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I've seen explanations for the failings of the universal translator to pick up single words in Klingon, but is there any explanation for why the computer doesn't respond when people say 'open', 'wait', 'deck eight' in normal conversation? Sometimes people prefix commands by saying 'computer', and sometimes they don't. Canon and non-canon explanations are both fine.

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If it had a level of AI it could probably interpret from the context, or request clarification if unsure. "You talkin' to me? I don't see nobody else here!" ;) –  Andrew Thompson Aug 11 at 7:34
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Making that comment actually got me to wondering if the ship's computer would typically see the crew members. Visual context can be very beneficial in determining the difference between one crew member turning to another & saying "Go to Planet Hell" and that same crew member entering navigational instructions.. –  Andrew Thompson Aug 11 at 7:39
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Imagine Google voice recognition but with 200 years of improvements ;) –  Trader Aug 11 at 10:00
    
They have human-level artificial intelligences (Data); I wouldn't think it so surprising that the shipboard computer (although apparently not sentient) can figure out human speech almost perfectly. Sometimes I think people have some sort of a mental gap between the Computer and Data, just because the latter looks like human. –  JohannesD Aug 11 at 13:13
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As shown in Measure of a Man, Data's engineering uses unknown technology. It would be surprising, in my opinion, if the Enterprise computer is near that level of advancement. –  BenjaminJB Aug 11 at 13:17

2 Answers 2

up vote 18 down vote accepted

But they are confused sometimes!

There are several instances when the computer mistakes a comment not directed at the computer as a command. There seems to be a heuristic identifying commands but it's not perfect.

PARIS: Are you saying there's no more story?

COMPUTER: Affirmative.

PARIS: This is someone's idea of a practical joke, right?

COMPUTER: Please rephrase the question.

(from Voy "Worst Case Scenario")

In this video from DS9 "Whispers" the computer does fairly well filtering out comments not directed at it, but still it fails to do so twice (at 2:00 and 4:48).

Those misunderstandings are not that seldom, since (out of universe) they make a good source of humour. So these filtering-algorithms are far from perfect just very good. And given that something like Siri exists today, 300 years of development really can explain how algorithms can improve to a level, where misunderstandings are fairly rare.

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+1 Great answer. People continue to suspend my disbelief in the beloved Star Trek universe. :) –  BenjaminJB Aug 11 at 12:09
    
the real question: if he's telling the computer to do all those things by voice command... wtf is he typing all that stuff for? –  Michael Edenfield Aug 11 at 15:38
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@MichaelEdenfield Writing an indignant comment on Yelp concerning Quarks no-refund-policy. Joking aside: I can do a lot of things faster with my keyboard than I could do if I had to verbalize them - like switching applications, scrolling, looking up on an episode on memory alpha... I'd never give up my keyboard no matter how good speech recognition may become one day. –  Einer Aug 11 at 16:00
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@MichaelEdenfield Ever try writing system code using voice? –  Blazemonger Aug 11 at 16:22
    
@Blazemonger: Dilbert covered that, once. It didn't turn out too well. –  Codes with Hammer Aug 11 at 20:26

This is discussed in The Nitpickers Guide for Next Generation Trekkers. When I picked up the book, the discussion of computer commands was the first page I opened and read.

The author mentioned a scene where Wesley Crusher has just been told off by his mother over the comumincation system and he says Mothers!" to someone in the room with him (Data, I think) then follows up with "yes Mother". The author wondered why the communicator didn't broadcast the "Mothers!" comment to his Mom.

Sometimes you have to tap the badge; sometime you can just start talking. Sometimes you have to say "computer"; other times you don't.

The answer seems to be "lazy continuity" between the large number of writers who wrote scripts for the TV series.

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