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I am sure modern youngsters if they have the patience to watch STOS find the limitations of the Enterprise in some respects hilarious -- Yeoman Rand actually hands Kirk reports; the transporter seems to require manual intervention (how scary); Spock has to bend over a tiny view screen; etc.

It seems that, unlike the propulsion and weapons systems (and indeed the transporter), the writers and tech advisors did not extrapolate much in the computer department. No punch cards and of course the computer could be interacted with verbally.

In 1966, the average person had not even seen a computer let alone interacted directly with one and I think billing for electricity and processing checks was largely manual even for huge companies. Perhaps computers therefore were already very science fictiony -- the very fact that the vessel had its own computer might have been amazing enough. (I wonder if indeed even our submarines or huge carriers had computers -- without looking this up, I am guessing the first onboard digital computer as opposed to analog bomb sites etc. was still a decade away in that year.)

My question is whether any critic/scientist mentioned how primitive the Enterprise seemed to be in this respect.

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    @InvisibleTrihedron classic example: Starman Jones's plot hinging on some printed-out binary to decimal conversion tables. Nov 21, 2022 at 2:29
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    I just remember it, but it's mentioned here tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/StarmanJones Scroll to the end for one of the refs. Nov 21, 2022 at 2:44
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    One of the advantages that the protagonist of Starman Jones had was his eidetic memory: he'd memorised logarithm tables (in binary), which meant he could do computer work much faster than the guys who had to look up the logarithms in printed tables.
    – PM 2Ring
    Nov 21, 2022 at 2:54
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    Even in the 1970s, almost all computer output was on paper. I was programming for several years before I saw a computer with video output. There's a lot of info about computing in that era on retrocomputing.stackexchange.com
    – PM 2Ring
    Nov 21, 2022 at 2:57
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    @PM2Ring: Yes but while today we understand a robot as a mobile embodiment of a computer, I think few people would have understood the implications for computers in general of human-sized robots. As u indicate, they would have underestimated the requirements for a positronic brain to run an android and overestimated how much hardware wd be needed for relatively simple tasks that would be assigned to what was thought of as a computer.
    – releseabe
    Nov 21, 2022 at 3:30

2 Answers 2

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I think that the use of computers by large businesses and other users was more common during the 1960s than the OPimagines.

As I remember, I actually had to design or write some mathematical calculation for a mainframe computer at my university about the time of Star Trek's last season. It took me several tries since each time I corrected an error I made a new error. And each try required a different visit to the computer center.

Scientists were already working on computer voices in the 1960s. I remember listening to a recording of a computer generated voice singing "daisy" back in the 1960s.

I also remember a science fiction story in Analog in probably the early 1970s when there was some sort of breakdown of all the computers in a small town. The characters didn't realize how many computers there were in town and all the things that thwy were used for until the computers started malfunctioing. This should have been before the first "microcoputers" (personal computers) so the computers would have been mainframes or minicomputers.

I remember wondering at the time whether the computer dependent society in the story was supposed to be a near future setting or the actual present.

A minicomputer, or colloquially mini, is a class of smaller general purpose computers that developed in the mid-1960s1 and sold at a much lower price than mainframe2 and mid-size computers from IBM and its direct competitors. In a 1970 survey, The New York Times suggested a consensus definition of a minicomputer as a machine costing less than US$25,000 (equivalent to $174,000 in 2021), with an input-output device such as a teleprinter and at least four thousand words of memory, that is capable of running programs in a higher level language, such as Fortran or BASIC.4

The class formed a distinct group with its own software architectures and operating systems. Minis were designed for control, instrumentation, human interaction, and communication switching as distinct from calculation and record keeping. Many were sold indirectly to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for final end use application. During the two decade lifetime of the minicomputer class (1965–1985), almost 100 companies formed and only a half dozen remained.[5]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minicomputer

So mincomputers were begining to appear and be used in smaller businesses in the later 1960s.

