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In the earlier episodes of The Next Generation is where I noticed it, and I realise he could be inputting commands into the command terminal, but why isn't his positronic brain interfaced with the command console in that case?

I can't remember the exact example but there are episodes where he goes to the computer to look things up despite having encyclopedic knowledge of everything which could be known by the computer. Any explanation?

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Same for Voyager's EMH. This really annoyed me. It would be so much more efficient and elegant for the EMH to just interface internally rather than having his corporeal form interact clumsily with 2D console buttons. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 11 at 14:06
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@LightnessRacesinOrbit It is annoying. But maybe this might interest you –  Einer Aug 11 at 17:24
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@Einer: Kyle makes a good point, but as a senior software developer I can tell you that it's not good enough. He could be made to interface just behind the console display technology and still enjoy vast efficiency improvements without compromising any of the factors Kyle talks about. It's called re-usable code. There is no need to keep it physical. Obviously the reason is that it would be well boring if we never saw him do anything other than talk to people and perform surgery. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 11 at 18:10
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@Einer: Okay but if he has the time to write subroutines for singing, opera, being polite and having sex, surely a couple of function calls wouldn't hurt at some point in the seven years! –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 11 at 18:29
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I always thought that data sought to imitate humans as good as possible. Having a direct interface to the ships computer doesn't look like a good human imitation. –  PlasmaHH Aug 11 at 19:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Because it's complex and not a good idea.

In "A Fistful of Datas" exactly that is tried.

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It resulted in a mix-up of Datas thoughts and ideas with the computers database almost crippling the ship. Data in turn was "infected" with gun-slinger personality-traits from a program running on the holodeck.

LAFORGE: We think our interface experiment may have caused one of the computer's core subroutines to be altered.

DATA: When the interface malfunction occurred, subroutine C forty seven was replaced by elements from my personal programming.

RIKER: What does C forty seven control?

LAFORGE: Library computer access, replicator selection, recreational programming. No critical systems.

DATA: That would explain why your music composition programme began playing The Slavonic Dances. I have been analysing the collected works of Antonin Dvorak.

LAFORGE: It's the same with Doctor Crusher's play, and with the food replicators.

RIKER: The replicators on decks four through nine are producing nothing but cat food.

PICARD: Cat food?

DATA: I have been formulating nutritional supplements for Spot.

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@BenjaminJB I'm not quite sure. In that episode they try to access sensors, the result should be a data-stream into Datas brain - so exactly as if he'd access sensor-history, or any other data. For any of those connections you'd have to establish a two-way information exchange protocol. It is conceivable (if you are a real bad programmer) that all protocols you come up with, expose these unwanted access problems. –  Einer Aug 11 at 9:10
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Now the question would be, why is so complex and so dangerous? Why does some programs infect others instead of interacting normally via known interfaces? –  Flamma Aug 11 at 10:42
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@Flamma Geordi and Data worked on this for hours and both are not dumb! And they fail. So it must be complex... And I can't think of a reason why! But apparently it just is very tricky. –  Einer Aug 11 at 10:50
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@Flamma The computer and data's brain work on very different principles; the positronic net is designed to mimic the human brain. As such connecting Data to the computer is probably only slightly easier than connecting a human brain to the computer. –  user20310 Aug 11 at 13:02
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@BenjaminJB: You can put electrodes on to your cranium and hook the rig up to a USB port on the other end, but that doesn't magically imbue you with the ability to control your computer with your thoughts. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 11 at 14:08

Dramatic convenience.

If Data had a wireless link to the ship's computer, his body would mostly just sit there and do nothing. This looks ridiculous to the viewers, because we don't have the cultural context to appreciate it. It's also really boring for the actor.

Also one could speculate that Data's core programming has a preference for using the same input devices as any other humanoid to allow other humanoids to find him less weird. We know that Soong experienced problems with acceptance of his androids (particularly Lore, although with good reason given Lore's behaviour) so he would surely have given them programming to try to help them fit in.

