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Holodeck and Computers Mini-FAQ
HOLODECK AND COMPUTERS MINI-FAQ
Last modified: Sat Mar 18 20:09:24 1995
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1. How real is real? - Mechanics of the Holodeck
2. Where does it all end? - The Holodeck and troublemakers
3. What if...? - Limitations and possibilities of the Holodeck
4. Holodoc - Voyager's Holodeck technology
5. Will it run Windows? - The Enterprise computers
1. How real is real?
"How does it work?"
A Holodeck can create simulations in the following ways:
* The walls can generate holographic images which appear to extend
for an unlimited distance. For example, the walls in "Encounter at
Farpoint" and "Ship In A Bottle" [TNG].
* Holograms can be projected into space. For example, a when Picard
went horseback riding ("Pen Pals" [TNG]), most of the trees were
probably intangible projections since he wasn't going to run into
* Holograms can be augmented with force beams to simulate solid,
tangible objects. An example would be the book Picard threw in
"Ship In A Bottle" [TNG].
* Holograms and force beams can be augmented with replicator
technology to provide actual substance. Food on the holodeck would
be of this nature, despite what Paris said in "The Cloud" [VOY]
(he was probably joking) or eating it would be very unpleasant.
Most inanimate objects which are likely to be eaten or have
properties difficult to simulate (e.g. water) would be simulated
in this way.
* An animate object is comprised of a partially stable form of
matter created by the Holodeck replicators for use in the Holodeck
only. This material is stable only within a Holodeck or holosuite,
and degrades into energy if removed. (Encyclopedia).
This is matter held in place by force beams operating at a
molecular level, as opposed to actually replicating the object
down to the molecular bonds. (Speculation based on the description
in "Phage" [VOY] of how the "HoloDoc" works.) Without the force
beams, the object disintigrates. Examples would be the gangsters
in "The Big Goodbye" [TNG], Picard's horse in "Pen Pals" [TNG], or
Minuet in "11001001" [TNG].
Note that the wall/hologram/force beam simulations are easy for the
holodeck to carry out, and that the hologram/force beam/replicator
simulations were possible during "Encounter at Farpoint" (when Wesley
It is possible, however, that the Holodeck-matter simulations, were
not possible before the upgrades made by the Bynars in "11001001"
[TNG]. This would explain Riker's surprise at the realism of the
Also, if an object's status changes the simulation type will change
seamlessly as well. For example, someone sees a distant tree (walls),
approaches it (hologram), leans on it (force beams), breaks off a
branch (Holodeck-matter), then picks and eats an apple (replicated).
"What about eating on the Holodeck? Does Troi do it to keep thin with
all that chocolate she eats?"
Any food consumed on the Holodeck would be replicated. If it were any
of the other types of simulation, it would dissociate or evaporate
when you left the holodeck, which doesn't sound at all pleasant.
"What is this 'meat puppet' description I've heard used?"
A 'meat puppet' is a old term resurrected to describe a replicated
humanoid form created on the Holodeck, and dragged around by force
beams. If the force beams failed, you'd be left with a limp, lifeless
(This dates back to before we'd ever heard of Holodeck-matter.
Creative, weren't we?)
"So can you take things off of the Holodeck?"
Yes. Any object replicated on the Holodeck may leave. Unfortunately,
it is sometimes hard to tell what is replicated, and what is not.
Snow, such as the snowball thrown by Wesley in "The Naked Now" is
easily replicated, and dampness is hard to simulate. The book thrown
by Picard in "Ship In A Bottle" [TNG] would be easily simulated by
force beams and thus was not replicated.
The paper in "Elementary, Dear Data" [TNG] was likely simulated until
the computer realized that it was going to be carried off the
Holodeck, at which point it would have been seamlessly replaced with a
"Didn't Picard lie to Moriarty (in "Elementary, Dear Data" [TNG])?"
According to various reliable sources, that was Gene Roddenberry's
intention. If the paper could have left, Moriarty should have been
able to, goes the logic. Fortunately, this scene was cut, and as
always, canon is what we see on the screen, big or small. This means
the whole argument against replicating people holds - that the
computer cannot store that much information.
"What about beaming things off the Holodeck (ala "Ship In A Bottle"
This has never been tried, as explained in the episode, which is why
the computer was unable to simulate the results. Replicated objects
should be able to be transported out of the Holodeck, but anything
relying on the force beams would instantly collapse.
As for uncoupling the Heisenberg Compensators - that would give a
random quantum state to each particle in the transported object. It
would be akin to a molecular-resolution transport - probably deadly
for any living being.
