After watching quite a lot of star trek recently I've noticed the holodeck needs scant few details to recreate excessively detailed cafes in Paris, and Bourbon Bars in New Orleans. In the former it seems that the computer recreated the exact people that were there at the time.

Either Starfleet keeps ludicrously detailed records or the computer can read minds....which is it? Or is there a third option?

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    If Pixar can craft the detailed computer simulations they're capable of today, and knowing how poor graphics were 20 years ago, is it really that hard to believe that the technology to create realistic scenes using an infinitely more powerful computer and advances in software development? Compared to creating a device that scans matter at a quantum level, dematerializes it, and reassembles it at a specific target location, holodecks seem quite simple. As far as keeping details, we have no way of knowing if the scenes are 100% accurate. Just good enough to be convincing. – David Stratton Jul 1 '12 at 15:43
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    Mind-reading isn't totally out of the question. See: the universal translator. – Brian Ortiz Jul 1 '12 at 18:42
  • @DavidStratton, it's the later part that is sore troubling to me. I have the episode name, but Picard revisits café artiste in Paris, where he sees an ex or at least a simulation of her. – AncientSwordRage Jul 1 '12 at 21:30

It only appears the holodeck needs scant details because we (the viewers) are not privy to the configuration time that needs to be set up for any holo-programs to be run. All of that setup time is almost always done off-camera. We usually get to see only the initialization of the program.

While the holodeck holds a significant amount of general information within its database, it also has access to the main ship's or starbase computer's databases of information, personnel files, psychological profiles, all personalized configurations and settings have to be applied before the client enters.

When the holodeck is emulating a physical environment or technology, all information for that technology must be included for an accurate simulation. When the Enterprise was caught in an energy draining device (TNG: Booby Trap) Commander LaForge created the holographic representation of Dr. Leah Brahms using her personality profiles to help them escape the trap.

Dr. Leah Brahms, holographic simulation

Creating material for the holodeck is both a science and an art and is likely one of the occupations of the 24th century that does not suffer from a lack of people wanting to develop for it. The holodeck is one of the most sophisticated technologies of the Federation requiring knowledge of psychology, physics, matter replication, auditory and sensory sciences as well as an artistic flair for seeing the world at large, both past and present.

We tend to walk in on someone running a program, for example Tom Paris' bar in New Orleans, where he has meticulously programmed in the psychological profiles, perhaps based off of either real people or character archetypes saved in the holodeck matrix database.

The physical parameters of the bar are either drawn from actual plans of the locations, which wouldn't be too hard to do given 23rd century technology, or from photography extruded into a 3D environment and then given simulated weight, colors and textures.

Captain Proton holo-novel, Tom Paris and Harry Kim, Star Trek: Voyager

Creating holodeck simulations like Tom Paris and Harry Kim's Adventures of Captain Proton or Katheryn Janeway's Leonardo DaVinci's workspace require more development but since one is a holonovel and the other a famous person, were probably developed before they arrived on Voyager and were tweaked and personalized.

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    Why not? This database likely contains access to information regarding any human interest or endeavor especially if it is relevant to the era being depicted. The semblance of verisimilitude would be very important. People in these simulations would act like real people in any other event, playing roles assigned either by a random event generator or as requested by the program. Think artificial intelligence acting as a gamemaster, adding non-player characters as necessary. Big brain, big game, randomized NPCs. It's not that hard to imagine to me. – Thaddeus Howze Jul 1 '12 at 21:31
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    @AncientSwordRage The holodeck gets the information from old cached versions of Google Earth. :) Also consider that the personality of the real Dr. Leah Brahms was nothing like the personality of the holodeck version. – pleurocoelus Jun 3 '16 at 11:42
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    It might be worth improving the Booby Trap reference to include the fact that he started with a talking puppet, and had to send the computer looking for more personality data. If I recall the episode correctly, it even quoted him a reliability percentage (the unreliability of the simulation factoring into a later episode). – T.J.L. Jun 3 '16 at 12:59
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    In reference to a 4 year comment :D - Thaddeus is correct - DS9 shows us that programmers are in some way necessary and that, just like in any other disciple, some practitioners are more skilled than others. Julian has a favorite developer named "Felix" and Garak recruits an accomplished programmer for his and Sisko's deception of the Romulans in "In the Pale Moonlight" – NKCampbell Jun 3 '16 at 19:04
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    Great point by some of the recent comments. The Leah Brahms hologram program is an excellent canon example of when the program isn't really a great representation of the genuine article. The computer can do it's best, but accuracy cannot be guaranteed in all scenarios. – Ellesedil Jun 3 '16 at 19:56

Objects and Background

The computer has a wide store of "standard" examples of objects, locations and people in its database. Some of these were evidently holo-scanned from life while others can presumably be extrapolated from pictures and moving images in much the same way that Google Images has lots of photos of (for example) "French Cafe interiors"

We see a perfect example of this in TNG: Schisms where the crew are trying to puzzle out an object that they vaguely recall. Note that the computer is originally working from a selection of stock objects (similar to clipart) rather than just changing the materials involved.

When the crew start to narrow down the object beyond what's already in the library, the computer begins to make new and unique forms based on their descriptions. This seems to be what Starfleet staff refer to as "Holodeck programming".

enter image description here


The computer is apparently sufficiently smart as to be able to generate a virtual "crowd"; people, animals and plants that are non-anachronistic to the setting. We see this in TNG: The Outrageous Okona when Guinan sets up a virtual comedy venue.

GUINAN: You know, he could be right. Perhaps an audience is what you need.

DATA: Computer. Programme an audience appropriate to this venue.

[And the room is full of people at the tables]


The TNG Technical Manual talks about the holodeck containing a library of substances and the ability to calculate (e.g. simulate from scratch) certain objects and situations. Presumably this includes all of the insubstantials such as period-appropriate scents, sounds, materials and lighting.

A vast library of recorded real substances is available, and custom settings may be commanded for experimental purposes.


The only limiting factors to the numbers and kinds of objects described by the computers are memory and time to record or calculate from scratch the originals of the desired objects, whether real or imagined, such as a Klein bottle.


If you watch the Voyager episode "Fair Haven," you can get a sense of how the holoprograms are created with the holodeck computer. I agree totally with David and his example of Pixar--just think about what we can do now and then add thousands of years of improvement and tech.

  • Hundreds of years of improvement, not thousands. – Molag Bal Jun 3 '16 at 3:23
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    This is a bit short on detail. Maybe you could add some supporting info from "Fair Haven"? – Adamant Jun 3 '16 at 3:27

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