Fictional Chatbot: The Star Trek Enterprise Computer – LCARS

Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by Sean B

Star Trek: Enterprise is one of the most technologically advanced Sci-Fi series. The most notable tech attraction in the series is the Star Trek Enterprise computer system that controls pretty much everything in the Enterprise. This advanced AI system is known as the Library Computer Access and Retrieval System (LCARS).

LCARS was the main computer system commissioned by the United Federation of Planets in the mid-24th century. It was used on all the Starfleet spacecraft, starbases, and space stations, including the main ships and stations from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Picard.

LCARS, the Star Trek Enterprise Computer system.

What is LCARS

LCARS interfaces are present in one form or another in almost all the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Enterprise, and Star Trek: Voyager. The system is an evolution of the practice portrayed in Star Trek: The Original Series. Those systems were never given a name and had totally unique designs.

There is a close-up view of a science station on the Enterprise-D in the episode The Vengeance Factor, and on that system, the name “Library Computer Subsystems” can be seen. The full name “Library Computer Access and Retrieval System” can be seen at many points in a number of episodes like The Price, The Measure Of A Man, and Conundrum. It was in the episode Encounter at Far Point that the phrase library computer access and retrieval were spoken. The first appearance of LCARS is probably in the sickbay used in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

The LCARS system is one of the most successful fictional computer interfaces to ever be. It has been adopted by many video games and other computer applications. It was even the cover image of the CD-ROM version of the Star Trek Encyclopedia and the CD-ROM versions of TNG and DS9. The same layout is also carried into various iOS applications about Star Trek.

LCARS Interfaces

Accessing LCARS was possible from virtually any location in the whole fictional world of Star Trek, including spading spacecraft, space stations, and other locations. Users could reach out to the system using keyboard commands, desk computers, or other interfaces like bridge stations, consoles, PADDs, and tricorders. The interfaces were typically graphical controls tucked under touch-sensitive transparent digitizers, much like modern-day smartphones. The users had the liberty to change the contents being shown on the screen to match the task they had at hand. The facilities were also equipped with tactile interfaces to facilitate the officers with impaired vision. These were seen in Encounter at Farpoint, The Vengeance Factor, The Host, Half a Life, and VOY: Year of Hell
episodes of the season The Next Generation.

In the year 2399, according to the movie, Starfleet acquired the ability to deploy three-dimensional holographic interfaces for people to interact with LCARS. This made the technology not available only for the officers but also for the civilians of the fictional world.

The Star Trek Enterprise flying past a planet.

LCARS Operation

In order to comprehend and carry out the orders given in natural language, the LCARS system used an intricate arrangement of subroutines. This enabled the system to swiftly execute even the most complicated of the commands, no matter if they are given via voice or through keyboard input. One of the key responsibilities of LCARS was to monitor the retrieval and storage of files in the form of data banks in the computer of the ship. This data included logs like personal logs or transporter logs, element and chemical compound data, and data on archaeological artifacts. In the cases, where a ship needed any outside information, the system was able to access data from outside the ship, for instance, the space traffic data when navigating near starbases, or when the ships wanted something from the surplus depots. The system could also be ordered to show the crew manifest when needed. In terms of data input, the system was capable of recording data such as medical, tactical, and sensor scans.

The system is portrayed in the movie to be powerful enough to run different analyses including the analysis of linguistics being used by the users, the analysis of system networks configuration, and magnetic flux density analysis for detecting stars and other heavenly bodies.

The updated Enterprise Model NCC-1701-D in Star Trek: TNG.

LCARS Design

LCARS maintained pretty much the same design language across all the Federation spacecraft, extra-terrestrial installations, and other facilities. But, a small change in the color scheme can be noticed across different entities. The normal operating colors of the LCARS systems show a wide range comprising tans, purples, and yellows, along with blues, aqua, and oranges.

However, in the case of emergencies or when a spacecraft is on a special mission, the colors changed and showed Red or Blue depending on how crucial a message is. Typically, white background with blue text and other things is used in a mission and important messages are flashed in red color.

Is LCARS a Chatbot?

LCARS is not a chatbot by our current definition of chatbots. It is something far more complicated and far more capable than any chatbot we currently have. We are still far from the time when chatbots will be able to handle all the tasks LCARS handled in the Star Trek
series. It is a good source of inspiration for current and future researchers and computer scientists to try and develop something that can rival the extreme capabilities of this fictional computer system. We are still lacking the hardware resources and the programming needed to develop and commission any such system.

In Conclusion

LCARS is an intricate system of computers and other intelligent devices linked with each other that make the task of running a multi-planetary and interstellar world possible for humans. It is highly capable, intelligent, and very well connected across devices and systems to make sure it delivers what is required of it. Science has always been inspired by fiction and this is another point for researchers to take inspiration from. It is just a matter of time that we’ll be seeing such and maybe even more advanced systems in real life and not only in Sci-Fi movies and TV shows.

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