"Now wait a second. How come something simple like the chair in "Ship
In A Bottle" [TNG] wasn't replicated?"
They were testing beaming something composed of the 5th type of
simulation; an object made of Holodeck matter, just like Moriarty and
the Countess. Obviously a purely replicated chair wouldn't do for this
experiment, so Geordi probably tweaked the chair to be the right kind
of simulation to use for the test.
"Whats this about 'HoloSex'?"
If current trends are a pattern for the future to follow, then Virtual
Reality Sex will be alive and well long into the 24th century. Quark's
bar on DS9 has personal holosuites on the second floor. Various
stimulating programs are available.
In "The Perfect Mate" [TNG], Riker manages to croak out something
about "I'll be in Holodeck 4..." after an encounter with the
metamorph. No proof that he did anything, true. Minuet (in "11001001")
[TNG] was "As real as you need me to be." Uh-huh. Geordi doesn't seem
to have much luck off the 'deck, it seems, nor does Reg Barclay.
Zek in "The Nagus" [DS9] certainly enjoys those holosuites!
Draw what conclusions you will.
"What if you urinate/defecate/excrete whatever on the Holodeck?"
One would hope the Holodeck is smart enough to clean up after you. It
probably gets transmuted into some form the bulk matter stores can
use, and saved for later use by replicators or the Holodeck again. The
ultimate in recycling.
And, er, if another real person in the Holodeck is the... recipient of
your, er, donation? The Holodeck doesn't interfere, and we have that
little charmer, Alexander, to prove it. (Thanks to Benjamin Chee for
pointing this one out.)
"Can you get hurt on the Holodeck?"
Yes. Even when it isn't malfunctioning, the simulation can't protect
you from your own stupidity. Broken ribs and arms from cliff diving
and other sports practiced on the Holodeck are often seen treated in
"But the replicators can't even make unhealthy food!"
Replicators can (within limits of technology and energy) produce
anything for which they have a pattern. Certain objects may need
security clearance. But you can have the replicator make a glass of
water, and use the glass as a weapon - it may be smart, but it's not
"What happened to the "arch" they used in the first season?"
Its intended use was as a way to program the Holodeck and access the
ship's computer, as well as a virtual reality safeword. In later
episodes, they just used the "exit" and programmed the computer by
voice. It is still around, recently seen in "Ship In A Bottle" [TNG].
The arch was how Moriarty first learned that he was a simulation, and
gained control of the ship in "Elementary, Dear Data" [TNG], and it
was seen in Star Trek: Generations as well.
2. Where does it all end?
"How do they manage to keep walking for hours and hours?"
The Holodeck has a forcefield treadmill. If its occupants get too
close to the walls, they are shifted away. Since the Holodeck can
modify its gravity in 3 dimensions, the occupants won't notice any
inertial change. The novel "Reunion" [TNG] (while non-canon) goes into
details about this.
"But what about the walls seen in "Encounter at Farpoint" [TNG] and
"Ship In A Bottle" [TNG], demonstrated by Data?"
In "Encounter at Farpoint" [TNG], Data threw a Holodeck-generated rock
at the wall. There are a few possibilities. Either the computer
realized the intent of the demonstration, and didn't replace the rock
with an image on the Holodeck wall; or the "simple pattern" of that
simulation didn't allow for treadmill-scrolling; or the Holodeck
computer wasn't quite powerful enough, pre-Bynar intervention.
In "Ship In A Bottle" [TNG], Data throws his own communicator at the
wall. The Holodeck must have safeguards not to summarily destroy
things it didn't create, so it didn't do anything to affect the
"What happens if two real people enter a Holodeck and start running
away from each other?"
The simplest answer is that the Holodeck "compartmentalizes", in
effect becoming a separate Holodeck for each person within it. In
reality, the two people would probably be only a few meters apart, but
would be separated by a Holodeck-projected "wall". If they turned to
look at each other, they would see an image of the other projected on
Benjamin Chee points out that Star Trek: Generations strongly supports
this notion; whilst on the simulation of the seagoing Enterprise,
Picard calls for the Holodeck arch and it appears on the ship's deck.
But earlier, Worf and Crusher were sent overboard, below the level of
the ship's deck and therefore below the floor of the Holodeck, unless
the holodeck does compartmentalize to some degree.
"What if they take a real rock in with them, walk away from each other
(past the physical limits of the Holodeck) and then toss the rock back
This one is too easy. Assume the rock is sentient. When it leaves the
hand of the thrower, the Holodeck "wraps" it in its own miniature
simulation, and hides it from the two people, who (in their own
mini-Holodeck) see only an image of the rock. The rock is then moved
(with force beams) from the thrower to the catcher, given the
appropriate kinetic energy along the way. From the rock's point of
view nothing out of the ordinary happens.
