# Limits of the holodecks

Discussion in 'Trek Tech' started by marsh8472, Nov 29, 2017.

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From "Elementary, Dear Data" they said this
In episode "A Fistful of Datas" there was a point in the episode where Troi, Worf, and Alexander were all separated: Alexander held captive by the data look alike, Troi in jail guarding the prisoner, Worf talking to the people of the town while looking for Alexander. This would mean that the holodeck was supplying the illusion of depth to at least 3 people here. I figure the holodeck allocates so much space to each person and gives each user a set of walls with the illusion of depth on them. But there is only so much physical space on the holodeck. Wouldn't you expect an error to occur when too many people are on the holodeck due to lack of physical space on the holodeck?

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It seems reasonable that there'd be issues with that, but then, we've never seen a large number of real people not in the same virtual space on the holodeck.

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Try not to think about it.

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The fundamental thing is, if there are limits to what the holodeck can do, the device will try to hide those limits. That's what it does for a living, after all.

There are multiple ways to provide the illusion of depth, and many of those can be done by allocating one square meter to each user. If one of them suddenly requires more room, this could be easily arranged - just shove the others two meters to the side. Given that the device can provide the illusion of freefall among other things, we know it can manipulate inertia at will, so reshuffling the pieces should be unnoticeable to the user. Indeed, if lack of space grows acute, the users could be piled in horizontally or upside down when beneficial, in multiple layers. And then transported to the next room when the congestion grows unbearable.

Timo Saloniemi

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And also somehow blocks the hearing of each person and projects user-generated audio info into their ears which sounds like the same thing only further away, maintaining any directionality needed.

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That would be an obvious requirement for even the most primitive simulations, if one expects them to appear real: sound must be absolutely controlled, not just in the sense of producing it, but in removing existing sounds as well.

Yet it is only with TNG that we reach the point where these "holographic" illusions become explicitly indistinguishable from the real deal (the first-ever time this happens in "Ship in a Bottle", although of course basic visuals have fooled characters from a distance for brief moments before, such as in "Unification II"). Prior to TNG, we might just as well assume that sound was not handled in a reality-emulating manner, or that other telltales such as scents or temperature shifts or breezes or tremors weren't. And back in TAS, while the simulation included coarse control of temperature and wind, Uhura felt that there was no "treadmill" action to stop them from blindly reaching the wall of the room if they just walked "long enough".

Of course, "long enough" would not be long at all, as the room would have to fit inside the starship. Basically, even the big grey featureless space we see initially must already be a simulation, an illusion of a larger room created by a physically smaller one. So Uhura might be referring to a shortcoming of an existing treadmill functionality, rather than the total absence of this functionality. After all, she's the one out of the three with the best-explicated competence in technological matters, and her brain shouldn't have frozen quite yet...

DSC has two heroes engage in a simulated fight with holo-Klingons in such a fashion that there is no need for a treadmill - the two characters barely traverse two meters in a direction. And this despite the simulated scenario actually calling for them to move more extensively, to peek behind corners and the like; that they refrain from doing so suggests they know very well the limitations of their simulation. (But it's already more than just a light show, so that they can slap at controls, lean against walls and the like. Just as in TAS.)

That's a good thing to remember: whatever limits there are to the holodeck, these are hidden not just by the holodeck itself, but by the means through which we observe the holodeck. We can only sense the visual illusion, and even this from certain limited viewing angles, and marred with cuts. Of course, showing imperfections is more expensive than not showing them, as creating a "perfect hologram" out of real things is cheap but creating an "imperfect hologram" is a VFX ordeal. Which is the real reason why DSC holograms are "less real" than TNG ones, although this also fits the prequel premise nicely enough.

Timo Saloniemi

7. ### HerbertFleet CaptainFleet Captain

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This, in spades. Just go with it.
I'm more bothered by an episode like Identity Crisis when Riker, Worf, etc enter the holodeck looking for Geordi and proceed to search the holographic buildings and grounds but don't do the obvious thing which would be to shut down the simulation.

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...Are there other instances like that?

