea right buddy. Flying a shuttle craft is no different than flying a star ship. You say where you want to go. And it goes there. You press a verify button and it happens. You don’t land. You don’t dock. The computer does all that for you. All you have to do is press “Yes” or “Go” to verify that the command is given.

Warp up
Even todays planes, the space shuttle, trains and other devices can take care of themselves. Don’t think for a minute that the shuttle commander is actually on the stick making course corrections from orbit. I know autopilots that fly airplanes better than I can and I’m not such a bad pilot myself. And the new Boeings can land on there own — just click that button that says “Auto Land.”