Some older SF fans may remember the fake computer systems with countless blinking lights in Irwin Allen science fiction productions frome the 1960s. I read somewhere that they were actually real computers from the 1950s which were obsolete and were acquired cheaply by Allen.

Here is a link to a computer timeline indicating that the first business computers and first mass produced computers were manufactured during the 1950s.

https://www.cs.odu.edu/~tkennedy/cs300/development/Public/M01-HistoryOfComputers/index.html

And during the age of protests the message "do not fold, spindle, or mutilate" on computer punch cards was well known enough for the message "I am a human being do not fold, spindle, or mutilate" to appear on shirts and buttons.

In fact there was a TV movie with the title Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate as early as November 9, 1971, a mystery involving a computer datng service.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Not_Fold,_Spindle_or_Mutilate

The first computer datng service was started in 1964 according to this timeline:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_online_dating_services

So the evidence I can gather at the moment indicates that while very few people personally used computers during the 1960s or were familiar with them, computers were starting to affect people's lives.

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    Hi. This is fascinating. However, it does not appear to answer the OP's question. Am I missing something in there?
    – Basya
    Nov 21, 2022 at 8:28
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    @Basya: U right -- I am looking for someone who in the 1960s was prescient enough to see that the systems aboard The Enterprise were not remotely consistent with warp drive, etc. But it is also relevant to attempt to explain why the writers did not see this and if no else did either, why this was. As I suggested, perhaps simply because damn few people in 1966 knew much about computers or networks. I do get that the x-porter to be interesting needed to show characters screwing around with it, but, boy, how scary that reassembling a person required manual controls!
    – releseabe
    Nov 21, 2022 at 12:03
  • The actual recording of the computer singing "Daisy, Daisy" was used in the HAL shutdown sequence for 2001: A Space Odyssey -- which came out in 1968, as I recall. The recording dates to a year or two earlier. I'd note, however, that I've also seen 1950s vintage tape (on What's My Line or I've Got a Secret, IIRC) of a woman playing a "voder" -- an electromechanical voice box with fully manual operation. Something like this could have been computer controlled about as soon as mainframes became accessible to have hardware peripherals added.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 21, 2022 at 13:16
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You might find it instructive to read about The Mother of all Demos in 1968 (so around ToS series 3), when Douglas Engelbart showed off a lot of things that are now familiar (mouse, windowed UI etc.) in one system.

That gives an indication of the state of the art towards the end of ToS.

Earlier ('30s originally but widely published in the late '40s) Vannevar Bush's Memex concept and his essay As We May Think set the scene for many of the early (and more recent) developments in computers for everyone. These included graphical input and output, as well as vast amounts of data in compact searchable storage. That's something the writers are likely to have known about, and tried to imagine for a general public who weren't familiar with computers.

Unfortunately it's not apparent whether Englebart or Bush ever commented on Star Trek tech/UIs, as some of those most qualified to do so.

Anyway instead of extrapolating these ideas far into the future, the writers stuck to controls and concepts with which the viewers might be expected to have some familiarity. And as for things like transporter manual controls, that fits the storylines and allows for suspense to be built up in a way that "will the automation work" wouldn't.

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  • I wd bet money that neither watched tv let alone commented on star trek deficiencies. Bush himself, being part of the Manhattan Project, was once among the busiest humans on Earth for a few years and I doubt if he would later in life become anything remotely resembling a couch potato.
    – releseabe
    Nov 21, 2022 at 12:54
  • As far as the transporter: yeah, just like AI is present but only in advanced alien robots -- humans are thereby made necessary to crew the ship and operate (very carefully) the transporter.
    – releseabe
    Nov 21, 2022 at 12:56
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    @releseabe you could well be right, especially about Bush, but apparently Englebart was a keen reader and made up SFF stories for his kids so he certainly had time for fiction. I can't find their ages but he had 9 grandchildren and no great-grandchildren by he time he died in 2013; it's quite possible he watched ToS with his children.
    – Chris H
    Nov 21, 2022 at 13:41

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