Computers control virtually every function of a starship in some way. They regulate the power flow of the warp drive system, operate the sensors, and help the Tactical officer accurately fire the weapons. Without a working computer system, a starship would virtually shut down. While the Federation has never managed to build a reliable fully sentient computer as of 2375, starship computers contain such sophisticated artificial intelligence subroutines that they sometimes seem sentient. They can understand, and respond to ordinary speech, including contextual cues within that speech. Crewmembers interface with the computer system via the Library Computer Access and Retrieval system (LCARS), which interfaces to access data, modify ships systems, and write programs. The LCARS contains the equivalent of trillions upon trillion of pages of text, and more data is added every Stardate.
A shipís computer monitors everything occurring on that ship, including the location of everyone aboard ship based on their communicator badge (the Tactical officer can track down anyone aboard, even if the persons not wearing the communicators, but this takes some time). When emergencies or crises occur (such as failure of life support or hull integrity), the computer evaluates the situation and notifies the appropriate personnel. However, thatís about all the computer can do; it cannot operate the ship for extended periods, or in other than extremely routine circumstances, without crew control. The computer lacks the judgment, intuition, and emotions, which a sentient humanoid possesses, and can apply to complex situations. It can only follow the instructions given it by its programming and the crew. For example, unless instructed to do so, the computer will not report that a crewmember has left the ship.
Starfleet computers use a miniature subspace generators to process data at faster-than-light speeds. They store information and programs in modules of isolinear optical storage chips. Each module holds i44 chips. Approximately the size of a microscope slide, an isolinear chip holds up to 2.15 kiloquads of data. On large starships, a computer core is a structure about 20 meters to 100 meters tall and 10-15 meters in diameter, which holds thousands of modules containing hundreds of isolinear chips. Rearranging the isolinear chips within a module, or installing new ones with specialized programming, can interfere with, alter, or in some cases enhance computer operation.
In addition to the computer cores, ships have a network of subprocessors throughout the ship. These subprocessors help to improve the systemís operation by handling some of the computational load. They can also provide some redundancy for the computer cores. Also in addition to the main computer system, several systems aboard a ship have dedicated computer systems. Examples include the navigational computer and tactical computer. These are addressed elsewhere under the specific systems they work with.
Some ships, due to their mission profiles, need a particularly efficient or powerful computer. Starfleet installs computer uprating packages with these shipsí computers. The packages, which consist of both hardware and software, improve the performance of the standard computer systems.
Data transmission throughout a ship is accompanied by means of an optical data network (ODN), a network of multiplexed optical monocrystal microfibers. Most ships have from through to six redundant ODN trunks linking their computer cores and the various subprocessors and control panels throughout the ship. Damage to the ODN may hamper the ability of the shipís computer to operate the ship.
On some of the latest, most advanced ships, the computer core has been augmented or supplemented with a bio-neural computer system. This system, which includes bio-neural gel packs installed throughout the ship, uses organic substances which link with the standard computers to create very powerful information storage and processing device. Current as of 2380, gel packs contain synthetic neural cells in a gelatinous organic medium configured into a trio of packs instead of the original 2371 design of one single pack per bio-neural module. These neural cells replace the processors and isolinear chips of the standard Starfleet computer. They also contain advanced security technology taken from Anipax, Dominion, and Borg technologies, including; Neurolytic pathogens, bio-viral infections that attack technology on a microscopic level, to disrupt intrusive computer or bio interfaces, mostly designed to disrupt Borg assimilation if/when the packs are assimilated, traveling through the collective mind of each drone. The vinculum, their ship, and so forth; Defensive nanites to fight Borg nano-probe and other invasive technologies into the bio-neural system; Chroniton flux generating nanites that supplement the most advanced Starfleet ships designs chronometric sync nodes that allow for transwarp corridor flight, defend against temporal anomalies, etc; psionic nullification components to prevent tamper with the devices or infiltration into the system by a psionic species.
Although faster and more powerful than standard computers, bio-neural computers are vulnerable to certain viral infections and other attacks to which organic substances are susceptible. Infections can slow the system down, or even destroy it entirely. Unlike standard computers, which require repairs from engineers when they donít work correctly, bio-neural systems also need a doctorís care when they malfunction. Recently, Starfleet has included the system with meta-phasic flux inverters within the connector housings of each gel pack similar to the meta-genic regenerative chambers of Starfleetís most advanced medical facilities, and the META exo-armor gears worn by certain Starfleet Special Forces personnel.
Bio-neural computers cores have recently been updated with multitronic/positronic relays, which allow for greater computer processing efficiency, as well allows for Ďneurogenicí interfaces by certain select members of a ships crew. Thus far, the examples are limited to this type of implementation of this advanced technology, being only expressed on the Ascendant class of Deep Space Explorer and several smaller ships by certain personnel, which can operate through natural skill and/or training, a neurogenic interface over a transient subspace domain.