I can sort of side with Worf on the idea that taking the enemy by surprise might be better achieved by rounding the corner than by shutting down the corner. But only if the enemy doesn't know Worf and his men are coming. And the enemy here ought to hear the holodeck doors opening, plus he's good at camouflage.

Really, the smart thing for Worf to do would be to tell the holodeck to go all green, then all yellow, then all polka-dot, in quick succession. Would Geordi "Chameleon" LaForge be quick enough to adapt?

Timo Saloniemi

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They're on a spaceship, Timo; freefall is the only thing on the holodeck that ISN'T an illusion. Variable gravity doesn't require the manipulation of inertia.

It seems like this is the kind of thing that happens ALOT to Starfleet officers, always with some sort of bullshit excuse as to why turning it off isn't an option. It seems to me like they should have learned their lesson after "The Big Goodbye" and installed some kind of "emergency stop" button that completely kills the power to the holodeck in the event of a problem. Seriously, it's like the 3rd time in a year they encounter a malfunctioning computer that they can't turn off for some reason and it's easily the 750th time this has happened to someone in Starfleet, you would think they would learn by now.

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Except that it's of course the exact opposite. On Earth, you're only one gee away from freefall. Aboard a starship, you may well be thousands of gees off. The holodeck must manipulate inertia just like every single broom closet aboard a starship must.

It's just that we know a broom closet may lose gravity accidentally or deliberately, or have it ramped up a lot deliberately; we don't know how selectively the inertia of a broom closet can be controlled. But we do know the turbolifts can be pretty damn selective about inertia, and we shouldn't expect the holodeck to do any worse.

What's there to learn? You can't stop an aeroplane in mid-air to check on the flaps, no matter how often you get into trouble by keeping on flying.

As for holodecks specifically, a kill switch on a device that spends most of its time manipulating every single aspect of the environment of its users is likely to be a rather literal thing. It's not just a matter of bruising somebody who was being suspended two feet off the floor by forcefields shaped like a bar stool, it may be a matter of their bodies being mangled beyond recognition when things generating clothing on their skins suddenly lose power and focus.

Timo Saloniemi

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IF the ship is accelerating, which under normal circumstances wouldn't be the case. Holodecks should probably be shut down during Yellow Alert for precisely this reason.

OTOH, starships have these big and complex inertial dampers that protect the ENTIRE SHIP from acceleration. So this wouldn't be a function of the holodecks at all, and they would depend on the ship's primary IDF field just like everything else does.

Nope. That's what IDFs are for. The most a holodeck can do is raise or reduce the gravity level to be consistent with whatever environment it's simulating.

Yes, but when you have an airplane whose flaps consistently fail to deploy when you hit the little electronic switch on the control panel, a smart engineer figures out that they need a way to manually deploy them if the electrical system fails. This is why airliners are designed to still be able to deploy landing gear even if they lose hydraulic pressure; they literally just throw the doors open and let the gear DROP into position by gravity.

The simplest safeguard for the holodeck is a physical switch that would open the circuit between the holodeck and whatever high voltage bus is feeding it. It would probably be really bad for the holodeck, and it would probably be really bad for the computers that run it. But you know what's also really bad? When the holodeck malfunctions and tries to kill everyone in it.

Not at all. Cut the power to the holodeck hardware and the holograms, image projectors and forcefields simply vanish. Whatever else it physically replicated in the actual environment will remain, but that will include scenery, greenery, landscapes and the like, most of which won't be all that dangerous.

If holodecks were THAT dangerous, they would have failsafes installed to prevent that from happening during a sudden power loss. Even roller coaster rides are designed such that the entire thing will come to a complete stop almost immediately if it looses power in a way that makes it no longer safe to use.

12. ### pstFleet CaptainFleet Captain

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It's hard to imagine a situation where the ship would not be accelerating. It's always going places, and coasting at impulse makes zero sense, while movement at warp would be subject to all sorts of surprises.

Perhaps one could say one's prayers and bravely enter the holodeck when the ship is engaged in precision measurements of a gaseous anomaly, projected to last for a week and a half. But it's the user's own damn fault if the ship then executes a minor dodging of an incoming space rock at a sedate fifty gees and the user turns to pulp.