"So what if two people take a long rope, and start walking away from
The answer in this instance could be that the Holodeck hides part of
the rope, and projects an image of a tightening rope along with force
In general, though, the answer to these "boggle the Holodeck"
questions is that no, it's not perfect. You will encounter limitations
to the technology, and gaps in the 'reality' will become apparent.
However, you really do have to be looking for problems to find them,
such as the left-right reversal in "Ship In A Bottle" [TNG]. (Benjamin
3. What if...?
"Can you go swimming on the Holodeck?"
Yes. Cliff diving has been mentioned as a recreation sport aboard the
Holodeck (in "Conundrum" [TNG]), as has kayaking ("Transfigurations"
[TNG]). Worf and Beverly also take a dip in Star Trek: Generations.
"So does it replicate all of that water?"
Probably not. What would likely happen is that a "personal space" of
water would be replicated around the person, and the rest of the water
in the pool, river, etc, would be a visual and auditory simulation.
There is no canon evidence one way or the other, however, although in
"Encounter at Farpoint" [TNG], there was enough real water present
to soak Wesley.
"So what if someone is scuba diving, and the Holodeck door opens?"
Very likely, the force beams would give the sensation of a water
surface over the doorway. Depending on the simulation, it might be
possible for someone to wander onto a Holodeck, in normal duty
uniform, and walk around someone who is swimming several meters below
the "surface" of the pool. Only the swimmer would feel the sensation
of water around them. Again, no canonical evidence either way.
"How about a Holodeck within the Holodeck?"
This is done in "Ship In A Bottle" [TNG]. They end up with a Holodeck
(in which Picard was in control, and sent Moriarty away) inside a
Holodeck (the real one, in which Moriarty took control) by the end of
the episode. Is there a limit? Probably. No evidence for what that
limit might be.
"Can you get the Holodeck to simulate someone?"
Yes. Although done numerous times, including "Ship In A Bottle" [TNG]
and "A Matter of Perspective" [TNG], and "The Siege" [DS9]; "Hollow
Pursuits" [TNG] is the prime example of this, and brings up the
"Is it ethical to simulate someone without their permission?"
Systems of ethics are by no means universal across cultural lines. Nor
can we extend our 20th century foibles to the 24th century, where such
things may be common place. In every instance, however, people thusly
simulated have reacted negatively when they find out - for example,
Troi, Riker, and Picard in "Hollow Pursuits" [TNG]and Dr. Leah Brahms
in "Booby Trap" [TNG] and "Galaxy's Child" [TNG].
"So does the computer stop these simulations?"
Nope. Moriarty was able to do it in "Ship In A Bottle" [TNG], without
any special permissions. It is amusing, however, to watch the episode
again, and see how the simulated characters appear slightly stiff.
"Could you simulate the Enterprise bridge from the Holodeck, and use
it to take over?"
The simulation would not be a problem - the Enterprise computer has
extensive files of all Federation starship layouts, as shown in
In three episodes, the Enterprise has been controlled from the
Holodeck - by Barclay in "The Nth Degree" [TNG], with a neural
interface; in "Elementary, Dear Data" [TNG], where Moriarty somehow
cracked the security codes via the Holodeck Arch; and in "Ship In A
Bottle" [TNG], where Picard inadvertantly gave Moriarty the security
"Why not just have single-person Holodecks? For interaction, the
computer could just link them all together!"
According to the TNG Tech Manual, there are four primary Holodecks and
a number of personal ones. They could indeed be linked, but part of
the fun of a Holodeck is the interaction with other people, knowing
that they are real.
These do exist on Deep Space 9 in Quark's Bar, and are called
holosuites. Some are quite small ("A Man Alone" [DS9]), others large
enough for a number of people ("Blood Oath" [DS9]).
"Why do people get dressed up before going to the Holodeck? Can't it
provide the period costumes?"
Yes. But they probably don't want to walk around the Enterprise naked.
It also allows them to get "into character" before entering the
"Wasn't there a Holodeck on the original Enterprise? I'm sure I
Not in TOS. However, in TAS the recreation deck had an environment
simulator that used holograms and "stock" effects to produce an effect
similar to the Holodeck, but not as realistic or convincing. The best
example is the episode "Practical Joker", in which the computer
malfunctions, trapping Uhura, Sulu and McCoy in a series of hostile
This is probably what most people remember, and also the inspiration
for the Holodeck itself on TNG.
Sources like "Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise" mention similar
things, including rooms with hologram projectors for the walls alone,
but no canonical evidence exits.
