There have been countless times when a Starfleet ship is not in battle and a crewmember has been injured and rendered unconscious. When someone says "Computer, locate X", the computer says where they are. The internal sensors can also read life signs (as evidenced when the computer is queried about the number of life signs aboard). With the speed of these responses, the processes certainly don't take long to complete. Why can't the computer check on each crewmember twice a minute or so to ensure they're safe and conscious, and if they're not, transport them directly to sick bay, or at least alert a medical team?

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    no one wants to watch a TV show where dramatic things happen without human interaction.
    – Solemnity
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 4:53

4 Answers 4


I believe the answer to this question is the same as for Why can't Star Trek Replicator Technology and Transporter technology be combined to replace vital systems parts to the ship, say a new warp core?

It isn't a question of whether automated systems can do these things but whether should they do them. The amount of autonomy granted to machine intelligences is a choice any sufficiently advanced civilization will have to make and it's a decision that must be weighed carefully. Too much use of advanced technology might eliminate all useful work that some people would want to perform. Systems that eliminate risk might be stifling to people who thrive on putting themselves at risk to test their limits. Too much autonomy might lead to a technological singularity (see The Terminator, The Matrix, Colossus: The Forbin Project, etc.), completely eliminating or enslaving the creators of the machines. The Federation has chosen to build highly sophisticated tools, but to leave their immediate deployment in the hands of people. We can only surmise that they looked at their collective history and decided this was the most prudent course.

  • So when a crew member is lost in a Geoffrey's Tube because a plasma conduit ruptured next to him and no one was notified, this is acceptable because... it's more interesting for the crew?
    – Ky -
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 4:43
  • Put it into a contemporary setting: NASCAR has shown that men can walk away from wrecks that would kill everyone involved if they happened on our highways. Why don't we require everyone to wear helmets and firesuits, have reinforced roll cages and neck restraints, fire control systems, roof flaps, etc? These things would improve safety but they would also increase costs and reduce comfort and freedom.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 1:03
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    Every safety system is a tradeoff. Constant surveillance means no privacy. Automatic transport in the event of injury might mean overriding individuals' autonomy; they might be sacrificing themselves for a greater good. The Federation seems to want human destiny to remain in human hands.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 1:04
  • Put into the context of the show itself, try the ToS episode "The Ultimate Computer" for an example of technology that, while convenient, would not be for the greatest benefit of Starfleet or Humanity. In fact, look at it as a specific reason why Starfleet doesn't invest more of their critical decision making to their computer AI.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 19:09
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    @Zibbobz Yeah, Daystrom set automation back at least seventy years with that fiasco.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 19:10

I'm not so sure the ship's computer is capable of that.

  • Detecting life signs is relatively simple. There's a few basic tests that qualify something as "life", touched on in TNG 1x18, Home Soil.
  • Detecting different species requires more work on the computer's part - specifics in their metabolism have to be distinguished, and this is something far easier to do in some cases than others. For example, I believe it was in TNG 7x15, Lower Decks, that one of the junior officers had to help the computer in locating a lost puppy. The computer was incapable of doing so on its own.
  • Detecting the difference between normal variations and injuries within a species requires even more intensive scanning, and much more possibility for error - some species have more or less natural variations in their metabolism, that the scans would have to adjust for.
    • As for simple physical injury, even that can't always be automated without risk of damaging cultural relations. For example, Klingons have many rituals that involve pain or injury, the first to come to mind being their second Rite of Ascension, which involves hitting the recipient repeatedly with painstiks. Transporting them away in the middle of that would be quite bad.
    • Even a simple "life signs are fading" scan wouldn't always be ideal; Klingon culture includes ritual suicide and murder.
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    I'm not sure the exceptions are valid. You could always warn the computer to not transport ahead of time. And it should be pretty easy to detect a variety of known species distress points, and act in an emergency.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 17:22
  • @DampeS8N And the lost puppy?
    – Izkata
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 20:09
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    Would be another edge case that would need the same special help to locate. Which would you rather: 856 of the 1045 crew and animals in a town are saved because the ship beamed them off a planet that just suffered a nuclear blast. Or all of them perished because the crew noticed the blast and did not have the reaction time to initiate the transport?
    – DampeS8N
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 20:37
  • Voyager had a computer that processed at 575 PHz. I think it can spare a bit of that to ensure crew safety.
    – Ky -
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 4:48

These are effectively ships of war. Many scenes feature crewmen continuing to fight or work while injured. A ship could identify that a crewman is injured, but it would be difficult to make the human decision of whether to let a crewman sacrifice himself to save the ship or crew. Should the computer have beamed Spock out when he sacrificed himself to save the Enterprise?

  • The Defiant was a ship of war; the Enterprise and others are ships of exploration
    – Izkata
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 18:09
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    @Izkata So StarFleet claims ...
    – C. Ross
    Commented May 3, 2013 at 20:03
  • -1 most Starfleet ships on the show are not warships. You could also set parameters for what level of injury constitutes beamout (default to when the crew member can no longer perform his/her duties)
    – Ky -
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 4:40

You could blaim the writers. It worked for Mass Effect :p

Despite that Star Trek does try to be a little more realistic with its Science Fiction, some things just must be left to a little imagination and blind faith. Yes, they could wear a device to could monitor as something as basic as vital signs, and assign a computer to give read outs of away team members to the proper medical personnel in the sick bay to expedite the process. But then how would Ensign Ricky die when Kirk needs a bullet catcher?

Also, to expand on your question; no one seems to have invented armor to protect against phasers, lasers, and other cool gagets. I'm sorry, but in a war economy, technology would be rapidly expanding and evolving to deal with threats, and produce new threats. Thus, no drone flyers/bombers, no special forces, strike teams, some sort of laser assault rifle, or the need of carrying more than a remote control gadget that shoots out a cute little beam. Seriously. If they get stuck on a planet (which does happen) what are they suppose to eat? Water might be a concern too. And... unless they're in space, have they ever wore an evironmental/pressure/protection suit of any kind? Are all planets carbon-based 21% oxygen garden worlds with 14.7 psi air pressure? Because that would be awesome.

  • On your point about EVA suits, they do use them when the planet they're going onto doesn't have breathable atmosphere. For instance, VOY 4x24: Demon (en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Demon_(episode))
    – Ky -
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 18:50
  • The Borg have personal energy shields that can block phasers, so it's not like the technology doesn't exist in-universe. It's probably just too advanced.
    – Izkata
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 23:45

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