Inertia control just plain isn't plausible unless it's turned on all the time.

And broom closets. And quarters. And bridges.

But as said, turbolifts further fine-tune their own inertia to turn tight corners and quickly reach distant locations while the occupants observe no movement. Or, conversely, the inertia control can throw LaForge horizontally out of a turbolift and onto Main Bridge even though the lift reaches that location through exclusively vertical movement.

Surely you jest. Why arbitrarily impose such a nonsensical limitation on the very piece of hardware that least requires it and most needs the basic functionality?

But as said, this would kill the occupants. Nothing, but nothing, smoothly shuts down if main power is cut. Hardware collapses, and whatever it is doing collapses as well. Say, ever try and restart a big buzzsaw after hitting the dead man's switch in mid-process? It's lots and lots of amusement with trying to dislodge the jammed bits. And that's more or less the definition of robust.

OTOH, the holodeck basically replaces the entire environment of the user with an artificial one. "Removing the environment", no matter how cleanly, is bound to be fatal.

Which then kills the kill switch. You are trying to reintroduce the complex plumbing, you get what you deserve...

Really (and realistically), our heroes often end up fighting failsafes. The most prominently in ST:B, but basically every piece of hardware they ever try to manipulate is built to be manipulation-resistant. And every failsafe functionality can be turned into a defense by a malevolent takeover, but most form a defense even without malice.

But aircraft aren't. And here we're talking about something that's infinitely more complex again.

Timo Saloniemi

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That's because a turbolift is a small high-speed vehicle running on electromagnetic rails through the ship's superstructure. It's effectively a bullet train attached to the ship. They have inertial dampers to compensate for their OWN movement, but not the movement of the ship itself (that's already taken care of).

Holodecks do not have or need their own inertial dampers.

Because I don't make things up off the top of my head and then stubbornly insist they must be true just because?

I could name about 50 things for which this is not the case and 20 things which are able to do this through the installation of failsafe mechanisms, but now you're just arguing to argue and I'm done.

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Of course they need those. Otherwise they couldn't do what we see them do. Or, worse still, hear them do. How do you think Bashir and O'Brien fight the Battle of Britain? By pretending the g-forces?

Don't worry, I can accommodate you if your knowledge of what we see on screen in Star Trek is insufficient. Obviously, the demonstrated abilities of holodecks fall in that category.

Timo Saloniemi

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Variable gravity, same as we've always known that starships can adjust artificial gravity in specific parts of the ship.

But the suggestion that the holodeck is going to take half of its occupants and fling them to the other side of the room in three tenths of a second, flip them upiside down, curl the entire simulation against itself into a mobius strip to make it all look and seem longer, all while cancel the inertia of that movement in real time? Yeah, that's just not a thing.

... by making shit up out of nothing and then insisting your made-up shit is the only possible explanation? No thanks.

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Which is the exact same thing as total inertia control in three axes. Just think it through.

For guidance: imagine Bashir's Spitfire doing the Immelmann.

Even though it's the bread and butter of what Trek machinery does?

The holodeck is supposed to be the sum total of Federation knowledge. To do what it does, it needs replicators, transporters, forcefields, the works. Why omit the most basic of treknologies, the total control of acceleration?

1) Decide that something seen in Star Trek cannot be true.
2) Decide that this is because a known key ingredient of Star Trek is absent in this particular case.
3) Insist that it must be absent because it wasn't mentioned by the characters at least twice. Or then for no reason.
4) Get offended.

Timo Saloniemi

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I said out, dammit!
While "Take me Out to the Holosuite" is a fun episode of DS9, I just can't wrap my mind around one little room with a couple dozen people crammed in it, giving them the illusion they're spread over an entire baseball field, playing an active game with lots of running around.

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Perhaps Quark has one or two larger holosuites that we simply don't see during the run of the series?

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As long as there's room for every person present to be in their own personal "holo-bubble" it would work.

Maybe they were not all in the same holosuite, but were using multiple suites that were linked together?