4. Holodoc - Voyager's Holodeck technology
"Phage" [VOY] describes Voyager's medical holographic technology in
explicit detail. Unfortunately, I missed the episode. I'm indebted to
Allen G. Newman who wrote most of the following as an article in
Voyager's explanation is actually the best yet; it works the best
for explaining all the old questions about holo-matter from TNG.
Apparently, matter on the Holodeck has the potential to be as
detailed as real matter down to the level of molecular resolution.
Instead of being composed of molecules, full-resolution holo-objects
are composed of molecule-sized magnetic bubbles which can be
individually manipulated through three dimensions by the computer.
The fact that the movement of individual holo-molecules can be
controlled is of vital importance to the holo-lung being able to
work. Replicators cannot create living matter because it is beyond
the ability of the computer to "jump-start" all the necessary
electron shell activity and atomic motions that determine
biochemical activity (movement and transformation of molecules
through the system). This limitation is irrelevant to the simulation
of a lifeform on the Holodeck, though; since the Holodeck can move,
reshape, create and destroy the magnetic-bubble molecules at will,
there is no need to worry about the subatomic physics that make
biochemistry happen on its own in real life-forms.
Even so, simulating even relatively simple lifeforms (such as
humanoid lungs) stretches the capabilities of the system to the
limit. Neelix had to be held motionless because it was beyond the
ability of the computer to dynamically reorient such a complex,
high-resolution construct. This same limitation makes it currently
impossible to do something as incredible as having the Holodeck
reanimate the complete transporter pattern of a person who had died,
which could theoretically allow a person a kind of immortality
within a Holodeck's simulated confines. (An afterlife in which a
person could forever live in whatever environment the person chose,
while still interacting with real people and objects visiting the
Holodeck may become possible with exponential advances in computer
Note that holo-matter only has the potential to be detailed down to
the molecular level. In most cases, the computer would have an
easier time by using much larger magnetic bubbles that merely
simulated surfaces and textures that can be seen and felt by people
in everyday interactions. The image of the holo-doctor is almost
certainly just an empty shell because there's no reason to waste
computer power simulating the workings of internal organs.
Allen makes the assumption that Voyager's sick-bay holographic system
works the same way as the main Holodeck on board Voyager, and that
this is the same again as the Enterprise's Holodecks. On the other
hand, I think the system has just evolved over time, and that
Voyager's sick bay is using the latest and greatest technology.
"Why are they being so liberal with the Holodeck on Voyager? Aren't
they short on energy?"
In "Parallax" [VOY] it is mentioned that the crew tried to hook the
Holodeck power systems to the main power systems of Voyager and blew
out a conduit due to incompatibilities. The Holodeck having its own
power source may not make much sense, but at least the production crew
justified the crew's use of it.
5. Will it run Windows?
"So tell me about the computers."
According to the TNG TM, the Enterprise has three main computers. Two
reside in the Primary Hull (the saucer); they are vertical cylinders,
about 8 decks high, and located on opposite sides of the saucer,
flanking the bridge. The third computer is located in the Secondary
Hull (engineering), and is smaller than the other two cores; it
controls the Stardrive section when the ship separates.
We've seen the computer cores a number of times. In "Evolution" [TNG]
the nanites were attacked in the computer cores. The set is probably
meant to be just one deck of the multi-deck computer core, with the
room seen the hollow central portion.
The computers are networked with each other, and with the rest of the
ship via the ODN - the Optical Data Network. The ODN has enough
processing power on its own to take over limited control of the ship
in case of a complete computer failure.
"Why do the displays and touchpads work when the computers are down?"
The displays use "nanoprocessors" - cell sized mechanical computers -
to display information. The display itself contains data polled from
the ODN, and based on user selections, displays whatever is
appropriate. So even if the computers go down, whatever information is
(1) already on the ODN (or ODN backups) or (2) in the display itself
can be selected and displayed.
"Why aren't the computers distributed?"
The three main computer cores are equipped with low level subspace
field generators. This allows signal propagation within the cores at
Faster-Than-Light (FTL) speeds, allowing the computers to perform much
faster than anything constructable given 20th century technology, even
theoretically. This cannot be applied (by 24th century technology) to
Once again, the ODN has enough distributed computational power on its
own to run the ship, if all the cores are rendered inoperable. So the
redundancy is there; look at how often on the show the computers are
inaccessable, yet the ship can still be controlled. Also, all of the
consoles are also operating independently. They have nanoprocessors
and are always receiving a flood of data from the network, and
interpreting and displaying it as the user wants it. So the
computation as we think of it is distributed. Think of it as using a
workstation farm for interfaces and data visualization, while running
big jobs on a few networked Crays.
