Whilst the heart of a ship is often considered to be its reactor complex, the brain of the ship is the ship’s computer. Every ship larger than a shuttlecraft has a ship’s computer, and this device is then further split into mission specific applications. To be clear, a ship’s computer is comparable in power to a 21st century supercomputer. The specifics of how it operates on a physical level vary from implementation to implementation. From the outside, the ship’s computer resembles an artificial intelligence and crewmembers interact with it in a variety of ways. It provides data for the screens and interfaces throughout the ship that would be familiar to anyone who has used a 21st century computer, but also it has a natural language interface which allows crewmembers to talk to it. That being said, a ship’s computer is not sapient. They are not capable of learning and cannot exceed their programming. Importantly, they also possess significant imitations on many of their abilities to prevent them from taking unilateral action and generally require a human crewmember to at least supervise them to perform most tasks. In terms of physical appearance, there is generally no single nexus on the ship that represents the computer. It is distributed throughout the ship’s structure both as a protection against damage but also to assist in cooling. This leads to a feeling amongst many voidsailors that ship’s computers are ever present aboard the ship. Ship’s computers generally possess a conversational AI alongside their task-oriented functions and whilst these are user-replaceable it is tradition that the various kinds of computer come with conversational AIs with specific personalities. The most common subtype of a ship’s computer is the navigation computer or navcomp. Navcomps are designed to map routes for starships taking into account fuel use, desired acceleration rates, the movement of objects and structures in space as well as other space traffic and where appropriate, to talk to other navcomps to synchronise plans. Two common variants of the navcomp are the tradcomp, or trade computer, which specifically optimises flight plans based on commercial requirements and the controlcomp, or control computer, which operates in a similar role to air traffic control in that it coordinates between hundred or thousands of ships large and small in areas such as around space stations. Navcomps are generally polite and eager to please, but often develop a dislike for other models of ship’s computer as the navcomp is generally at the bottom of the hierarchy. Next up is the strategic computer, or stratcomp. This is the most complex variant of ship’s computer that a civilian spacecraft will possess. Stratcomps are common on spacecraft that enter contested or otherwise dangerous regions of space and are designed to identify threats and formulate plans to either mitigate the risk or develop a plan to get out of harm’s way. Where a ship has defensive weapons, the stratcomp can be hooked directly into the fire control systems and unlike the battlecomp is capable of firing these weapons on its own in the service of defending the ship. When in friendlier space, the stratcomp is often disabled. The conversational AI is often considered somewhat skittish and many report that they can be quite surly especially if left disabled for extended periods of time. Finally, military and paramilitary vessels are usually equipped with the most complex variant of ship’s computer, the battle computer or battlecomp. Whereas the navcomp and stratcomp are generally subservient to the rest of the ship’s systems, a battlecomp has full access. With human supervision, the battlecomp can operate a ship’s entire sensor suite, plan manoeuvres (with or without the input of the ship’s navcomp) and calculate firing solutions for the ship’s weapons. They have massive amounts of computational power to make inferences from their sensor data, to determine the disposition of other ships, identify possible ambushes and generate plans for the ship’s crew to fulfil their objectives. When the conversational AI is enabled, they are usually stoic, no-nonsense personalities but often military ships will disable the personality matrix entirely. Importantly, the battlecomp cannot take actions without the authority of a human crewmember except in the direst of circumstances and even then, they are limited in their actions to purely defensive operations. Unlike a stratcomp, a battlecomp never has unrestricted fire control authority and significant safeguards are in place to prevent a battlecomp from attempting to use any other system as a makeshift weapon. Whilst most ship’s computers are large and integrated directly into a ship’s superstructure, portable ship’s computers do exist and are often used in salvage and repair operations. They are typically on the upper end of the limits of human portability and require a team of technicians to hook them into a ship’s systems. They are also remarkably expensive, costing five to ten times that of an integrated system. Finally, many shuttlecraft, tugs and smaller spaceships do not have the space, power or need for a full ship’s computer and so are usually supported by a more traditional avionics package. Paradoxically, it does mean that it takes more skill to pilot a shuttle than a spaceliner. However, many shuttle owners still install conversational AI into their ships which can provide much of the same interface functionality and leads to the mistaken belief that a ship’s computer is present.
Electronic / Cybernetic
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