We have seen that Data's capable of using those conventional input devices at great speed when necessary, and also direct interfacing with various computer systems, but this is reserved for when it's really necessary.

As for the episode where Data's subroutines end up inside the ship's computer and all that mess happens, that's either total nonsense or Starfleet's programmers are really, really bad at their jobs. And so was Soong, apparently.

Actually, given what happens to the holodecks on a regular basis, and that it's apparently trivial to make a mistake when flying a shuttlecraft and have the warp core breach without the onboard computer taking any emergency action by itself, Starfleet's programmers really are terrible and should all be imprisoned on charges of reckless endangerment. They certainly have various issues with the idea of network security.

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I think that star-fleet programmers have not the slightest idea of network security at all is an in-canon fact. Almost every random species can tap into their computers, every junior lieutenant can alter logs. But the users are worse: Picards code for authorizing auto-destruct is "Picard-4-7-Alpha-Tango". That's 4 characters! That's insane! You cant expect users like that to deal with decent security measures... –  Einer Aug 11 at 14:01
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I always assumed those vocal authorisation codes are backed up by the not-at-all-infallible voiceprint analysis. Otherwise someone could just listen in and use Picard's code whenever they wanted. –  Matthew Walton Aug 11 at 14:07
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True. Most of the weird stuff in Trek is about writers not thinking things through though. Why is the a DS9 episode where Bashir is in trouble for leaving his dress uniform behind when he transferred there? Can't he just replicate another one? Etc etc. You'd expect anybody on the command staff to be more or less perpetually tracked and authorised by the computer. Maybe the codes aren't for authorisation but as an 'I really mean this' check. –  Matthew Walton Aug 11 at 14:28
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@MatthewWalton In VOY Investigations, Hogan at one point uses (in engineering) Engineering Authorization Omega-4-7, which is later repeated by Neelix and accepted by the computer as valid. If voiceprint identification was also used, why Neelix would be allowed to use a general engineering authorization code is beyond me (in fact, you could argue about why he'd be allowed in Engineering in the first place, but let's forget about that for now). Of course, possibly there P=NP too. –  Michael Kjörling Aug 11 at 14:55
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The writers seemed not to know much about information security, or they oversimplified it for dramatic convenience. In Generations, the Enterprise's shield modulation frequency had just 4 significant figures, and was visible in such large letters on an engineering display that it was like keeping one's password on a Post-It note. –  Mark Plotnick Aug 11 at 19:01

One aspect that I'm surprised isn't mentioned is Data's endeavor to become more human. I'm not discounting the other answers: it certainly is a plot device to have data acting and speaking to the computer and crew members like any everyone else and they certainly did attempt to explain (or at least hint at) the incompatibility of positronic and isolinear circuits.

However, Data certainly adopted a number of anachronisms for the sake of relishing in the human experience. He paints, learns to dance, tries to be a stand up comedian, sings, plays the violin, emulates sleep, learns to dream and accepts foreign hardware that, to any objective computing standard, is a resource sink and distraction at best and a malicious attacker at worse (the emotion chip from Lore).

In his own words:

TIMOTHY: You sound like you don't want to be an android.
DATA: I am an android. That will never change.
TIMOTHY: But if you could change, would you?
DATA: I have often wished to be human. I study people carefully in order to more closely approximate human behaviour.

Also, typing and speaking don't hold him back very much, as his fingers can fly over the keys at super human speeds when required. (I can't believe I can't find a clip of his fast typing.) Ditto for speaking to the computer.

This is obviously not on par with an optical connection, but for every day ships operations tasks it clearly suffices. Perhaps a better question is why they even have a crew on the ship; the ship's computer is capable enough to fly itself, if they put the engineers put a little more effort into it. Unmanned probes could probably explore a lot more efficiently and cheaply than the more limited Star fleet.

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"why they even have a crew on the ship" ... In "Remember Me" Doctor Crusher's subconscious seems to agree with this statement, as she and (ephemeral) Picard are discussing why they are the only two crew on a Galaxy Class starship. –  Michael Aug 12 at 15:52

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