"Why the redundancy in the primary hull? Shouldn't the cores be in the
Space, mostly. Eight-story computer cores are large; there's a hotel
in Calgary about the right size as one, and the same shape too.
Someone decided they needed 3 cores, and only one fits in the
secondary hull, so they put two in the primary hull.
"How big is a kiloquad?"
This hasn't been answered, and in the Encyclopedia, it says:
No, we don't know how many bytes are in a kiloquad. We don't even
want to know. The reason the term was invented was specifically to
avoid describing the data capacity of Star Trek's computers in
20th-century terms. It was feared ... that any such attempt would
look foolish in just a few years, given the current rate of progress
in that field.
However, many r.a.st.tech contributors have converged on kiloquad to
mean 1000 (kilo) * 1 quadrillion bytes (or bits, but we'll stick with
bytes for the explanation), the premise being that a "quad" came into
use instead of "pet" for Petabyte, and the kilo- prefix was added as
"ex" for Exabyte was equally silly. That makes one kiloquad = 2^60
bytes ~= 1 billion gigabytes, or 1 million million megabytes. Thats a
Is this technologically feasable, given that an isolinear chip, quoted
at 2.15 kiloquad in the TNG TM is about the size of a microscope
From H. Peter Anvin:
...The 2.15 kqd isolinear chips [would have] a bit density of
2.94e+15 bits/mm^3 (I have assumed the dimensions to be 90x30x2.5
mm, this is probably on the high side if you exclude the part where
you handle the chip); that means each bit could form a cube 7.0 nm
(70 [angstrom]) to the side. The chips are optical, which I assume
means they are read and written with electromagnetic radiation that
behaves somewhat approximately like light. 7 nm is in the far
ultraviolet region-near X-ray region (visible light ends at about
200 nm) which is really pushing the limit. Assuming some form of
multi-state encoding that may exist may push this down to near UV
which would then be a bit more practical to deal with, and more
"optical", but that is irrelevant.
Hence, what we "know" about ST computer technology seems to
correlate pretty well to the definition 1 quad = 1 quadrillion
bytes. It may be bits or bytes (it is only a factor of 8,
obviously... it changes 7 nm to 14 nm if it is bits not bytes), but
it seems to fit pretty well.
"But a quad is a unit of energy!"
Words can have more than one meaning.
"In "The Nth Degree" [TNG] when Barkley was taking over the core, why
not just disconnect that core and use one of the other two?"
I can't remember the details, but presumably he took over the entire
ODN as well. He'd have to in order to run the ship through the
Holodeck (which have, BTW, their own almost-distinct computers (c.f.
* John F. Meyer Jr., firstname.lastname@example.org
* H. Peter Anvin, email@example.com
* Benjamin Chee, firstname.lastname@example.org
* Charles Anthe, email@example.com
* Allen G. Newman, firstname.lastname@example.org
See the Reading List Mini-FAQ for full details on the volumes
mentioned above and below.
More recently presented information is considered to supercede old
information, unless the weight of the evidence supports the original
Greatest faith is placed on aired live-action material (canon) and
documents produced by or quoting the production crews for Star Trek
(quasi-canon), most notably the technical advisors to TNG, DS9 and
VOY: Michael Okuda and Rick Sternbach.
Other materials are not considered reliable sources of information,
and anything gleaned from these is of questionable relevance.
* Star Trek: Voyager [VOY]
* Star Trek: Deep Space Nine [DS9]
* Star Trek: The Next Generation [TNG]
* Star Trek feature films [TFS]
* Classic Star Trek [TOS]
* The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future
* Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future (Chron)
* Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual (TM)
Questionable (but useful) materials:
* The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion
- contains some behind-the-scenes notes of interest
* Other episode guides (Compendium, Concordance, etc)
- useful, esp. for spellings and details
* The Making of Star Trek
- contains Roddenberry-approved TOS ship systems info
* Episode scripts
- spellings and fiddly details, except where they say [TECH]
* Trading and playing cards (esp. Skybox)
- technical stuff often prepared by production staff
Material that is ignored (other than where it reproduces material from
the above, e.g. photographs, descriptions, etc.):
* Star Trek: The Animated Series [TAS]
* Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise
* Worlds of the Federation (WoF)
* Star Fleet Technical Manual (SFTM)
* Starlog's Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Journal (TJ)
* Other "reference" guides
* Novels, incl. novelizations of films and episodes
* Blueprints, drawings, photographs, models, etc.
Joshua Sean Bell <email@example.com>
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