Star Wolf wrote:
Of course, I seriously doubt replicators can just create gold/latinum/whatever out of thin air/pure energy, so that point is moot.
I thought that is exactly what replicators did. It is part of the no need for money prejudice of the Federation expressed in the TNG era.
A pesky guy named Einstein has a problem with assuming that replicators work on pure energy. E=mc^2 still applies in Star Trek, as far as we know - that's the whole basis of matter-antimatter reactors, after all. Basically, all mass has an energy locked up within the matter. When matter annihilates, it has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is a buttload of energy. Conversely, it takes a buttload of energy to make a little bit of mass.
So, how does that present a problem with replicators? Let's consider a possible meal for one. Between the plate, the silverware, and the food and drink, it might come out to be about one kilogram. If it were replicated based on pure energy, that would need as much energy as is released by a 42.96 megaton nuke! That's almost three times as big as the biggest nuke exploded by the United States. And we are supposed to believe all this energy is funneled into a device the size of a microwave (and very quickly), all the time?
You might say that that isn't much energy, compared to what a warp engine uses. We don't have a clue what that is, other than a lot, but fair enough. All you would need to do is use something over 1kg of your fuel to make that meal (since there is bound to be some energy loss in there somewhere). That might explain why Voyager had that replicator restriction at first. That doesn't help when we consider, say, DS9. DS9 only had fusion reactors, not matter/antimatter ones. Yet, DS9 uses replicators all the damn time, a lot more than Voyager would use.
Logically, replicators would need to run on a lot less power than pure energy conversion would get you. But how? Well, one theory (and the one I subscribe to) is that replicators merely put together your whatever. As in, there is a store of basic material (molecular or elemental) somewhere, and the replicator draws from that to put together what you asked it for. For instance, there's a lot of biological material floating around, so it would be trivial to make pretty much any food. Everyone sticks their dishes back in the replicator, so there's your material for your dishes, and other stuff. And it goes on. Maybe a nasty person could reprogram a replicator to cannibalize whatever ship/station they were on (or use it on people!
) It wouldn't take much energy to do that. And it would explain why something like latinum, or other valuable stuff might be difficult to replicate - to replicate latinum/gold/whatever, you would need an equal amount of it in store...and then, what's the point of replicating it?
(This ignores whatever difficulties might lie in programming or manufacture of different stuff, which the replicator might not be able to...replicate.)